Space Hulk is a relatively straightforward game. If you like more mature, dark themes in your titles, it may be for you. The same could be said if you're the type of gamer who wishes the Wii U had more thrillers. If you're a fan who mostly enjoys more colourful, first-party-style fare, this may not be for you.
If you're the type that would enjoy Space Hulk, you may already know about it. It's set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, which has roots older than the NES; Space Hulk itself was first introduced as a board game in 1989, shortly after Mario's small-screen debut. It's an asymmetrical, two-player game, meaning that both players do not necessarily need to take their turns at the same time. One player will play as space marines, the armour-clad heroes of the Warhammer universe, while the other plays as the Genestealers, the fanged, clawed vanguard of a vicious alien species called The Hive.
The Wii U version of Space Hulk is a faithful recreation of the board game in many respects; it has a campaign mode with several missions to play, though we've struggled with the final moments. Veteran players of the board game have reported the campaign to take somewhere in the six-to-twelve hour range.
Each mission sees the player put in control of a squad of Space Marines (or Genestealers if you are playing multiplayer), and tasked with a number of simple objectives: clear out the enemies, rescue a comrade, or reach a goal with a certain number of allies still alive.
In terms of early impressions, Space Hulk falls somewhere in the middle of Wii U's download offerings, quality-wise. There is little environmental variance, but that is to be expected as a Space Hulk - by definition - is simply a derelict spaceship; as such, all missions take place under similar circumstances. The board is comprised of a number of interlocking tiles, each representing a small, confined corridor. During gameplay the camera takes a wide, top-down view of the action, however when one of the Space Marines is involved in combat the camera zooms in for a closer look, revealing a surprising amount of detail. Steam shooting up from grates, intricate detail on the wall and the armour of the Marines themselves are all visible. Checking out the GamePad screen, meanwhile, will let you see things from the currently selected Marine's point of view, which will let you soak in more of that detail.
Space Hulk's audio design, meanwhile, is rather middling - it's clear the intent was to create a sense of tension and fear, but it falls short in its aim. There are sounds of creaking and the implication that monsters are hiding in the depths of the abandoned ship, but the effects play so routinely that they never manage to generate any sense of horror. Music only plays in the game's menus and is largely forgettable. Animation, on the other hand, is Space Hulk's major presentational failing - both the Genestealers and the Space Marines seem stilted in their animation, and frame rate issues tend to pop up when using some of the flashier weapons like the flamethrower.
In terms of the strategic gameplay, each move you make consumes activity points; this makes sense in certain respects but can seem tedious at times, especially when all you're doing is turning around. Each character in your squad has a set number of activity points to spend that are replenished each round, while each unit has a number of abilities at their disposal, based on their class. Some are proficient in melee while others do better fighting from a distance, and each of these abilities consumes a specific amount of that unit's activity points.
In addition to activity points the entire squad gets a pool of command points to share amongst themselves. If a unit in your squad runs out of activity points, they can tap into any command points the squad may have to pull off an extra move. Unlike activity points, however, command points do not replenish each turn, instead they must be earned back by downing enemy units. In a move away from typical strategy gameplay and in a nod to the board game source material, however, the outcome of each action taken is determined by a dice roll that happens behind the scenes. If you attack an enemy, each side rolls dice, with the higher coming out the victor. These rolls are not shown by default, but holding down the Y button displays them on the GamePad.
Where Space Hulk truly shines, ultimately, is in multiplayer. AI opponents can be fun, but playing against another player can be riveting. The only issue, however, is the fact that both players play the game on the TV, thus revealing each player's strategies to their opponent.
Likewise, movement speed is on the slow side. The time between issuing a command and watching the on-screen character execute it can be quite lengthy; especially so in the case of the Space Marines, who tromp around quite slowly. One factor that somewhat mitigates this is the helmet cam feature, which displays the action from the character's point of view on the GamePad screen. Unfortunately, this only displays the Space Marine side of things; Genestealers are left out of the fun.
Space Hulk, like many board games, is more what the players make of it - as a video game, though, it isn't as successful as its tabletop outings. Nice effects like the fantastic helmet cam add value to the Wii U version, but the GamePad would have been better utilized letting both players hide their moves from each other, especially considering each player hands the pad off between rounds. All said, Space Hulk is a fun game with some strong points, but it might not find the audience it's after on Nintendo's console.