In the grim darkness of the future there is only war.


Seldom has there been a more dark, desolate and hopeless universe than that of the Warhammer 40K universe, it’s one of the reasons I love the lore of this table top gaming giant. Space Hulk Ascension is the new entry into the 41st millennium under the Warhammer licence, a franchise that spans almost every facet of entertainment including comics, books, cosplay, video games and even a computer animated film.

Space Hulk Ascension begins as a rather unassuming turn based strategy game in the style of the massively successful XCOM series that re-acquainted many gamers with the retro styled genre. Space Hulk Ascension is a true video game adaptation of a beloved (or hated, depending on the will of the dice gods) table top game by the same name.

I could spend days telling you about the in depth back story of the 40K universe but alas Full control, the games developer, doesn’t delve into much detail from the lore. You will take command of two squads of Adepta Astartes Terminators, genetically enhanced super soldiers who have been trained since childhood to be the toughest, most loyal warriors in the Imperium of Man. Your task is to board ancient vessels that have travelled through “the warp”, a realm where the rules of physics don’t exist, a realm of insanity, daemon’s and threats too legion to list. As vessels travel through the warp, which allows faster than light travel, some go missing, some of these vessels will collide with other ill-fated ships and fuse together and these amalgamations are known as Space Hulks.

The final part of this explanation trifecta is the Tyranids, an alien or “Xeno” race that acts under the influence of a hive mind. These fierce close quarter enemies lurk in the darkest reaches of Space Hulks waiting for someone to infect so they can spread their influence throughout the galaxy. The Genestealers are the brunt of the Tyranid army and are a dangerous foe, armed with a plethora of close range weapons they have no problem carving through armour, flesh and bone. In short, they are exactly what you would expect in the tight confines of the Space Hulk environments.

The gloomy aesthetic and oppressive, tight level design works perfectly with the lore and original table top game, the atmosphere as you slowly trudge through Tyranid infested corridors is brilliantly tense and the knowledge that death could be but seconds away adds weight that is rare in modern games.

The gameplay is exhausting, I don’t mean that in a bad way but every single move, every decision and every route needs to be planned well in advance otherwise your Terminators are likely to die before you know what has hit you. The missions will require one or both of your squads to take to the field and I found the gameplay became like a complicated ballet, beautiful and elegant yet strong and full of vigour. The objectives in each mission are varied and while the overall look and feel of each level remains unchanged the maps do vary. Often in games such as this it is a simple case of “kill everything to win”. Space Hulk Ascension does incorporate that into some levels where victory is achieved by killing a certain amount of enemies but for the most part there will be objectives other than simple survival. It’s a good shake up of what can grow to be a rather stale game mechanic after a few hours of play. I’ve put a hell of a lot of hours into it and while I needed to take breaks after every couple of missions, just to give my mind a rest, I was never reluctant to jump back into the fray.

Combat is based on a percentage hit chance and dice rolls, weapons can overheat and jam making every encounter far from a sure thing. It can get annoying if one of your Terminators empties his entire bolter as a Tyranid runs towards you only to hit noting and get skewered. Losing even one unit can be catastrophic to the mission and immediately puts you on the back foot. It is an excellent way to honour the table top game but in practice it can mean several restarts to finish a level. That is just another example of the punishing way Space Hulk Ascension will slap you in the face and ask if you want more.

Each squad of Terminators consists of five troopers: A commander, a heavy weapon specialist and three line soldiers. Each Terminator in Ascension is customisable to an extent but it lacks the detailed customisation of some of its peers. You of course have options to rename your squad if you go for that sort of thing but with the turnover of recruits that will replace your lost soldiers in the early levels I found it a bit pointless. As you complete missions your units will level up and can unlock more powerful weapons to combat the Tyranid threat, in my experience the hardest and most punishing section of the game is the beginning, it has an incredibly steep learning curve but if you can learn to show patience and planning it isn’t too hard to get your units levelling up every couple of missions. With a wide range of weapons available to more advanced units, as well as attribute and perk upgrades, once you get into the ebb and flow of this high pressure game you can really start to hold your own.

There are three campaigns and three Chapters (factions) to choose from. The Ultramarines are excellent ranged specialists but do falter in close combat, the Space Wolves, brutal brawlers that are lethal in the tight confines of the Hulk but can’t aim worth a damn and then there’s the Blood Angels, a good all-rounder force that sits somewhere between the two. It is a brilliantly versatile mechanic but I found it almost impossible to complete any level with a full squad as anyone other than the Ultramarines, then again that could just be down to my play style.

The audio in Space Hulk Ascension is pretty good with the heavy “thunk” of bolter fire and authentic Terminator voice work but there’s just not much of it. Briefings are provided by simply reading text boxes and with only a few token phrases it feels like it wasn’t a priority for Full Control.

I have mixed feelings regarding the animation of the characters, while the clunky and heavy movement of the Terminators fits their “walking tank” heritage, the Tyranids don’t have the fluid grace that I had come to expect from the Warhammer lore. What really stands out for me is the brilliant addition of the helmet cameras. When you select a unit, or when a unit is engaged in combat you will get a first person viewpoint in the top right corner of the screen. It brings the action off the game board and throws it into your face. It is perfectly executed and can be easily ignored if you choose not to pay attention but for me it was a necessity.

Somewhat disappointingly Space Hulk Ascension has no multiplayer, online or hotseat. I can’t help but think that this game could have a huge online community if it were given the chance but sadly it isn’t so.

Space Hulk Ascension is not a game that I would recommend lightly. It is intensely difficult and will not be lenient when it comes to spanking you for making a mistake but it is a great game. Anyone who is a fan of the Warhammer franchise, in any of its forms should definitely look into playing this title. But be warned, there is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods.