“There is no time for peace. No respite. No forgiveness. There is only WAR.” Games Workshop’s dystopian sci-fi universe paints a grim picture of what the future holds for humanity, set some 38,000 years in the future.
Introduced in 1987 as a futuristic companion to Warhammer’s fantasy setting, Warhammer 40,000 has gone on to become one of the company’s most successful properties. It has received several editions, expansions and spin-offs over the years, but none are as revered as Space Hulk.
Set in the closed confines of a derelict spaceship, it saw one player take command of a fearless Space Marine Terminator squad sent to investigate the wreckage. With the lifeless hulk having become infested with Tyranid Genestealers, another player sought to hamper their progress by mercilessly attacking with the vicious alien species.
As with many of Games Workshop’s board games, it is a concept that makes the conversion to videos games with relative ease. And now, thanks to Hoplite Research, we can appreciate the lengths that Full Control went to recreate the nerve-wracking experience in pixellated form. For, even in the Blood Angel chapter of the Adeptus Astartes, you can be afraid.
In approaching any treasured license, we are always left hoping that the source material is treated with the utmost care. And, thankfully, the developer has clearly taken the necessary time to make sure that their turn-based strategy game is a faithful recreation.
An extensive campaign will see you board the Sin of Damnation hulk, establishing a beachhead before exploring its inner depths to recover long-lost artefacts. After particularly detailed tutorial missions, players are given more free reign over their strategic decisions with the caveat that your squad’s fate is now placed squarely in your hands. The narrative that unravels as you progress between missions is more than enough to fascinate franchise advocates and has to potential to lure new fans into the fold.
There’s a lot to take in. When you aren’t learning about Movement, Action and Command Points, there’s Overwatch, Guard, Sustained Fire, Jams and your Librarian’s psychic abilities to consider. With Genestealers skulking in the distant shadows, blips in your surroundings tease that they are nearby prompting you to defend yourself accordingly. There’s a sheer menace to the experience, and it is all the better for it.
When it all comes together Space Hulk can often spark those rare moments of brilliance in strategic counterbalance. But, that being said, it has been hard to shake off the fact that it was originally only intended for PC, Mac and Linux.
Hoplite Research has carefully considered the transition to console, a move that forgoes mouse and keyboard for more restrictive button input. That sees camera movement, zoom and rotation allocated to the Right Stick, D-Pad, and ZL and ZR buttons, with actions spread across the rest of the Wii U GamePad’s setup. There can be no question that it is clunky, and, especially in this case, what continues to surprise is that the entire experience isn’t immediately eased by using the touchscreen.
That means that there’s not only a learning curve to overcome, but also a lack of accessibility for the breadth in the audience that Nintendo normally attract. Those that are willing to put the time in will reap what eventually becomes a rewarding experience, but others may turn away after only seeing the early missions through.
Space Hulk is passable graphically, capturing the mood that the dank corridors would otherwise conjure. But the pacing is slow, a sentiment only heightened by the sluggish command input, and is accompanied by a soundtrack that is largely uninspired.
As a premium-priced game on the Nintendo eShop (£24.99), there are too many chinks in Space Hulk‘s armour for its mission to be declared a success. Bundled downloadable content promises to keep you occupied for a lengthy time, but this is an experience left for genre fans to endure.