First Look: Space Hulk
A Good Tonguing
I am on the show floor at GDC, standing next to an unflappable and smiling Thomas Lund of Full Control Studios. He is pleased. He is showing me Space Hulk. He is so excited about it that I can't help get caught up in his enthusiasm and start feeling giddy, even though I have been taking all of my cynicism medication. He's been gesticulating and enthusing and SPACE HULK.
It looks pretty great.
Let's get this straight: Those screenshots pretty much do convey what the Full Control team are doing, and as I watch Lund fill a corridor intersection with fire to hold back swarms of genestealer blips, I know that something special could await us. This is a game of relatively small ambition - to convert a familiar and beloved boardgame - but it's an ambition that is so perfectly formed that no one should be in any doubt about its value. Yes, Full Control could fumble this new videogame version of the game, no I don't think they're going to.
Lund is executing his tactics for "Suicide Mission", the first Space Hulk mission, and telling me about how he's had to tweak things to make the boardgame flow as a videogame. Perhaps the hardcore will yell at him, he says, but he's okay with that, because he's confident that Full Control are making both a solid turn-based strategy as well as a game that is faithful to the Games Workshop board-classic. Visually it's impeccable. It also allows you to do a few things that you can't do in the boardgame, like coming back and using up the last bit of action on a unit before you close your turn.
He's deployed his team, and blocked off one corridor with an overwatched space marine captain. If he can hold off the worst of the blips with the flamer, then getting to the control room via the remaining corridor should be possible. The AI, he explains, has two layers. One will attempt to react to overall strategy, bunching up genestealers in groups so that they can attempt to overwhelm the player's terminators with a torrent of claws and tongues, and the other manages the individual beasts rushing and engaging the steely Blood Angels.
Lund's captain opens up on a corridor full of flinching purple gurners, revealing a close-up action shot between turns, much like XCOM's fancy action camera. This in turn reveals the gorgeous hi-fidelity terminator model and the detailed spaceship interiors. It's quite the thing to watch, but also seems to chime with some of what's happening in turn-based strategy right now: the mechanics are skimmed straight from the boardgame, but the Space Hulk we're going to get to play is also aglow with electronic fancies and burning particle effects.
Just as Lund is mid-way through his assault on this small, early hulk, a voice from behind us cries. "Is THAT what I THINK it is?" A man in a bowler hat thrusts himself toward the screen with eyes open wide. 'Space Hulk!" he breathes. Clearly this man does not read RPS. The news of Space Hulk reaching our computerised shores has not reached him. "This is INCREDIBLE," he announces, and then he launches into a torrent of Wouldn't It Be Cool Ifs which encompass Marine vs Marine combat, Necromunda, Grey Knights, daemons, why Warhammer has so few robots, something about angry men, and everything else 40k besides. During the exchange Lund talks about the versus mode that currently works in a hotseat on the same machine, which everyone nods about. "THIS IS VERY COOL," says our new friend. "THQ breaking apart is totally for the best." And by that he means that this new strategy of giving licences to more than one company is already reaping rewards. He's right.
Lund does not flinch. "We're pleased with Games Workshop's new licensing strategy," he admits. Then hat man is gone, and Lund shows me the level editor, which will be a standalone modular level-building kit. He's not going to provide tools that allow players to customise the game out of canon, he says, but with things like this the community will be able to upload its creations, and to vote up good builds for others to download and play. It's a perfect use of the PC platform: giving us the game to play, and the tools to continue the pleasure.
And so players are going to be able to challenge each other once the campaign is done, which might not be all that long, says Lund, but it will be tough. "You will fail three out of four times," he says. "We want you to [fist pumps] when you get through that level. Space Hulk is not about making things easy. Games like this…" Lund savours the thought for a moment. "Games like this should challenge us. Space Hulk is about failing."
It looks like Space Hulk should do precisely the opposite of that.
Space Hulk is due in "Maybe Fall" 2013.