|Multiplayer:||Pass n Play or Internet-based multiplay (live or asynchronous)|
|AI:||Yes, 3 levels of difficulty|
|Purchase for iPhone:||None available. Buy an iPad now!|
|Purchase for iPad:||
GD Star RatingSpace Hulk,
Far back in the dark days of 1989, Games Workshop released Space Hulk on an unsuspecting populace. With a ruleset that was relatively light and easy to learn (certainly when compared to the full Warhammer 40k rules) the game was quite sought-after, allowing you to wreak bloody havoc on the tabletop over the course of an afternoon. Now the third edition of the game has been ported to the iPad – dare you stalk the bloody corridors?
Note: Since this review was published, the developers have addressed many of the issues raised. See below for details.
Set within the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Space Hulk tells the story of the Death Angels, a religiously fanatic squad of bio-engineered super soldiers bedecked with the latest and greatest in xeno-slaughtering power armor. It seems that some 600 years ago, a vessel named the Sin of Damnation was boarded by a vicious alien race known as Genestealers, and only 50 of the 1,000 aboard managed to survive. 600 years later (for what is time to the biologically superior?) the ship is back, and the Death Angels are primed to reclaim it.
The game is broken into several campaigns, each of which is further subdivided into scenarios. Each scenario pits a number of Terminators (the generic name for your troops) against a number of Genestealers. Your Terminators move slowly but have the ability to fire at range; the Genestealers only have their claws and fangs, but move significantly faster than the Terminators, and can crawl through air ducts in any scenario that supports them.
Each Terminator has 4 Action Points. Doing just about anything costs 1 Action Point – moving a space, changing a facing 90 degrees, firing, opening or closing a door, and so on. Each unit with a ranged weapon can be put into Overwatch mode, which gives them attacks of opportunity on the Genestealer turn; they can also be put into Defensive mode, which will give them a bonus if slugging it out up close with a Genestealer. In addition to the units’ Action Points, the Terminator player will get 1d6 worth of Command Points. These are a pool of communal Action Points any Terminator can use. In practice, giving an action to a Terminator who has used all their Action Points simply drains this pool, so it’s very important to keep track who has done what in a given turn. Luckily, the icons representing each unit of your force in the lower-left corner of the screen identify visually how many Action Points they have left, and the currently selected unit’s Action Points will be visible in the center of the interface area.
If the Terminators haven’t achieved their goal, the Genestealers get a turn once all Terminators are out of action points. The Genestealers, initially, move as red circular blips, visible both in the main screen and the Map mode. A Blip can represent anywhere from 1 to 3 Genestealers, and can be placed by the Genestealer player according to various rules whenever they choose to reveal them. If a Terminator gets line of site on a blip, it must be immediately revealed; this will end the Genestealer turn if it happens during Genestealer movement, but so far we’ve never seen the AI make that mistake.
Combat is based on rolling d6s. Generally speaking a 6 will kill your target. This can be modified based on what gear a Terminator is carrying, as different weapons gain inherent bonuses and roll different numbers of dice. There are additional modifiers for things like Sustained Fire, which makes it easier to hit a target you just missed. The effective range of Terminator weapons is either infinite or melee, which requires an adjacent foe. A log in the lower-right reveals each roll, keeping everything honest, and typically a successful hit will shift the camera to a ground-level view of the Genestealer or Terminator in their final throes of mortality.
Each scenario begins with a voice over narration and wire-frame diagram of the level map and objective locations. Terminators win each scenario by meeting the objective – occasionally this will simply be the death of a certain number of Genestealers, but more often there will be specific goals, such as the elimination of a certain piece of hardware or the survival of certain units. You lose if the Genestealers thwart your efforts – usually by defeating all your units.
The gameplay of Space Hulk perfectly captures the feel of the board game, serving as a knowledgeable rules arbitrator and keeping setup time to a bare minimum (and teardown non-existent). Unfortunately, there are some technical issues that mar this otherwise excellent package.
Let’s start with the good news. The game’s first campaign serves as an excellent tutorial. While the tutorial is not interactive, each step of it features a full screen page from the full manual, each illustrating a given concept as it is introduced. The manual strives to keep the language focused on what’s happening in the video game itself, leaving discussion of game mechanics to those who want to dig deeper in the manual. The manual, it’s worth noting, makes reference to things like using WASD for movement, which obviously is impossible on an iPad…while the full manual exists, no care was taken to localize it to this platform.
The graphics and sound design are both utterly top notch, perfectly capturing the feel of a derelict, labyrinthine vessel that has become a breeding ground for the stuff of nightmares. Hopefully you like those graphics, because you’ll be staring at them for quite some time. While the tutorial missions move at a good clip, the end of the Genestealer turn is marked with a noticable pause, during which the interface is gone and the game is unresponsive – you’re able to pan around the level, but you won’t be able to interact in any way. This has even been reported by many users of the iPad Air, where the lag is several perceptible seconds; on the iPad 2 used for review, it would last up to half a minute.
This issue is further exacerbated by the fact that the load/save system simply does not work. While you can create a save file, the save dialog doesn’t give you any indication that the save has been completed successfully – you won’t see any evidence of it until you go to the Load screen. After hitting Save a dozen times and believing nothing had happened, we saw a long list of our saves in the Load interface – or at least we assume it was long, as it is impossible to scroll through the list. Tapping one of the saves you can see will bring it up in the main Load area, but the Load button itself is unresponsive. The practical upshot of all this is that you have to complete whatever scenario you start in one sitting, and woe betide anyone who has a crash midway through – this doesn’t seem to be common (it only happened to us once so far) but it’s non-zero, and more than one player has expressed frustration in any number of forums.
Add to all of this the fact that there is no way to play the Genestealer side in single player mode – it’s an option only for multiplay, which means you have no way to practice until you’re in the heat of battle. Blend in the fact that 3 of the game’s 4 campaigns are IAP, which will tack another $13 to the cost of an already premium-priced game. Overall, you have the worst kind of package – a game that almost works but has a few key failings, and meanwhile wants more than double the price to play everything.
We went into it really, really wanting to like this one. Space Hulk is a big part of many aging gamers’ childhoods, and the actual gameplay parts of this app are lovingly detailed and very well executed. Sadly, the app is plagued by the sorts of bugs one would expect to be ironed out in beta testing, confounded by an astonishing lack of localization, and is laden with day-one IAP. We doubt that any of this will stop hardcore fans from the purchase, but at 3.2 GB installed and a $9.99 pricetag, we don’t feel it was out of place to expect a smoother experience.
About 2 days after Space Hulk went live, a patch was issued which did nothing more than address bugs found in the PC version. About 2 weeks after that, the developers issued a patch that addressed every technical issue raised in this review – the game no longer hangs at the end of the Genestealer turn, the Load and Save functionality works as advertised, and the manual no longer contains references to WASD keys, the mouse, or any other feature present on the PC and absent on the iPad. This is commendable. It does nothing to address the fact that 3/4 of the game’s content is locked behind a paywall that more than doubles the price, but the game is at least playable now, which it wasn’t at launch.