Space Hulk Tactics by Cyanide Studios is the latest outing for the Space Hulk franchise. It was released on 9th October 2018 and so far has been gaining mixed reviews on Steam. After playing the game for a fair few hours now I feel that these mixed reviews are fair. For me the game is not quite where it should be.
For anyone not familiar with the Space Hulk premise here’s a bit of a history lesson. The game is based on the board game Space Hulk from Games Workshop. It pits a squad(s) of Terminator Space Marines (essentially walking badass tanks) against the Genestealer xenomorphs. The Genestealers are lethal melee killers who inhabit derelict spaceships. It’s the terminators job to kill the Genestealers and vice-versa . You can choose to play as either the Terminators or the Genestealers who each have their own campaign. Alternatively you can go multiplayer with each player taking one side and you can even design your own levels which once again stays true to the board game.
Watch the Space Hulk: Tactics launch trailer below:
Cyanide has tried to stay as true to the board game as possible and they clearly have a lot of love for it. The game is turn-based, each game starting with a deployment phase and then moving onto movement, actions or combat. Whilst the Terminators are always visible on the map it’s not the same for the Genestealers. These begin as radar blips on the map and once revealed, either by being spotted or by choice of the Genestealer player, they reveal from 0-3 Genestealers who can then be moved independently.
Each mission is set within the tight confines of a different Space Hulk with a different layout, mission objective and tactical options. I didn’t really notice the difference between ships other than the layout change, assets have simply been reused and it looks like there has been no attempt to give any of the hulks any individuality.
Despite this reusing of assets the game is nice to look at. It does a good job of fostering a claustrophobic environment and is dark and gritty. The animations are pretty good in-game although it can get a bit boring watching each one play out over and over as there is little variety in them. Also, the camera can be a bit buggy and I often found myself watching a corridor wall rather than the intended animation.
The gameplay itself is set up to be tense, especially for the Terminator player. When playing as the Terminators you are always going to be outnumbered and this makes each steel clad warrior key to your success. Added to this the Genestealers can do a lot more each turn (they have more action points to spend) so they can move a lot further and attack more times, they are also extremely deadly when they get into melee range. On the flip side, the Terminators are armed to the teeth and stand a much better chance of survival if they can keep the Genestealers at range.
Each turn both sides also have access to a card system. Cards can either be converted into more action points allowing you to do more with your squad or you can play the card on one of your squad to give them various buffs.
Between missions there are the usual bits of story as you’d expect, chances to upgrade your squads, change loadouts and abilities and make changes to the composition of your squad. There is also a mission map, that I feel is totally throwaway as it adds nothing. You are simply clicking on boxes until the next encounter.
So the game is set up to be really good and have lots of tense encounters, the Terminators desperately making their way through a decaying space hulk trying to hold back swarms of Genestealers, sounds good right? Sadly, for me at least, the gameplay didn’t come close to living up to this. My main issue is I found it massively imbalanced and that the imbalance varied from map to map. Using one mission as an example (I played mission 3 the same way twice to test this) I found on one try one Terminator could easily hold a corridor on his own keeping the hordes at bay and slaughtering with abandon. On my second playthrough, the same Terminator got overrun immediately after missing every shot. Now I don’t expect to kill with every shot but to have such a night and day approach to the chances of hitting and killing make it very frustrating.
When playing as the Genestealers I felt completely invincible against the Terminator AI. They were missing almost every shot and once I got in close killing them was like taking candy from a baby and very quickly I was surrounded by the smoking corpses of Terminators.
There is clearly some dice rolling going on in the background to determine the success of your actions, in fact, dice rolls are displayed on screen but the whole thing seems completely out of whack.
To summarise, I feel Space Hulk: Tactics has the base of a potentially great game. It has tried to stay true to its board game roots and generally looks really good. The fact that you can play as either Terminators or Genestealers is great and the chance to play against a friend in multiplayer gives the game loads of scope for playing again and again especially with the map editor. Sadly the actual gameplay lets the whole experience down with its lack of balance and consistency, I felt the outcome of each battle was never really in my hands, for me it breaks the game. Hopefully, Cyanide will listen to the feedback the community is giving and make improvements in the future.
Space Hulk: Tactics was reviewed using a digital code supplied by the publisher.
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive Developer: Cyanide Studio Release Date: October 9th, 2018 Reviewed On: PC/Steam Also Available On:PS4, Xbox One