- Release Date (NA): October 9, 2018
- Release Date (EU): October 9, 2018
- Release Date (JP): October 9, 2018
- Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
- Developer: Cyanide Studio
- Genres: Turn-based Strategy
- ESRB Rating: Mature
- PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
- Also For: Computer, Xbox One
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Out of the Frying Pan, into the Fire
The Blood Angels chapter, bloodied and exhausted, were making their way back home when they received a distress call that changed the chapter's destiny. The nearby Forge World of Gorgonum was facing an extinction-level event - a Space Hulk, a mass of contorted and twisted wrecks, lost in The Warp eons ago, re-emerged through a Warp Storm. The massive derelict, inhabited by the blood-thirsty Tyranid species, was on a collision course with the planet and threatened the entire system with Genestealer infestation. Weakened or not, the Blood Angels were duty-bound to intervene. It was time to send in the best - an elite squad of Terminator Space Marines, board the hulk and venture into its depths with only one purpose - to purge. For the Emperor, and for the glory of the Great Angel Sanguinius!
The plot of Space Hulk: Tactics is pretty standard affair, you're once again in charge of the Blood Angels who are quite experienced in dealing with the Tyranid infestation. This time however the Space Marines are on a time limit - the hulk is barreling through space towards a Forge World and must be destroyed before it gets close enough to cause planetary infestation. The situation is so dire that the chapter is even considering Exterminatus - the complete annihilation of a planet. Naturally, a Forge World is an important asset to the Imperium, so saving it is a high priority, despite inconvenient timing - the Adeptus Mechanicus who inhabit Forge Worlds are the primary source of weaponry and armor for the Adeptus Astartes, and the relations between the two are already strained as is. The situation is certainly difficult, but the Space Marines have a perfect solution for difficult situations - their Terminators. That's where you come in.
Purging the Hulk, One Step at a Time
If you've ever played a Space Hulk game, you will feel right at home with Space Hulk: Tactics - it offers precisely the type of combat you would expect. You are put in command of a unit of five Terminators, deploy in the tight confines of the hulk and traverse it slowly, step by step, completing objectives ranging from protecting consoles or deploying explosives to simply exterminating everything on the map. The gameplay is slow and methodical as your units, despite their imposing looks, are at a clear disadvantage when pitted against the Genestealer threat - if you get hit once, you're done and that's that. This aspect of the game will definitely appeal to all the XCOM fans out there looking for something new and interesting to play. Much like in XCOM, your units are given a limited amount of Action Points which can be used to move and perform actions on the map, and although you don't get the same cover mechanics as in Enemy Unknown, you don't really miss them given the environment - the interior of the hulk is too cramped and your units too large to conceivably take advantage of cover anyways. Most mechanics are based on dice rolls - success and failure when performing an action is entirely based on chance, which makes the game true to the source material. SH:T adds a spin to the traditional Space Hulk formula by adding special Cards - each unit you deploy carries four cards which you can either convert into Action Points or use them to give your units a little boost, like a short-term buff or additional Action Points.
As the Space Marines you will spend most of your time slowly approaching your objectives, paying close attention to any entry points the enemy might try to ambush you from and deploying your Terminators in Overwatch to protect each other from the seemingly never-ending onslaught of the Genestealers. Enemy units will appear to you as Blips, which allows you to plan for their next move, however the Blips themselves are just that - markers on your map. You really don't know what's inside a Blip - it could be a single Genestealer, it could be a number of them, or it could just be a decoy, so extreme care is encouraged. The Space Marines are experts at ranged combat, they're armed to the teeth, so creating literal "kill zones" is definitely the most effective way to survive - approaching the enemy is foolish, you must allow the enemy to attack you instead, stay on the defensive and make your push once you're confident that you can overwhelm the enemy. Terminator gameplay greatly enhances the atmosphere of the game - your units are slow, they "feel" heavy and you can tell that they can barely fit in the corridors they're traversing. The Space Marine gameplay feels just right, and the fact that your push can go horribly wrong after just one simple mistake makes it exciting despite the slow pace.
The exciting thing about this installment is that for the first time in the series' history the game also includes a fully fleshed-out Genestealer campaign which allows you to play the role of the Tyranid Hive Mind and put your claws to work against the Space Marine offensive. When playing as the Genestealers the gameplay is completely flipped upside-down - the Tyranid strategy is divided into a stalking phase in which you prepare your Blips, leaving your units in convenient ambush locations, and the combat phase in which you spring your traps, jump out of the shadows and obliterate your enemies with sheer numbers. The events take place throughout the history of the hulk and pit you against a variety of Space Marine chapters that came across your interstellar ride before the Blood Angels boarded it. The Genestealers are significantly more mobile, they don't waste Action Points when turning, they traverse the map faster, but they don't have the ranged advantage - they can only attack enemies in melee, which requires you to think outside of the box and avoid Space Marine defenses until it's convenient for you to strike. Your cards can't be converted into Action Points this time around - they're converted into Blips during your Conversion turn instead, and you can deploy said Blips at Spawn Points to replenish your troops on a per-turn basis. I didn't expect to enjoy playing as the Tyranid as much as I did, but I found out that there's a certain charm in deploying the "Zerg Rush" strategy on a Terminator in Overwatch, pushing all of my Genestealers into his line of fire until his weapon runs out of ammunition or jams, climbing through the piled up bodies and finally ripping his throbbing heart out of his armored chest with my last Genestealer. It's even more satisfying when you manage to sneak up on an unsuspecting Terminator from behind and end his existence before he even realises that his life is about to meet an abrupt end. Remember - they are few, you are many.
Under the Hood of the Hulk
As far as the presentation is concerned, the game is a bit of a mixed bag. In terms of graphics the game seems dated - in some shots it looks spectacular, in others it's very flawed and glitchy, and in my experience you'll see more of the latter, at least on console. Fortunately graphics are not exactly the thing you're looking for in a strategy game, or a 40K game for that matter - what you're looking for is a climactic and accurate representation of the franchise hallmarks, and in that regard the game scores highly. Both the Terminator suits and the various breeds of Genestealers look good and the environments they fight in are varied enough to keep things interesting. The game itself can be played either in first-person or from a birds eye view, and if I can make a recommendation, play it top-down. The first-person mode, albeit nostalgic and climactic, adds nothing to gameplay and actually hinders it given the tactical advantage of a top-down view of the battlefield. I think I used it once or twice for the eye candy, but it didn't fulfill that purpose either - if anything, it exposed the imperfections of the game and, in my opinion, can be entirely skipped. The previous installments figured this thing out - put the first person perspective in the corner as a sweet little detail, don't force the player to choose. SH:T takes a step back in this department for no reason - the first-person view belongs in the HUD. I'm very forgiving in terms of audio-visual presentation when it comes to games that are clearly made on a limited budget, but I have low tolerance for lack of imagination, and that's the vibe I got from one aspect of Space Hulk that matters the most - the missions themselves.
I don't want to be misunderstood - the missions that are a part of the main campaign are excellent. The maps are well-crafted and clearly geared to force the two sides into engagements that play to the advantages of each race, not to mention full of environmental hazards like toxic fungus, turrets or traps which can be used to your advantage or spell your demise, depending on the scenario. The corridors are nice and narrow to protect your Terminators, but they're also full of twists and turns which enable the Tyranid to traverse them significantly faster than the Space Marines can. The objectives are fairly typical - fetching quest items, defending and destroying objectives, elimination, you know what to expect when you step into the fray and it's all executed well... the first time around. What I mean by that is that the random encounters you might stumble upon as you traverse the hulk aren't random at all - they come from a pool of missions you've already completed. This aspect of the game had me pulling hair out of my scalp as I had to replay the same mission time after time, to the point that I formed special strategies that would allow me to rush straight through them in the least turns possible. This is particularly infuriating given the high quality of the missions themselves - surely the creators could've added some form of procedural level generation as XCOM did, or at least set aside a couple maps just for those encounters. You might think this is a minor gripe, but once you play the same mission twice or even three times in a row as you try to collect all the items from a section of a hulk, you'll quickly change your mind.
Exhalt or Exterminate?
In conclusion, Space Hulk: Tactics is a bit of a mixed bag. In terms of gameplay the game hits all the right notes - the mechanics are well-crafted, enjoyable to play and work as intended. Where the game falls short is in the minor details, the minutiae of having to replay the same missions over and over again before you can finally progress the story. I can fully understand that the plot itself denotes that the mission you have undertaken is urgent, but in a strategy game like this urgency is the least of a gamer's worries - first one must secure everything that can give you a strategic advantage, that means turning every stone on your path in search of upgrades, and that leads to random encounters - encounters that are insufferable after a while. Would I recommend it though? Yes, yes I would. Besides the cons I've already mentioned Space Hulk: Tactics is a good example of a strategy game that works well on a console. I've heard reports that the PC controls suffered as a result, but since I'm reviewing the PS4 version of the game I can't attest to that. What I can attest to is the fun factor of grabbing a flamer and purging a room full of Genestealers - it's well-worth your time. For the Emperor!
|What We Liked . . . Two in-game races allow for asymmetric gameplay, both in Single and Multiplayer mode Two distinct single player campaigns Built-in Map editor Offline Skirmishes and Online Multiplayer allow you to continue your adventure once the Campaigns are completed||What We Didn't Like . . . Repetitive Action Cam animations Glitchy and somewhat dated graphical presentation Useless first-person mode changed a fun presentation element into a detriment to gameplay|
Space Hulk isn't anything spectacular to look at in terms of graphics and the voice acting isn't the best, so don't expect much in the presentation department. It's very clear that the game was made on a shoestring budget, but that doesn't stop it from featuring everything that matters, meaning the familiar settings and iconography of WH40K. The newly-introduced Action Cam serves its purpose and seems impressive the first time you see it, but it's quite clunky and after seeing the same animation ten times in a row you almost wish it wasn't there at all. Cyanide tried to ride that XCOM wave but just narrowly missed the mark due to a lack of variety in the shots which would keep things fresh.
Space Hulk: Tactics gives the series a fresh spin with its card system while retaining all of the hallmarks of the series. Gameplay is seamless and very satisfying, especially when your strategy works out perfectly. If I were to complain about something, it'd have to be the defeatist attitude of the A.I. - the computer seems to be painfully aware of the fact that it's been outsmarted and doesn't rush the objective, even in the final turns. It plays very conservatively which is something I didn't expect from the Tyranid swarm. C'mon, Genestealers - I signed up for this to purge, stop hiding behind corners, I know you have units to spare!
You'll spend quite some time with this one - not only does it feature unique campaigns for each side of the conflict, but it also has custom skirmishes you can play out by yourself or versus another player, as well as a Map Editor. If you like your strategy games and want to start your very own Terminator Squad or Genestealer brood, SH:T will give you the perfect opportunity to show off your fighting prowess time and time again.
out of 10
(not an average)
I have to say I enjoyed my time with this one. It's yet another "diamond in the rough" kind of title that needed just a little bit more polish to truly stand out. With that said, it's still easily one of the better installments in the series and a solid strategy game, both for Space Hulk fans and new recruits. It's precisely what a Warhammer 40K game should be - a well-thought-out, slow and methodical strategy game with a strong focus on squad-based tactics. If you feel that you can look past its flaws, give it a fair shake - after all, serving the Emperor is not a duty, it's a privilege.