Even by the standards of the strategy games Space Hulk: Tactics is a slow and methodical experience. Adapted from the board game of the same name, developer Cyanide has tried to bring the tabletop experience to the realm of video games. Although Space Hulk: Tactics takes place in the action-heavy Warhammer universe with its mix of fantasy and science fiction, the gameplay is very purposeful and intellectual. For better or worse, Cyanide has succeeded. Tactics feels like a tabletop game that has been transported to a screen.
Space Hulk: Tactics isn't for everyone. It's built specifically for those gamers who like to spend much more of their time thinking about their actions than actually completing them. Wanting or expecting anything more action-oriented will lead to mind-numbing boredom. For the dedicated though there's a considerable amount of depth and fun in Space Hulk: Tactics it just with a not insignificant level of frustration.
Space Hulk: Tactics doesn't lack for content. The bulk of the game, the single player, is split between two campaign modes. The first is a 13-mission story with the space marines or Terminators. The second campaign is a 9-mission story with the alien baddies, the genestealers. The narratives for each campaign are the typical Warhammer mythology but they’re harmless enough. There's also an offline and online Skirmish mode which utilizes the same two types of armies. This asymmetrical gameplay is Space Hulk: Tactics can be wholeheartedly praised because each faction plays in totally different manners.
With the Terminators each unit moves like a tank because that's essentially what they are. Strapped into their gigantic hulking armor each soldier has a tremendous sense of power behind it. As a Terminator the goal isn’t to charge ahead but to move slowly around the map and anticipate the actions of the genestealers who often can’t be seen until they’re in the Terminator’s direct line of sight. It's never quite exciting but there is something satisfying about the way that Terminators look, move and behave. The fact the Terminators are these hulking monstrosities and not the typical agile borderline superhero space marine gives Space Hulk a terrific unique feel.
Meanwhile the genestealers move much faster but combat is set up in an almost opposite manner to the Terminators. Genestealers can see almost everything on a map and must utilize that knowledge to find a way to flank the Terminators. Genestealers are deadly melee fighters but only truly effective when sneaking up on unaware enemies. The genestealer campaign goes so against the grain of a normal strategy game that Space Hulk: Tactics wisely recommends that the Terminator missions be completed first. Both campaigns are very punishing but in that delightful strategy game way.
The base game and mechanics of Space Hulk: Tactics are great. If there’s one slight hiccup in the mechanics it’s the card system. Every turn there’s a choice of cards which can be sacrificed for extra precious AP points to move or attack. The cards can be used to add buffs and power-ups. The card system is holdover from Space Hulk: Tactics’ original version of a tabletop but it’s a cool idea. It initially seems confusing and overly complicated but makes sense through practice. The same can’t be said for the controls.
Developer Cyanide has clearly attempted to build Space Hulk: Tactics for both the console and PC audiences. Sadly splitting the difference between the two hasn’t done Space Hulk any favors. The interface of Tactics is more simplified than what would be found in the average PC game but there’s still way too many menus and inputs for a console controller. Space Hulk: Tactics is too slow for a console strategy game and too simple for a PC game.
This halfway point between PC and console game causes a myriad of problems. Units can’t be selected individually and instead must be scrolled through which is an unnecessary time suck. The tiny text on screen, full of valuable information, is incredibly difficult to read from over two feet away. Movement and input is often unresponsive and even borderline combative. An AP point will often be sacrificed in just getting the soldier to face the right direction because of the finicky controls. Worst of all, the game begins in first person mode, not the much more sensible isometric view. First person offers a nice immersive experience that shows off the detail of the maps but it’s wholly antithetical to the game’s strategic mechanics. It’s impossible to play effectively with so much of the view cut off.
The AI of Space Hulk: Tactics is difficult enough, the console controls shouldn’t be as big, if not a bigger obstacle. The frustrating elements of Space Hulk should come from not making the right moves or attacking the enemy at the wrong time. Instead the difficulty of the game is greatly enhanced by design decisions. These control issues could be patched and fixed with time. At launch though Space Hulk: Tactics is too much of a headache for all but the most hardcore strategic fans to consider.
Space Hulk: Tactics is available now for $39.99 on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. Screen Rant was provided and played a PlayStation 4 copy for review.