Warning: Those of you looking for adventures with Bruce Banner bashing in some alien skulls, you will be disappointed. For those of you looking for a fun turn-based tactical RPG set in the Warhammer 40k Universe, read on!
With Space Hulk: Ascension, Full Control Studios brings the classic board game (Space Hulk) to life on your PC. As a disclaimer before going into the rest of the review – I have not played the board game. So my opinion is going to be based solely on game play. With that said, let’s begin.
Space What Now?
So what IS a Spake Hulk? In this case, it’s a huge conglomeration of space ships that no longer function properly and drift through space as a single object. Unfortunately, the insectoid aliens known as Genestealers (bad guys) have made quite a home in these masses. That’s where you come in. You’re tasked with exploring these masses and fighting the Genestealers as a squad of heavily armorered Space Marines known as Terminators (good guys).
When you start the game, you can choose one of three space marine chapters, each with their own benefits. The Ultra Marines – focused on ranged attacks. The Space Wolves, focused on melee. And the Blood Angels, which are a balanced mix of both. Once a group has been chosen, you can then choose one of three campaigns with unique storylines. Each campaign is themed towards one of the aforementioned chapters (but you can choose any of them regardless of which chapter you chose).
Missions range from specific objectives such as “Find X person” or “Cleanse X room” to complete kill missions where you wipe the area of any Genestealers alive.
Familiar Feel for Genre Fans
Similar to other titles in the genre, most notably XCOM, you manage a group of individual units, each with their own stat points, equipment and abilities. Also much like XCom, each unit has a class assigned to it, which helps them specialize in melee attacks, ranged attacks, heavy weapons or even psychic abilities. After gaining XP in combat, these marines can be leveled up through a management screen in-between missions.
Your marines are broken into two squads, which can be deployed separately on each mission map. This makes for some great strategic planning, positioning your units in a way that will help keep everyone safe and alive. And you DO want to keep them all alive, because once a unit dies, it’s gone forever and has to be replaced with a brand new guy (at rank 1).
Strategic Combat With a Board Game Feel
Once deployed on the map, each unit can be moved individually through the dark corridors of the space hulk. Gameplay revolves around Action Points (AP), which are used to do everything including movement, attacking, and even just changing the direction a marine is facing. Each unit has their own set of AP, which, unlike my vacation days, rolls over unused points. Since the game is turn based, once you have used all of your AP, or are done acting for the turn, you must end the turn and then the Genestealers go.
The fog of war is fierce in these dark corridors, with each unit only seeing a few tiles in front of it (depending on their perception stat). You are given hints to specific areas that Genestealers like to spawn from, but you never really know if they will appear this turn or not. It’s slightly terrifying once they appear out the darkness to attack. Okay, more than slightly.
Keeping the board game feel, marines can only attack and defend in the direction that they are currently facing, so you have to plan very carefully where everyone ends up. If you have an exposed flank, a Genestealer can pretty much one shot any of your marines at low levels. Attacking and defending success rates are based on percentages (dice rolls) due to that units stat points.
Luckily, you have a few options to keep everyone alive. You can set a character to Overwatch, which means once you end your turn, if a Genestealer appears in front of this unit they will attack, and most likely kill, the creature. Since they can only see and attack in one direction, it will take several marines to cover multiple entry points in a room.
Also, your heavy units can light entire hallways or rooms on fire with their flamethrower, even if you can’t see into the room ahead. This can be used to clear out any potential hostiles before moving forward.
You have to follow the “Better Safe Than Sorry” mantra, or you will find yourself limping back to your ship and replenishing your ranks with some rookies after every mission.
The game is a lot of fun, if not punishing, and makes me really want to play the original board game to compare. As a standalone tactical RPG, it is a lot of fun and offers a nice break from other titles.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I used up all my action points on posting this article.