Let’s talk about Space Hulk

Safety.

You should really be wearing a helmet, brother.

I have played the PC version of Space Hulk which released yesterday on Steam. Over at PT‘s spirit guide RPS, Rab Florence has torn the game a new exhaust port after apparently pulling an all-nighter with it (media copies of the game didn’t go out ahead of time), but I feel significantly more positive about the game. In fact, I quite like it — but it’s got some problems for sure. We’ll get into those.

I haven’t played Space Hulk for iOS and, to my knowledge, no blogger or journalist or soothsayer has. And I have been talking with Full Control about this game since it was announced back in December. So let me tell you what I know: what I think of the PC edition, and how it will be different from the iPad version.

I’m also (full confession) taking the easy way out and doing this bullet-point style. It’s been kind of a rough week, okay? Lay off.

  • The iOS edition of Space Hulk is coming “soon”. The last conversation I had with Full Control chief Thomas Hentschel Lund suggested that the game wasn’t too far off — weeks, perhaps — but there’s no concrete date yet. Full Control are fully confident that the game will be on iPad, less certain about an iPhone/Universal edition.
  • Space Hulk is a slavishly faithful adaptation of the original Games Workshop board game. There have been a few digital adaptations of Space Hulk over the years, some more video-gamey than others. Full Control’s new edition is very, very strict in its adherence to the source material, and while it has some video-gamey touches, they’re entirely restricted to the game’s presentation. Space Hulk is simulating dice rolls and telling you what you rolled in a little dialogue box in the corner of the screen — it’s that literal.
  • It is Full Control’s best-looking game yet. On the PC, there’s much prettier stuff of course, but if Full Control manage to get most of the game’s textures to load into your iPad’s memory, it’s going to be one of the best-presented iPad games on the platform. The shoulder-mounted camera view for each Space Marine is definitely not going to make it to the iPad edition, Full Control art director Javier O’Neill told me earlier this summer.
  • There’s no campaign continuity. If Terminator Brother Scipio dies heroically protecting the squad’s flank in mission 2 (“Avenge me, brothers” he says as he falls) — he’s back in mission 3, armor oiled up and ready to rock. The game’s mission structure is totally linear, so you’re beating missions to unlock the next one or to beat your high score, not to carry one squad through a campaign. I wish that continuity was at least an option, but it’s not.
  • The interface was clearly made with touch in mind. Space Hulk’s interface — provided that it’s sufficiently responsive and gives you enough feedback — will work swimmingly on a touchscreen.
  • It’s buggy, but very playable. There are really strange animation problems that pop up periodically, and there’s a hugely exploitable “undo” button. I played probably ten missions last night (some more than once) and I was genuinely having a good time with it, regardless.
  • It’s pretty slow. The game is animated in a way that conveys the sheer bulk of the characters. Remember, Tyranids and Space Marine Terminators are huge. The downside of this stylistic choice is that every turn takes an age to execute — it’s like going back and playing the original X-Com now. Our attention spans have narrowed considerably since then, and Space Hulk suffers because of it. Don’t be surprised if the first patch speeds the game up considerably.
  • There’s basically no customization. For me, this is the biggest head-scratcher by far. Warhammer 40K miniatures exist to be painted and kitted out — there’s no equivalent in Full Control’s Space Hulk. You can customize your squad banner, but it never actually shows up in-game as far as I can tell. There is neither any functional loadout of gear nor any cosmetic decoration of armor or anything like that. That’s a missed opportunity so big it’s got its own gravity well.

I like this Space Hulk: it’s a bit more linear than I’d prefer but it offers some great tactical problems and generates drama in a way that only a good turn-based squad game can. Those of us who were expecting a video game experience in the vein of the old Playstation game may well be disappointed, but as a board game adaptation it’s a few patches away from good — maybe even great. And hopefully those patches will get sewn on before Full Control publishes it on the App Store.

The launch trailer is below.

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