As I continue my adventures in Warhammer through books, video games and miniatures I continue to be astounded how far this rabbit hole goes. At every turn, there’s something new to check out and explore. I’d heard of Space Hulk before as an old 40k board game but know nothing more beyond that. I’ve also been vocal about the fact that I don’t consider Space Martines to be the most interesting faction. However, coming off the back finishing and reviewing Dante, I want to give them a chance. So here I am stomping through dead space ships with my team of Blood Angels trying desperately to keep them alive while the Tyranid threat closes in on all sides.
Space Hulk: Tactics sees players taking control of a team of Space Marine Terminators in a turn-based, tactical game. Through the campaign, you must journey through this wreckage via an overworld style map and complete missions. There is a decent variety of missions from escapes to holding positions. In the actual missions, you’ll move your units around a grid in an XCOM style. However, unlike XCOM you don’t have the same freedom of movement. To simulate how massive and bulky the terminators are, you have a very small number of action points for each character. These points are used for everything from turning to face a different direction or opening a door to taking a shot at a Tyranid. The fun of Space Hulk: Tactics is completing your goal against the odds with a small number of resources, and when you hit those highs it feels amazing.
Unfortunately, when you don’t it is very frustrating. Like in the board game and XCOM (for an easy video game analogy), most actions require a roll of the dice to see if your character succeeds. This can mean that you fail to hit an enemy, defend against an attack or one of these elite super soldiers misses a shot against a stationary piece of rubble. And while I’m still a little grumpy about that last one, the rest makes sense. Unfortunately, as characters only can be taken down in a single hit means that having a single bad roll can completely ruin your day. In XCOM, it was about minimising the risk of failing that dice roll and even if you do a single failure didn’t mean the end of a mission. Unfortunately for Space Hulk: Tactics not rolling a six sometimes means the rest of your squad will die and there’s not much you can do.
While losing due to chance is annoying, there’s a lot to like about Space Hulk: Tactics. You can make sound tactical decisions that lead to the success of your mission and feel great about the outcome. This is partly because the Tyranids are highly predictable and it turns Space Hulk: Tactics from a game like XCOM which allows for moment to moment tactics, into more of a puzzle. This isn’t a bad thing, just different. The reason for this is that the scope of possibilities is far smaller in Space Hulk: Tactics, meaning that there is a clear distinction between a good and bad move. While this is a double-edged sword, knowing that there is a perfect run somewhere in every mission is an enticing reason to keep playing.
The campaign provides a way to improve and customise your characters meaning that you’ll have some favourites by the end, and while this is pretty minimal it is enough to feel a sense of progression. The story itself, however, is pretty poor. I’ve harped on in my Bookclubbing articles about Warhammer being more than beefy men with big guns saying “Yes, Brother Captain”, but Space Hulk: Tactics isn’t much more than that. There is some interesting tension between the Blood Angels and the Inquisition but it isn’t compelling enough to warrant the amount of time it takes up with all the text and voice acting.
You also get a mini-campaign as the Tyranids where you get to chase down some Space Marines. This campaign is very short and doesn’t have any of the customisations in the Imperial one. I didn’t find playing as the Tyranids anywhere near as fun as the Blood Angels. The basic tactic of the Tyranid’s is to flank the enemy and send large numbers and it isn’t as compelling as feeling like the last Terminator facing down a horde of enemies as your back towards the exit. However, if you are a big Tyranid fan then this will scratch that itch for you.
Space Hulk: Tactics hooked me on the puzzle of completing each mission. However, the campaign story was a poor attempt to get me invested in these characters and the events happening in the game. However, they didn’t detract from the main gameplay loop and there are some fun lore tidbits that you discover during missions that help the world come together. I don’t know how it holds up compared to previous Space Hulk games or the board game but it does look very pretty.
Thanks for reading. If you want more Warhammer 40k video games then check out my review of Battlefleet Gothic: Armada. Alternitvely, check out some decent Warhammer novels such as Dante or Talon of Horus.
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