Title: Space Hulk – Ascension Edition
Platform: Steam, Steam OS, Windows, Mac & Linux
Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: RPG, Turn-
Players: Single player
Written by Whistler 23rd November 2014
Ah the universe of Warhammer 40K, never has there been a darker fictional dystopian future and as much as being some super human badass space marine would be awesome, I don’t fancy humanities chances against the onslaught of daemons, civilization destroying Orcs, robotic skeletal Necrons or world devouring Tyranids. The latter of this deadly Noah’s ark is also host to the Genestealers, a particularly nasty breed that are capable of infiltrating homeworlds and their favourite hunting fields are the Space Hulks, not only a goliath sized space craft but the title of one of Games Workshop’s most popular table top games.
Space Hulk developed by Full Control is another interpretation of the table top that sees players take control of two squads of terminators from either of three notable chapters Blood Angels, Space Wolves or Ultramarines as you slowly cleanse the hallways of Space Hulks over three campaigns.
Besides this thin premise there is literally no story besides sparse text which is rather disappointing considering how vast and deep the 40K lore is yet you will be left unsatisfied if you expected any of it here.
Many of you may remember that Space Hulk actually launched last year and was met with lukewarm reception from most of us largely due to its stringent mirroring of the board game rules and its lack of content or variation. Ascension serves as Full Controls answer to the player feedback received and as a standalone title with gameplay playing largely the same with all actions and movements playing out in turn based combat. Each space marine has a set amount of action points that are used in order to move, shoot, reload, go into over watch stance and so forth as battle your way through tight corridors.
Ascension does manage to see a few updates like the switch over from the harden fast rulings over Terminator stats, instead opting for individual stats and skills as given by the player to give a bit more of an RPG or XCOM feel. While extremely limited in variation, players can alter each individual Terminator’s head, armour variation and accessory piece as well as swap out skills like increased sword hit chance or decreased weapon overheat rate. These are nice additions on top of the original version however they still feel rather lazily implemented and tacked on with how little variation it actually adds.
Aesthetically pleasing, Ascension’s visuals do a great job of capturing the Space Hulk feel with gothic steel corridors and great detail drawn into the Terminator’s armour and gear though it is a little too dark at times now and the minimap nowhere to be seen.
Animations are nicely done for the most part (though turning up the gamespeed ruins the Terminator’s feel) however what I felt was a really nagging issue was the removal of the short camera cuts to show a marine taking down a GS just as it ran into his sights and I noticed that the enemies just pop into vision; while it makes sense that enemy models don’t show until their in vision a nice transition between the two phases would greatly improve the visual quality. Sadly when I watch through my squad’s cams to see a Genestealer pop into vision it really ruins the experience from time to time.
I was rather disappointed though as my machine is more than capable of running the game’s recommended settings however every now and then my frame rate would chug down to as little as 10fps for seemingly no reason; while turning the Terminator cam’s off helps the frame rate it ruins half of the experience.
Atmosphere is nailed in this game, no matter how skilled or battle hardened my squad became I would go into a mission dreading yet eagerly awaiting the onslaught coming for my squads. Thanks to the atmosphere in fact I would say the stories you’ll create as you purge the Space Hulks are almost on XCOM level of heroism, like the time that our captain and heavy weapons specialist were trapped in the power room so the three remaining marines, still green between the ears, marched down long wide corridors slowly cutting a path through the xenos flood in order to clear an escape path for the good captain. It wasn’t over there either, once the Sir Bad Demoman and Whistler (okay so I couldn’t think of half decent names for my Terminators) had reached the exit telepad, each marine had to slowly fall back step by step making sure bolters were at the ready. Sadly just as Osmund thought it was safe to turn around a lone Genestealer grabbed him from behind, with his last breath he uttered, “For the Emperor”.
The UI has seen some much needed improvements over its predecessor, granted the icons are occasionally a bit small for my liking. Clicking on a marine now opens up a radial menu around them so there’s less fluttering around and Full Control have finally implemented the much desired hotkeys for actions like reload so you don’t have to keep hovering your mouse over the reload button at the end of every turn. The controls are still a bit clunky though, clicking on Terminators can still be a bit irritating when clicking on a marine to move somewhere and instead they somehow decide they’d rather turn around and leave their backs open to that one GS right next to you. I don’t feel there needs to be an undo button but some more clarity on movements would help avoid the stress when one misspent action point can mean a restart.
Now underneath the presentation there have been reworks to the game’s system itself, replacing the standardized dice rolling chance with percentages instead along with extra fire modes, increasing the chance to hit at the cost of more action points. While this sounds great and for ranged attacks I certainly felt the difference, melee still feels irritating as hell. You see I decided to go with the might Space Wolves, with their skilled melee warriors and the trademark power claws I thought surely my captain stood a better chance seeing as he wields two claws, completely dropping ranged combat altogether, but time and time again it felt like melee combat was reduced to a roll of the dice chance yet again. While it’s understandable in a table top environment it just really ruins the experience when I need to reload a previous save for the umpteenth time when my battle hardened captain can’t stand for more than five seconds without getting his ass handed to him by mere lackeys.
It’s still my one nagging issue with Space Hulk as a single player PC experience, the strategy involved is rather simple seeing as in most cases only one Terminator can handle a corridor at any given time, the lack in level variation and storytelling only weigh down the experience in repetition. Full Control have certainly improved their game since the initial release and have been diligently patching Ascension with promised DLC including other space marine Chapters, however I feel they really need to expand upon this framework, we need more options, more variations and more story. With more in depth RPG elements instead of the rather light additions we could see this become more than just the table top brought to a digital format and ascend into a fully fledge W40K experience we’ve been salivating for ever since the first Dawn of War release. Space Hulk Ascension is an enjoyable game (if not a little infuriating at times) but I’m still not sure if it’s worth the £20 price tag for what is largely the same game with improvements, but if you’re a fan of the Warhammer 40K games then it’s worth checking out so long as you haven’t already gotten the original Full Control title or are willing to pay for this one with a 15% discount.
Small RPG elements do improve the experience,
Three giant campaigns,
Lacking level variation,
Little to no story effort,
Space Hulk: Ascension Edition is certainly better than the original but still needs work with a 5/10.