On consoles no-one can hear you roll the dice.
A brief teenage dalliance with tabletop gaming quickly fell aside before my love of videogames. The order and tactility of written rules and plastic figurines, though enjoyed by many, held limited allure for me when compared to the immersion of virtual worlds. Still, I harbour some affection for it. Space Hulk Tactics is one of those games that bridges the divide between each medium.
Based on the Games Workshop boardgame Space Hulk, this is a turn-based strategy experience that succeeds in blurring the rigidity of its source material, enlivening it with animated and atmospheric interactivity. Much more than a visual rendering of cardboard and plastic, Space Hulk Tactics translates its rule set through a detailed visual and auditory rendition, allowing players to inhabit this world intimately (even in first person).
The general themes of the game world will be familiar to fans of the Alien movies; facing a predatory alien onslaught, squads of space marines try to hold back the tide, facing down claws and teeth with bullets and fire. The war plays out across huge derelict craft, the space hulks of the title, themselves a warped and knotted amalgam of lost fleets crushed into decaying, xenomorph-occupied giants.
Those aliens – known as Genestealers – represent one half of the experience, distinct from the mode of play represented by their opposing Terminator marines. With each race having its own rule set, the game affords two distinct single-player campaigns. Each plays out across a map of interconnected points, across which your team moves until encountering an opposing force. A range of encounter types (requiring a point to be defended, or to reach an exit, for example) ensures each skirmish is a fresh test demanding new strategies.
I want to cover those distinct rules without getting too technical about it: Terminators are imposing figures burdened by the weight and scale of their armour. This makes them sluggish in navigating the game’s cramped corridors to the point that even turning 90 degrees costs valuable movement points. Moves must be spent wisely to cover off all possible access points with line of sight, so that a Genestealer attack can be responded to quickly.
The Genestealers themselves are lithe and numerous, capable of over-running Terminators through the smallest gap in their defence. They enter the map as blips on Terminator scanners, which might represent one, two or three individual xenomorphs on the approach. Individually a Terminator can make quick work of them from a distance, but as more can enter the fray with each turn, it only takes one to get through and cause havoc behind the line of defence.
As a multiplayer experience, Space Hulk Tactics should be fun and dynamic. Unfortunately, I’m not able to test that theory; I was unable to successfully join an online game during the first week of release. I can’t account for the reason (presumably either technical or related to player numbers). What I was able to try was the map creation tool, which allows players to generate unique levels to share online. This was easy to use and versatile, while also offering official creations from the development team itself.
One would presume the critical multiplayer aspect will become more reliable than in my early attempts, but until then I have to judge it as a solitary experience. For its generous campaigns and variety of play styles, in addition to an absorbing and detailed reimagining of Space Hulk’s aesthetic, Space Hulk Tactics is worthy of attention. The depth of the boardgame is balanced with the immediacy of its new medium, offering an accessible and rewarding interpretation that should satisfy anyone, familiar or not, with the tabletop original.
Space Hulk Tactics was provided to us by Focus Home Interactive for Xbox One. It was reviewed on a Xbox One S and X.