Adapting one of the world’s most popular tabletop RPGs into an equally paced video game is surely no small feat. The amount of lore and detail on offer to anyone foolhardy enough to take on Warhammer 40K is stupendously incalculable, with instruction manuals, codex’s, novels, animated movies and, of course, video games all having worked to make the universe that knows only war horrendously large.
Space Hulk Ascension does well to stick to the mindset required to play the original game, with limitations on your actions (which are turn-based) such as action points which govern how much your squad of Terminators can do per turn. With three different chapters of the Space Marines (the Space Wolves, the Ultramarines and the Blood Angels) comes some variety in what can be done with your five little big killing machines; Blood Angels are your all-rounder, who can go ranged or melee without much of a hiccup, whereas the Space Wolves and the Ultramarines specialise in melee and ranged combat respectively. For each chapter is its own campaign, which you can expect to take between five and ten hours. These feel somewhat hollow, with very little exposition beyond “Tyranids! URGH!”, but you are able to carve your own path through a branching campaign, with optional objectives popping up from time to time.
There are also the usual tropes you can expect from a turn based role playing game. Marines can level up and gain access to new equipment and attributes, but permadeath and a steepish difficulty make it somewhat frustrating in a Fire Emblem way when a loyal soldier you’ve been building up bites the dust. This could be of appeal to some of the more hardcore players up for a challenge that means something, but for me, it was a repetitive and grievous reason to have to reload prior saves.
The visuals are a nice departure from the usual flare we come to expect from the bright and colourful Dawn of War and the Gears of War-esque Space Marine from last generation. Darkness is the primary theme, a theme appropriate to the xenomorph-like Tyranid race. Another cool bonus is the first-person cam in the top right corner which shows the perspective of the selected unit, helping to build on the atmosphere.
As far as Warhammer 40K games go, this feels the closest to the source material. If you need an excuse to experience the universe in a new way, or are as bad as me at painting, Space Hulk Ascension is a decent bit of fan service which has the potential to keep your attention for many hours. Whilst somewhat shallow in its storytelling method and possibly too frustrating for all comers, anyone up for a challenge and a lot of dark corridors shouldn’t be leaving disappointed.