There must be some tough decisions to make when creating a video game adaptation of a board game. Should the game be a faithful recreation to please existing fans? Or should it be modified in an attempt to enhance the experience and attract more gamers. We’ve been spending some time with the latest attempt at bringing the classic Games Workshop board game Space Hulk to gamers.
We’ve many fond memories of playing the board game back in the early nineties and also played the Amiga game which was released in 1993. We were pleased to hear that Danish developers Full Control have opted to stay true to the original.
Set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe the name Space Hulk is a term given to large derelict spaceships. The turn-based game pits a player controlling a squad of Blood Angel Terminators against waves of Tyranid Genestealers that inhabit the Space Hulks. The board game was designed for two-players but the game can be played solo against the AI or against a human opponent either same-screen hot seat or online. Playing against human opponents is more fun and unpredictable than the AI. The best way to play multiplayer is definitely against a friend.
The maps are incredibly claustrophobic and full of long narrow corridors. This doesn’t help the Terminators who are decked out in bulky armour. They are so large that on a normal corridor they can’t pass each other or even help a teammate by shooting past them. The Blood Angels must stay alive using careful positioning and relying on their storm bolter pistols and flamers to keep the Genestealers at bay.
Genestealers spawn at designated points on each map but are only initially shown to you as a blip which builds tension. The AI can choose to reveal how many Genestealers are represented as a blip or you can wait until they are in your line of sight. Sadly they don’t seem to have had the same attention spend on them as the Terminators and they look a little scrappy.
Each Terminator is given four action points per turn which are used for movement and shooting. Moving one square forward takes an action point, moving backwards takes two and you even need to spend one to change direction. Shooting also takes action points and if you want to be successful it’s worth spending two points per turn to enable Overwatch.
Overwatch keeps a Terminator on alert so that he will automatically fire upon an alien. Genestealers are fast moving so you need to take them out as soon as possible while at range. If they get up close they will eviscerate you in seconds. The low number of action points means that each turn is quick as you can only make a couple of decisions before running out.
A really neat mechanic is that you also earn command points. This is a pool of extra points that can be spent across your whole squad when needed. This essentially allows you to grant more points to certain Terminators and they are most useful for getting out of a sticky situation. Using them to send a lone marine ahead is usually suicide as it’s too easy to get overwhelmed. This is made worse by your weapons constantly jamming just when you need them most. Instead it pays to be patient, take your time, stick together and find a good spot where you can cover all angles.
We’ve been playing the game since launch and have been impressed to see how well the developers are listening to the community. At launch the game was rather buggy in places and there were many things that didn’t feel quite right. The developers have responded with a steady stream of updates which have fixed a lot of things, improved some areas and even added new features.
One particular annoyance was the speed at which the Terminators move. We understand that they are effectively walking tanks but their movement was incredibly slow. Each time you moved you had to sit through the same painfully slow animation. The game now has two faster animation options which speeds them along. This makes the game feel a lot more like the board game and keeps the tension high.
During play the action is mostly viewed from an isometric perspective but you do have control of the camera allowing you to rotate and zoom into the action. At times, such as when you’re firing, the camera switches to a more cinematic viewpoint. While this looks nice it can get repetitive. In the corner of the play area you get a low-quality video feed from your current Terminators head-cam which we felt was a nice touch.
As a game it would have been nice to see a few more ideas thrown into the mix. While the gameplay is tried and tested the developers could have considered looking at character progression. Even when a Terminator dies he’ll still be in the next mission. It would have been nice to have the chance to promote or improve characters that have survived between missions.
Space Hulk is a faithful recreation of the board game which has improved immensely since launch. Hopefully the developers will continue to improve the game. Fans of the board game, especially those with like-minded friends to play against, should check it out.