With the recent re-release of the legendary Games Workshop board game ‘Space Hulk’, the release of this new digital version – ‘Space Hulk: Ascension’ is well timed but can it compare to the original tabletop experience?
In Space Hulk you take control of a squad of Space Marine Terminators – humanity’s elite heavily armoured soldiers – tasked with the mission of clearing drifting shipwrecks in space, or Space Hulks as they are known in the 40K universe, of an alien menace lurking within.
The gameplay remains largely unchanged from the board game and makes good use of tried and tested turn based mechanics. You issue orders to each of your Terminators using action points, of which each Terminator has different amounts. So you have to make sure you plan your turn out in advance because there’s no way to undo an order, and they follow orders as soon as you give them, meaning any mistakes can prove costly! It’s a constant juggling game of protecting key Terminators who have the weapon required to complete a mission, keeping a solid defensive perimeter, ensuring each Terminator is in the right place to make best use of their weapons of choice, and mainly just making sure you don’t accidentally block your own movement by moving your Terminators in the wrong order!
Unfortunately the interface can sometimes feel a little clumsy, and I found myself making mistakes regularly thanks that. It is also very easy to get lost and disorientated in the murky corridors so you will have to spend half your time zooming out and checking where you are and where you’ve been just to make sure you’re actually going the right way!
The tutorial is long and detailed, but doesn’t feel like it drags at all. Each level of the tutorial plays out much like a mission but is designed to highlight key aspects of the game. It is well worth playing the tutorial to get the best out of the game, even if you have the tabletop version as there are a few differences to learn!
Once that’s finished there are three campaigns, each playing as a different Space Marine Chapter:
- Blood Angels – Excellent all-rounders
- Space Wolves – Brutal close combat brawlers
- Ultramarines – Ranged combat masters
The campaigns are all well designed and will take a good few hours to complete, made even better by the addition of the ability to upgrade your Terminators as they gain experience. You can either level their stats, making them better at shooting for instance, or upgrade their weaponry to deal with more specialised tasks or just dish out more damage! All allowing you to make your squad work best for your particular play style. It is vitally important that you keep upgrading too, as the difficulty curve gets particularly viscous on occasions.
This is not a fast paced game at all, it requires constant thought, but it doesn’t feel noticeably slow either. Once you get into the flow of the game you’ll find yourself working your way through the missions at a reasonable pace.
What most disappointed with the gameplay though was that you cannot play as the Genestealers. This side of the tabletop game is a very different experience altogether and is just as fun and satisfying to play. It seems like a missed opportunity as it could’ve made for an excellent local or online multiplayer option, instead there is no multiplayer at all. This is a single player only experience, which seems a little odd considering the source material!
Whilst the sounds are spot on, visually the game is unfortunately flawed. The graphics are excellent with the Genestealers and Terminators really brining life to the tabletop creations, but the light levels are just too dark! The ships corridors are difficult to see clearly, meaning you can all too easily miss key details – Most prominently details such as vents, from which Genestealers can emerge! This leads to far too many incidents where your carefully planned manoeuvring falls apart completely, so make sure you save often otherwise you’ll be restarting even more so!
The darkness of the game can also make the screen feel somewhat empty at times, but one detail I did very much like was the first person view screen in the top right, showing you what the Terminator can see. It’s a nice touch, though it never felt overly useful as details are often just as unclear and easy to miss there too (unless you’re staring right at them!)
Overall I would recommend Space Hulk Ascension, as despite the visual issues it is an exceptionally good game. Whether you’ve played the board game or not, there is plenty here to keep you interested for hours on end, and whilst it does require patience it pays you back with so much satisfaction when you finally complete a particular tough mission!
Just remember to turn the brightness up!