Games Workshop’s Space Hulk is a classic tense Space Marines versus Genestealers board game. Transferring that to a video game was always going to be a challenge, and it’s one that the latest attempt comes agonisingly close to realising properly.
Space Hulk: On the plus side
Fans of Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe probably don’t need any introduction to what Space Hulk is, but if you came in late, imagine the corridor shooter scenes in Aliens, except imagined as a boardgame, and all the marines are dressed up like early Iron Man armour, complete with that level of speed.
The original board game is quite rightly viewed as a classic, and it’s one that — once you understand the flow of the rules — makes for an engaging and entertaining evening’s pastime with suitably minded friends.
I certainly can’t fault the basic design approach that the developers have taken with the PC/Mac version of Space Hulk, because pretty much everything from the board game has been faithfully recreated. Space Marines look, sound and move exactly like they should. Genestealers are creepy, and the game board is dark and foreboding, because it should be.
Space Hulk is still based on a mix of strategy and the run of the dice. Wade in without working out lines of sight and your Marines are so much fodder, but even when you do clunk around in formation, properly putting your troops in oversight mode to enable the best chances of survival, sometimes death is still your only reward. Just like the board game, this gives Space Hulk a lot of tension, because every single encounter is unpredictable.
Space Hulk: On the minus side
Space Hulk is extremely faithful to the board game rules, and it’s well worth realising that before you plunk down your money, because it’d be tempting to say that it should have been given more of a “video game” veneer. It hasn’t, for better or worse, and that’s something that’ll leave some feeling unsatisfied with Space Hulk.
The issue there is that it’s feasible to turn board games into digital board games and still keep that sense of pace, and this is where Space Hulk falters badly. The first time you deploy your Marines and they slowly crash around the cramped corridors of the abandoned derelict, you’ll marvel at the attention to detail as they ploddingly move into place. But once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it, and you’ll then be left waiting at the end of each turn for your troops to actually move into place. If there was one extra feature I’d dearly love to see implemented, it would be an animation speed slider, because waiting for your troops, which should add tension, just ends up sucking all that delicious tension away.
It’s also not without its bugs, and I’m not talking Genestealers here. Character models clip through walls, sound effects sometimes cut off, and the experience running it on a Mac is a bit of a 50/50 bet as to whether it’ll crash on startup at all. The PC version is a little smoother in this respect. Even some of the environmental effects are weird, with fallen Space Marines going down to an attack that looks like it’s come courtesy of Wolverine’s claws, and blood spurting at weird angles from Genestealers.
To be fair, there have been bug updates since launch. Hopefully they’ll continue.
Space Hulk: Pricing
Space Hulk is available via Steam for $29.99 and works on Mac and PC platforms.
Space Hulk: Fat Duck Verdict
Space Hulk comes so very close to nailing what makes Space Hulk such a classic. It’s not impossible to get strategy board games working smoothly in a digital environment. The recent Warhammer Quest is a good example of a board game turned digital in a seamless way, but the same seamless ease of play is instead replaced with an experience that’s best described as plodding. Does anybody want to rush out and buy a game that can be summed up as plodding?