The secret of all great military units throughout history has been in their ability to attack and defend as one. The Spartans and Roman Legionaries locked shields. Special forces of today’s world have complex strategies for movement, fire, and cover.
Space Hulk Ascension Edition will make you both learn and use these tactics.
I’m writing this as someone who has played Warhammer games going back to the SNES era and always enjoyed collecting the tabletop figurines, but who has only moderate knowledge of Warhammer 40k lore—and who never played Space Hulk prior to this. So take this as the impressions of a Space Hulk newcomer, untainted by expectation.
I had a fantastic time with Space Hulk Ascension, and was deeply impressed by it on many fronts. Space Hulk is an atmospheric game of claustrophobic tension. You control squads of Terminators, the most badass of all space-based badasses. They’re up against swarms of genestealers, which are some of the more feared creatures of the insect-like Tyranid race.
Your Terminators are so large that only one can usually fit and shoot down a hallway at a time, and this forces you to make one of the classic blunders found in nearly all killer alien-related movies: split up.
But you’re not playing as a bunch of high school girls. These are Space Marines, so they go about splitting up like any decent Space Marine would-with their guns drawn, their honor held high, and with their Space Marine brothers in mind.
When you divide your forces, you’ll need to do it in a way that lets you cover the backs of your forces. Every dark corridor could be a gateway to unseen doom. Every vent can be the end of a Terminator you’ve been playing and leveling up for the last 20 maps.
The game keeps things tense, but it does it in a way that reminds you that the degree of your badassery far outweighs that of your enemy, and the extreme firepower of your squads has a true sense of weight to it.
Space Marines Ascension has several types of scenarios for you. Some have you defend against an attack for a set amount of turns. Some have you eliminate a set number of enemies. Others, challenge you to close off or block a set number of enemy spawn points.
The genestealer spawn points play a unique role in Space Hulk. The concept is similar to what other Warhammer games do with control points, where you need to capture points to gain resources. Here, you capture points to stop the attacking waves of genestealers, and this adds a unique dimension to the game. Maybe you need to block a certain point to properly funnel enemies down a set corridor. Maybe you need to block a point to prevent enemies from attacking you from both sides. And blocking a point is a risk because it forces you to advance—to move out into the enemy’s territory, out from your safe little room and into their territory.
The real strategy in Space Hulk, however, rests in how you balance setting up units to cover, and how you use units to advance.
As you advance, you position your characters in a way that covers all possible attack points from the enemy, and nearly all encounters end in the quick death of either your guys or theirs. Some units have flamethrowers you can use to block a corridor or
What drives the game forward is an XCOM-like character leveling system, coupled with the fine dash of permadeth (if you’re playing on a higher difficulty level). You genuinely don’t want to lose your Terminators, and when you do lose one it feels significant. The game has 103 missions, and the more missions these troops make it through, the more badass they become and the more important they are—and the more it hurts when you see them get chomped to death by some creature that jumped out of the shadows.
I didn’t play the previous Space Hulk game, but going by some of the reviews I read, many players weren’t into it. Space Hulk Ascension Edition is more of a fixed up version of the last game, and from what I read it does fix nearly all areas players were unhappy about. I can say, personally, that I enjoyed it immensely. It captures a sense of strategy that few games are able to evoke. Space Hulk Ascension is a game with intense battles and where your units need each other to survive. It’s a game that has a sense of permanence and consequence. It’s a game where your decisions matter.