Space Hulk Review: Sergeant Of The Squad, Accept Your Orders
Why no? Because it’s immediately clear that this adaptation has been rushed out far too soon. The main menu alone sports a variety of problems, from the online multiplayer tooltips all reading ‘play with a local friend’ to an unclear manual riddled with typos. The campaign AI is also a little too easy, almost always just massing units at the closest spawn point and rushing directly into your line of fire – decent enough to learn against, but nowhere near a human rival. Most damning is that local hotseat multiplayer is completely broken at the moment due to an astounding interface oversight. The error seems so blindingly obvious that I conferred with several other reviewers to confirm I wasn’t overlooking something.
Somehow, this PC adaptation of Space Hulk deprives the alien player of their one true advantage – uncertainty – at least in hotseat mode. The rules state that deployed alien units are represented as vague sensor blips. Each blip can represent between 1 and 3 units, but only the alien player knows how many it is, because they played the blip token face-down. When observed by a Marine piece on the board or officially declared by the alien player, the token is flipped and the number of units is placed on the board. The problem is that the hotseat mode uses the same interface as online play, meaning that the alien player (and, by association, their opponent) can see the full value of every piece on the board as if each blip token was played face up.
Somehow, they’ve released a board game adaptation that’s impossible to play with someone in the same room. At least not without one player having to play with one hand tied behind their back. Hotseat play also limits you whatever missions you’ve unlocked through singleplayer campaign progression, which seems a rather strange decision, compounded further by the fact that there are only 12 missions in the current release. A mission editor letting you string together basic missions from the tiles that would normally be included in the tabletop game wouldn’t have gone amiss. Given that there are fan-made unofficial adaptations of Space Hulk out there already, it’s surprising that they’ve not even tried to be competitive.
The detailed gothic environment art is a pain as well, sometimes. The walls are rendered so tall that unless you play around with the camera constantly, it’s easy to lose track of where things are. A ‘low walls’ option would go so far here, especially if it made closed and sealed doors stand out more on the board, rather than just being murky, vague blocks. The engine seems to have some performance issues as well – my PC isn’t the ultimate gaming machine, but it can handle Crysis 3 handily with almost every bell and whistle activated, but Space Hulk tends to chug when only a dozen or so relatively low-polycount aliens are on screen. Some of the animations are pretty stiff as well – understandable for the enormously armored Terminator marines, but less excusable for the lithe Genestealers.
There’s also no shortage of bugs. Most are minor, such as the game forgetting briefly to apply a rule (the combat log has shown it missing out on a sustained fire bonus on a regular basis), but sometimes worse things happen such as mission scripting not triggering, objectives not being flagged as complete and other such issues. These problems are enough when playing with a human, but a mindbogglingly frustrating prospect if you’re playing solo and are relying on everything working in order to allow further campaign progression. While there has already been a patch to address some of the more frequently occuring scripting errors, forums still bubble with reports of strange and interesting glitches.
At its heart, Space Hulk is still a classic board game highly recommended by a legion of fans and well worth playing, but this adaptation is littered with thorny little issues, from superficial graphical glitches and incorrect text on the main menu to occasional UI quirks–like incorrectly calculating the optimal movement paths for marines, forcing you to do it square-by-square, and even a few exploits involving being able to re-roll or undo actions that really shouldn’t be allowed. It’s nothing that can’t be patched, and I sincerely hope that they do, but at the moment it’s very difficult to recommend this game, even with the specter of childhood nostalgia looming grimly over my shoulder.
A few updates, a mission editor and a rework of hotseat mode further down the line, coupled with a drop to half the current price and Space Hulk would be an easy choice for those wanting a cheaper way to get into an otherwise rare and expensive board game. It seems likely that the worst of these problems will be addressed over time, although knowing Games Workshop, any additional campaign content may come in the form of expensive DLC. For the time being, though, board game fans – and Space Hulk fans in particular – are advised to bide their time. This might yet become the adaptation the game deserves, but it isn’t quite there yet.
- A comprehensive adaptation of one of the best board games out there.
- Visuals and sound capture the Warhammer 40k atmosphere well.
- Singleplayer campaign mode makes this a great starting point to learn the game.
- Hotseat mode is effectively unplayable without a UI overhaul.
- Overly simplistic enemy AI in singleplayer mode.
- Glitchy, typo-riddled and otherwise unpolished.
- Only 12 missions, with no customization or creation options.
- Some odd framerate issues even on high-end PCs.
Final Score: 63/100
Addendum: Since the writing of this review, the game has been patched quite extensively, and many of the complaints listed above have been directly addressed. Most of the smaller issues have been fixed, including a lot of broken mission scripting, various typos and interface text corrections. Some of the general game logic has been tuned up to more accurately reflect the rulebook, too, so you shouldn’t be losing Action Points to capricious computer-gremlins anymore.
The most grievous issue with the game at launch – the Genestealer player being unable to hide the value of their sensor blips in hotseat mode – has been partially addressed. While you can currently see the number on the UI during the deployment phase at the start of the turn, the value of each blip on the board itself is now hidden. The Genestealer player can hold the space bar to temporarily reveal the value of their sensor blips (during which time you should ask your opponent to look away or face a vicious elbow to the ribs), so the game is now somewhat more playable with a friend in the same room.
You can find the full patch notes for the game on this Steam community page, and it looks like they’re going to be continuing to actively support the game over the coming months. Once things have settled down a bit, the game might well be worth another look, especially once the cross-platform compatible iOS version launches.
Game Front employs a 100-point scale when reviewing games to be as accurate about the experience as possible. Read the full rundown of what our review scores mean.