I have no nostalgia for Space Hulk or any Games Workshop franchises. They’re awesomely cool and intriguing, I’ll give them that. But despite that, my only foray into their universe was horrifically splodging black paint over my next-door neighbour’s Space Marine when they asked me to help paint it. It looked like it was covered in melted tar. But anyways here I am with Space Hulk finally out on the Wii U, something I must say I was looking forward to as a fan of strategy games.
The story for the game is sort of there, but it’s brief and not really mentioned apart from some small descriptions, individual missions overshadow an overarching story. You are in command of squads of Space Marines as they try to exterminate the deadly Genestealers through a series of missions. Missions usually have unique objectives to set them apart from each other, but they essentially play out the same way. Kill as many enemies as you can and survive.
It’s a turn-based strategy game for the hardcore. It’s difficult and unforgiving. Stages are often narrow and claustrophobic, something I personally don’t like from a personal standpoint, but it really makes every situation incredibly tense. I might not mind so much if it was possible to walk through your teammate, but in actuality they block you off. Arranging your squad kind of feels like one of those slide puzzles where there’s a picture scrambled up and you can slide squares around because one of the pieces is missing.
There are a few different troop types you get as you progress through the missions. There are standard soldiers, sergeants with swords, flamers and even magic based unit. They all have slightly different quirks for dice rolls and different attacks.
You move your units one by one, in whichever order you choose. Doing an action costs AP which every unit is given 4AP at the start of each turn. Walking costs AP, turning costs AP, opening doors costs AP and attacking costs AP. So as you can probably guess, 4AP isn’t really a lot. To help this there is something called CP which acts the same as AP but it’s shared amongst your whole squad, almost like a points reserve. At the start of your turn a random number of CP is generated between 1 and 6 for you to use. It proves very useful, but it still doesn’t feel like enough. An extra 6 points (if you’re lucky) available to up to 10 units still feels stingy.
The first thing you’ll notice about the gameplay is just how slow the animations are. Units take a hilariously long time to do anything. You can see why they thought this should be the default setting because if you were wearing the same armour as those terminators, you’d move like you’re in treacle too. Unfortunately it doesn’t work well from a gaming standpoint. Thankfully in this version you can ramp the speed way up, and it’s definitely the first thing you will want to do. With the setting on the fastest speed, some missions can take between and hour and an hour and a half, I don’t want to imagine how long it would have taken me on the default setting.
It’s exhausting to play. It’s slow and cumbersome and I’m not only talking about the animation. It never feels like you’re making progress in the level. It follows the rules of the board game far too much. It’s way too restrictive in its approach. Although it may go by different names, the afore-mentioned AP is a usual staple in strategy games but Space Hulk’s 4AP per soldier is like receiving a drip of water when you’re dying of thirst. Turning around takes up 2 AP for God’s sake! You’re spending most of your time tippy toeing through the level. Considering the endless waves of enemies there are very few times you can just walk all your men forward. With the Genestealers on your back, the rear guard will be lucky to move one space forward every turn. I know it’s supposed to be challenging, but they can do that without it feeling like everything’s against you.
It’s held back by being so true to the original game. Everything relies on the outcome of dice rolls which makes most things base on complete luck rather than any skill; sometimes you kill them, sometimes they kill you. Shooting them normally doesn’t hit and going in for the melee attack usually misses and then gets me killed in the counter attack. I found the best strategy for just surviving was to wait for them to charge at me while I was using overwatch. It’s almost hilarious how everything works against you.
One thing I do like is that the enemy patterns are unpredictable. If you fail a stage, you can generally plan better for the next time you play. Maybe all the enemies came from one corridor you didn’t properly secure. Naturally, next time you’ll keep a closer eye on that particular place. Only this time they didn’t come down there, they went another route instead and destroyed you a second time. It’s a double-edged sword really. It can be frustrating and yet it keeps you on your toes and makes the whole game feel more alive than an actual AI script.
Like I said, it’s a pretty difficult game and when missions can last potentially hours, it can be incredibly frustrating getting through them, especially if you die after playing a long time. You will certainly need to keep saving the game mid-mission in case things become sour and, seeing as one single hit kills you, things can go south very quickly. There are three slots available and you’ll need to make use of everyone of them if you don’t want to write the mission off and waste your time.
The animations aren’t really up to scratch, they’re very basic and repetitive and you’ll be seeing the same ones over and over again. The game is visually dated, even for it’s original release in 2013. You can definitely see this was a game made with a limited budget.
The gamepad has a nice touch whereby it has a first person view of the character you are controlling, it’s a little too sway-y (if that’s the right word to describe it) and it spends more time looking at the walls than what’s down the corridor, but it’s a nice idea that I wish more games would use.
I’ll admit, I couldn’t motivate myself to play all of the way through, even on easy mode where your own guns won’t jam on you. You can crucify me for that if you want but the game is so slow, so against you and so restrictive, it didn’t make me want to play it. I don’t even want to be writing about it right now, it’s making me feel tired thinking about it.
I think Space Hulk is probably a better game if you take your time with it, playing one mission a day is the best way to not feel fatigued with it. Now that sounds like a big insult, but some games just work better that way. After an hour and a half slog scraping through each mission I felt like I needed a cigarette break and a lie down before I moved on to the next one. I don’t even smoke.
There’s no Pro Controller support which is an odd decision considering the Gamepad doesn’t offer anything vital to the game and there’s a two player mode but you have to share the controller. In two-player mode one player controls the Space Marines while the other takes the role of the Genestealers, placing where they will spawn and moving them in for the kill. It’s not particularly interesting, nor does it make it a better experience, but it’s there for those who want it. They didn’t need to have it in so it’s nice they bothered.
Is Space Hulk for me? Definitely not, even as a fan of strategy games. It could have been had it released itself from the shackles of the original game, but sadly the developers wanted to do a perfect replica in video game form. I’d say it’s only for fans of the franchise and those familiar with this overly restrictive, luck based gameplay. I have all the time in the world for game no matter how slow it is, but only when the game has time for me too.
– Unpredictable AI
– Luck based