App Reviewed on: iPad 3
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Explaining Full Control's Space Hulk is complicated. It’s an iOS port of a PC game that’s based on the third edition of a two-player strategy board game that was released in 2009, but originally came out in 1989. In other words it’s a digital board game with more of a video game feel to it, and it’s as entertaining as it is plodding and awkward. Which is quite a bit.
It’s really important to think of Space Hulk as a board game, which is why I’ve been trying to drive that point home. One player controls a squad of elite Terminators in a series of missions with various layouts and win conditions. Another player (or AI) controls a horde of vicious aliens known as Genestealers, and does their best to paint the ship's corridors with Terminator guts. The particulars can take some time to explain, but basically each unit (Terminator or Genestealer) has its own number of action points to move, attack, and interact with objects. It’s knowing how best to use these points to position characters and perform actions that can make the biggest difference. It's quite similar to chess, actually.
Space Hulk isn’t as jaw-dropping as other recent graphics-intensive iOS releases, but it still looks good. Heck, it looks better on the iPad than on my MacBook. The interface from the PC has made the transition well, and online (asynchronous or simultaneous) and hotseat multiplayer are also available. The maps and scenarios are nicely varied (with more campaigns available via in-app purchase), and tactics can change so much depending on the other side's actions that replaying scenarios never really becomes a problem.
What does become a problem, however, are the issues that are still present from the PC version. It’s far too easy to accidentally move a unit to an unintended spot or make them face the wrong direction. An Undo button helps, but sadly it can also be rather exploitable and drain a lot of the fun if used too often. Then there’s the problem with not being able to chose a Terminator’s direction when first placing them on the board, which can be particularly problematic in the campaign’s second mission. I also noticed that the iPad started to get awfully warm after playing for a while. It never seemed to affect performance but it was a bit disconcerting. There also doesn't seem to be Push Notification support, so the only way to know when it's my turn in an asynchronous match is to open the game up and check. Why something so crucial was left out is beyond me.
Enjoying Space Hulk depends a lot on what one is expecting. It’s a virtual board game, not an RTS. The Terminators and Genestealers are game pieces, not persistent characters that level-up. So long as people make peace with this there’s no reason they won’t be able to enjoy Space Hulk as much as I have, even despite it’s problems. Although I do hope they do something about the Push Notifications.