The Space Hulk tabletop game has entertained Warhammer 40,000 fans for decades. The Space Marine vs Genestealer conflict spilled into the world of video games in the early 90’s, spawning numerous titles ranging from real-time strategy to first-person shooters. Space Hulk: Tactics isn’t the first turn-based strategy entry, but its new card system and two narrative-focused campaigns seperate it from the pack.
The two distinct story campaigns center on the Blood Angels chapter of the Terminator Space Marines and the alien Genestealers. This marks the first time the ferocious monsters have been playable in a Space Hulk campaign. Like the board game, players guide a squad through the narrow corridors of the Space Hulk vessels. Marines must fulfil objectives such as escaping or eliminating a target. Genestealers need to slaughter their armored foes before they complete their mission. Outside of these narratives, players can battle in skirmishes against the AI or face other players in competitive multiplayer.
I played match against a developer using the Blood Angels while he chose the Genestealers. My objective was to reach a room in order to scorch it with a flamethrower. Only one of my units could perform this task so I had to escort him to the point safely. Players position units or attack adversaries by spending Action Points. Characters have a limited amount of these points, so it’s important to plan ahead for obstacles such as locked doors or surprise enemy spawns.
Units fill a specific roles such as Medics, Librarians (psychic-powered mystics), or Assaults, and can use staple genre abilities such as overwatch in addition to their class abilities. Genestealers, whose ranks include powerful Broodlords and nimble Reaperfexes, are placed at spawn points and swarm their prey in waves. Since the opponent can’t see where Genestealers get positioned, savvy players can set up surprise ambushes. Genestealers can even place decoys to throw off the other player.
A new card system offers another strategic twist. Equipping units with cards bestows powerful abilities and bonuses. For example, a card may award more points for killing certain enemy types or deal extra melee damage. Tactics features over 80 cards to collect, each one playing a substantial role in combat and tactical decision-making. Cards can also be destroyed in exchange for extra action points for Marines or to summon new units for Genestealers. I like the strategy and flexibility of gaining more actions by sacrificing an ability I may not need in the moment.
A first-person option is one of the game’s coolest features. Hitting a button causes the view to shift from a standard top-down angle to witnessing the action from the character’s perspective. Not only does this look neat, but it helps with lining up attacks more accurately or to better identify environmental elements.
When playing competitively players can control four chapters (basically factions) of Space Marines: Blood Angels, Space Wolves, Ultramarines, and Dark Angels. Squad customization allows for units to be modified by body part with various armor types and color schemes. With plenty of options at their disposal, players can create squads that suit their visual fancy.
I also got a brief look at the mission editor. Players can craft their own levels to share with others online. The intuitive controls make it a cinch to construct corridors and place elements such as auto-turrets and other traps. Visual variations of each tile means stages can take on the gothic look of imperial ships or the metallic hodgepodge of orc vessels, among others. Players can assign multiple objectives to their missions, with Terminators and Genestealers having their own dedicated tasks.
Admittedly, I’m not much of a Warhammer 40K fan. However, strategy games make my soul smile, and Space Hulk: Tactics strikes many of the right notes for the genre. I had a good time playing and could see myself getting into the experience despite having no affinity for the intricate lore. Look for the game on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One when it launches on October 9.
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