There’s no shortage of games set in the Warhammer 40K universe, that place where a mysterious Space Emperor rules over a band of chunky armour wearing Space Marines and Tech Priests. So much so that there’s also no shortage of articles mentioning this very fact when approaching or talking about something new in the realm of digital 40K. So then, what sets Space Hulk: Tactics apart from other games set in the Warhammer universe? Well for one its ambition is more focused than most - smaller and more refined. With the aim to capture and recreate the feeling of the tile-based board game roots of the series – called Space Hulk. A reference to the large, hulking, ship which serves as the setting.
Built to recreate the movement and flow of a board game, where movement is restricted, the play area is consequently smaller and more focused on the correct use of tactics. In the realm of videogames, the use of the word tactics can mean any number of things, but when it comes to the matter of genre and style it’s hard not to picture something along the lines of XCOM or the broader RPG-style progression of Final Fantasy Tactics. From developer Cyanide Studio and publisher Focus Home Interactive you’ll find no such comparison to be found with Space Hulk: Tactics. In fact, the smaller overall scope and the aim to recreate the look and feel and strategy of the classic Space Hulk board game is both a plus and a minus.
A big plus for old-school fans happy to play some digital Space Hulk with friends, but also a minus for those looking for any sort of variety, change of scenery, or narrative scope that extends beyond the physical act of picking up a card and reading some lines of dialogue. The campaign does feature some surprisingly good voice acting though. And even though the story is kept within the realm of spoken word, additional cinematic flourishes like being able to switch to a first-person view when moving units around the board as well as giving most of them names, traits, and distinct abilities certainly adds some weight.
As someone who has never played a round of Space Hulk but understands the ins and outs of moving units on a grid to set up defensive positions and formalise an attack strategy, coming to terms with the combat and flow of Space Hulk: Tactics relatively easy. Perhaps overly so. Which, as per the scope is both good and bad. Good in that there learning curve is easy enough to warrant diving deeper into the mission creation aspect of the game and checking out the multiplayer suites, but bad in that there seems to be a lack of surprise or variety when playing against the AI.
In fact, as the Space Marines taking on a horde of Genestealers, setting up a tight defensive perimeter means the AI won’t attack because it knows it’ll lose. And so, it becomes a case of waiting out the clock - represented here by a certain number of turns, depending on the current mission objectives. A strange almost never seen turn of events in a strategy game, that plays into the stricter rules, smaller number of different unit types, and board game feel. But, in the end Space Hulk: Tactics also has the appeal of its premise and works better as an experience played with others whilst also designing missions and various layouts. Much like the origins of Space Hulk it feels true to the tabletop roots of the series - but also lacking in its limited scope.