Space Hulk Tactics did something strange to me. When I started playing it on my PS4, it was slow moving. It was frustrating, and had an over the top story, rife with melodrama. Little did I know, as I continued to play, these would be the very things keeping me playing.
However, the line between challenging and rage quitting can be thin. And with human and alien campaigns, quick matches, skirmishes, and a map editor, there’s a lot on display here. But even with all this customization, is it worth your time?
A History Told By The Victors: A Warning
I must admit, before I had set out to review this game, I had only heard of the Warhammer 40K franchise in my periphery. I never really made the time to check it out. But from the outside looking in, the community looks like it has grown bigger than the property itself. This is the sign of something special. This comes in handy if anyone wonders why I thought something specific or came to the decision I did. Please understand this review is from someone brand new to the franchise.
Hulking Out Since 1987: The Story
Set in the world of big and brutish Space Marines known as Terminators, this turn based tactical RPG sees a giant Space Hulk (“a twisted mass of asteroids, wrecked ships and debris”) on a collision course with the Terminators’ home planet of Terra. Trying to stop these Terminators are the “Genestealer” Tyranids. They want to devour the Terminators (though how delicious can they honestly look in those big hulking mech suits?)
Truthfully, as a newcomer, the story wasn’t anything for me to write home about. But as the game finds its roots from a series of tabletop games, I wasn’t really expecting it to. At one point, I found the characters and voice acting inconsequential. I actually went into the options menu to turn off the voice volume.
But like what I said in the first paragraph, I eventually realized, the voice acting gave it a certain life. Sure, it was full of nonsensical information that as a newcomer I had no context for. Sure, the characters were your standard soldiers with big guns and aliens that I would expect. But once the voices were gone, I kind of… missed them.
A Board Game I Initially Found To Be A Bored Game
True to its tabletop roots, Tactics is played on a game grid made of narrow corridors and open areas. You must protect them with the formation of soldiers you think will best protect you. And if you find yourself playing the Genestealer campaign or quick match, you must exploit these formations as a team of Genestealers. You must look for any weaknesses you can find. The Terminators favor long range heavy artillery whereas the Genestealers prefer up close and personal melee combat.
Like the best tactical RPGs out there, you have a set amount of points to spend per round. Different actions take specific amounts of action points to perform. And even turning your characters around on the same space costs a precious point. It’s in planning each movement that leads to each brilliant triumph and each heartbreaking defeat. Do you spend your action points defensively protecting your squad during the enemy’s turn with “overwatch” or do you do some alien bashing of your own?
A Game Of Cards
A new addition to the video games but an old addition to the tabletop games, Tactics also has cards that you can draw or convert into action points. Your opponent can’t see what cards you have. But that added firepower to your melee combat or guaranteed next shot may be all that stands between victory and defeat.
I must admit, I hated at first how long each match took. Initially, I didn’t like just how limiting each round’s worth of movement could feel. And even as I write this, I still feel a little burned with just how much time I “wasted” with losses that sometimes took over a half an hour to finish. But if you’re a huge fan of the tactical RPG genre, this can be forgiven as you may think this makes the victories sweeter. It just didn’t for me.
One Small Step For Mech: The Speed and Controls
What might be more difficult for some to forgive, however, includes the noticeable load times on a standard PS4, which this was reviewed on. They are not the longest load times I’ve ever had to endure, but they are frequent. Anytime you wish to start anything new the game goes into a frozen state where the sounds start a solid 10-15 seconds before you can actually do anything on the board. Paired with games that sometimes take over a half hour to complete, this is an incredibly slow moving game.
The controls, for using a controller rather than a mouse and keyboard, work pretty well, for the most part. It took some getting used to, but once I figured out how to switch between my squad brothers with L2 and R2 and choose their actions with L1 and R1, things moved smoothly. It was frustrating, however, when an icon was blocking my vision to see how many action points my move would use up.
Atmosphere’s Air That Isn’t Always Breathable: The Aesthetic
Each game can be viewed either from a first person view or an isometric perspective, like you’re playing an actual round of the tabletop game. It can be interesting seeing the game play out from the perspective of your actual team, but more often than not, you’ll have a better idea of what’s going on from the isometric view. It helps to look at the map in the upper right corner of your screen. I found that even playing the isometric way became confusing when a cutscene would play to show that a Genestealer had entered the board. It would then take me a second to get my bearings after that.
All of this is not to say not to bother in first person mode. The graphics look pretty cool. But once you see the setting of your match, there’s not often much to see in your narrow corridors. This holds especially true, trapped in a line behind your squad brothers.
Space Hulk Tactics is slow moving, cheesy, and at times can be enough to make you turn off the game for a bit. But in this, there is enough to keep the casual tactics fan coming back. There’s enough for the tabletop fans to love. But the learning curve is so steep that I would not make this your first tactics game. Its strengths end up being its weaknesses. It’s a good game that just misses the mark of being great, but if you are a Warhammer 40K fan, I don’t think you’ll care. It’s available now on PC, PS4, and XBox One.
- THE GOOD
- Lots of customization
- Can play as Terminators or Genestealers
- Wonderful Graphics and atmosphere
- Lots of personality
- Sweet feeling of just winning by a hair
- THE BAD
- Long load times
- Slow moving action leads to feelings of wasted time
- Great graphics wasted on empty corridors
- Repetitive cutscenes disorient player
- Icons can block needed info on screen at times
Space Hulk: Tactics has a charm to it and is slow and methodical. Unfortunately, I found the pace hurt the overall flow of the game, making a possibly great game good.
I’ve been writing almost as long as I’ve been playing video games. I also do standup and improv. The game that made me realize that video games could be more than just a toy, was Metal Gear Solid 2.