Space Hulk review for PS Vita, PS3

Platform: PS Vita
Also On: PS3
Publisher: Hoplite Research
Developer: Games Workshop
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-2
Online: No

I can’t decide whether Space Hulk is the perfect game to play on the Vita, or the absolute worst.

On the one hand, it’s not exactly geared towards pick-up-and-play-style handheld gaming. Without even getting into the whole Warhammer 40K Space Marine mythos — which, I confess, I know nothing about beyond what little I gleaned from the 2011 PS3 title — Space Hulk is a pretty complex board game trying to fit into a relatively bite-sized experience. Not only does that mean reading all kinds of explanatory screens with lots of very tiny text, it means the game is plagued with long load times every step of the way. Start the game: load screen. Selecting a map: load screen. Starting a map: load screen. Moving your players: load screens (albeit relatively short ones). Basically, every time you want to do anything, expect to wait anywhere from five seconds to up to a minute for it to happen.

Space Hulk 2

I don’t want to give short shrift to the complexity, though. While you’ll be able to pick up things as you go along, that means a lot of trial and error along the way. The alternative, of course, is carefully read through the instructions, but that requires having a photographic memory, since — early on, especially — this game takes an infodump approach to telling you what to do, and much of it seems to assume you have a prior knowledge of the game. You can always quit out to the main menu to take a look at the instructions, but that means going through the hassle of load screen after load screen, and by the time you’ve gone out and back again you’ll be lucky if you’ve retained most of what you just read.

So what makes it well-suited to the Vita? For starters, there’s the simple fact that Space Hulk is a board game at heart, and if we’ve learned nothing else from mobile gaming it’s that board games go spectacularly well with touch controls. That’s equally true here, only with the added bonus that most of those commands that require a more delicate touch (on account of the on-screen icons being so small) can be pressed using buttons. While there’s the odd control that can be a bit of a pain to execute (making the space marines turn in the exact direction you’d like can be a bit annoying), for the most part you’re essentially getting the best of both worlds.

Space Hulk 1

Likewise, once you’ve got the hang of it, I can see the appeal of being able to bring a game like Space Hulk with you on the go. It takes about 15-20 minutes to beat an individual map, which seems like the perfect length for that morning commute to work or school — short enough you can beat them in a single sitting, and not so long that you’ll wish you were playing it on the coach. Admittedly, you’ll need to factor in those load times if you want to squeeze a game in between one end of your trip and the other, but if you can figure that out, you’re all set.

Oh, and apropos of nothing, one other cool thing about Space Hulk that bears mentioning: the shoulder-mounted camera. Getting not just a top-down view, but also a picture-in-picture shot of what each space marine is seeing as he wanders through the alien-infested corridors is an neat way of making grid-based movements far more engaging than they have any right to be. This has nothing to do with the platform, of course, but I still thing it’s worth highlighting. (And it also adds some unintentional levity to the game when you happen to walk by an alien who’s just sitting and patiently waiting for its turn.)

To enjoy Space Hulk, though, you have to be willing to sit through all kinds of wait times. That’s pretty much non-negotiable. Personally, I think the waiting nearly — but doesn’t totally — negate all the good things the game does, but your own experiences will be dictated largely by your level of patience.

Grade: B+