When developer Thomas Hentschel Lund started work on adapting the classic Warhammer 40K board game Space Hulk to PC and iOS, he ran into problem familiar to a lot of Warhammer fans: it’s become almost impossible to find, despite a recent reprint. Even Games Workshop aren’t immune. They have a single copy in their library and refused to let it out of their sight, even for the developer working on the only licensed Space Hulk videogame.
Fortunately for fans of Space Marines and the Genestealers who hunt them aboard a derelict starship, Lund has always been a Space Hulk fanatic and had his own prized third edition copy that he brought around and showed to the rest of his team at Full Control. Thanks to Lund’s and Full Control’s efforts, soon we’ll all be able to lead an elite team of Space Marines to their grisly deaths or immortal glory.
Judging from what I saw at GDC, my bet would be on “grisly death”. Space Hulk is packed with artful menace: the Space Marines’ helmet headlamps cast frail light over the dark, narrow corridors of the Sin of Damnation capturing dust motes in the stale air. Fans turn slowly overhead, casting shifting shadows on the walls and floor. The ship is alive with faint hisses and groans, and as the Space Marines begin their advance, the fast skittering of Tyranid Genestealers.
Space Hulk is very simple, when you come down to it. The starship is a claustrophobic death trap where most hallways are single-file, and Tyranids are usually pouring in from every side corridor. Each mission usually has some objective on the floor plan where the Blood Angel strike team needs to go before the Genestealers’ numbers become overwhelming. Speed and prudence are at war with one another.
Lund hopes that with the new fans the 40K universe has won via Relic’s Dawn of War series and Space Marine, plus the increased interest in turn-based tactical games following XCOM’s success, his adaptation of Space Hulk will find a large audience among PC and iOS users.
On the other hand, Space Hulk’s superficial similarities to XCOM could also be misleading. XCOM is ultimately about winning a series of firefights against a similar adversary. Space Hulk’s action is completely asymmetric: you can’t defeat the Tyranids, only stave off destruction long enough to complete your objective. It hinges on knowing who to sacrifice to the ravening hordes to buy time while the rest of the squad runs like hell for the objective. While the various members of the team have special weapons and abilities (in the narrow corridors, the flamer reigns supreme), there’s not a lot of room for maneuver.
In the scenario Lund played for me, his team had to advance on a control room and get the flamethrower in there to clean it out. If the soldier with the flamethrower died, he’d fail the mission. Trouble was, the flamer is also the most effective tool for crowd-control.
The flamer took point up the main corridor while his bolter and power-fist wielding comrades peeled off behind him to adopt block positions at each intersection. After each Space Marine turn, more Genestealers would begin flooding onto the map. The Space Marines tried to thin the herd and keep the Genestealers at arm’s length as they moved.
Space Hulk feels like a battle against the inevitable and in no time the beleagured Blood Angels were surrounded by Tyranids. Lund lost the mission when he sent his flamer unit one space too far, running out of action points so that he could not actually trigger the weapon. That allowed the Genestealers to close within melee range. The flamer got off one final burst, igniting an entire corridor and most of another intersecting corridor, but the lead Genestealer survived and slashed him down with its claws.
“I thought that would go better,” Lund admitted with a sigh.
Lund promises several different scenarios for Space Hulk after it comes out sometime this fall (hopefully), and the original Space Hulk eventually featured several different expansion campaigns that might make their way to the videogame adaptation. But for now, he’s just focusing on the original campaign missions and hoping veteran Warmhammer fans will lead newcomers, like Dawn of War and Space Marine players, to this adaptation of a cult classic.
Judging on the looks and sound of Space Hulk, Lund and Full Control have made a stylish and appealing adaptation of the original board game. The big question is whether Space Hulk itself will offer the kind of variety and challenge to hold the interest of armchair tacticians.
My head knows this. But as someone who has read a truly shameful amount of Warhammer 40K novels, I’m not sure my heart cares. Let me at those Genestealers.