Suggested By:sebastian sohn
Someday, I will write a review without making reference to Laser Squad Nemesis. Someday, but not today. There is, I am sure, a connection between the games of the Gollup brothers (creators of LSN) and the original Space Hulk. More on that after the break.
I’ve been following the saga of teardown.se and their port of the classic 1989 Games Workshop board/miniature game Space Hulk for over a year now (the first version of the game was released in 2008). This isn’t the first Space Hulk-type game: Electonic Arts put out a shooter/strategy hybrid “Space Hulk” in 1993 (with a sequel in 1996), and there’s a multiplayer-only game called Nethulk still in intermittent development. As far as I can tell, the big mistake the folks at teardown.se made was asking for permission.
To make a long story short, they didn’t get it, and as a result had to re-do much of the game’s art, as well as rename everything, including the game itself. As someone who managed to get a download of the "Space Hulk" version of the game (not too hard –- you can probably still find it if you go looking), this presented an irresistible opportunity to see if they’d improved on the original. And I think they have.
Perhaps out of a realization that there was still strong interest in the game and perhaps simply to fend off any claim that it had "abandoned" Space Hulk, Games Workshop re-released the board game in a limited edition in 2009. The re-release is true to the original (quick playing) rules of the game, rather than importing Games Workshop’s rather complicated Warhammer 40,000 rules.
All the wrangling over a freeware homage seems more ridiculous, if perhaps also more plausible, when you consider that the game mechanics of Space Hulk seem themselves to be borrowed –- from a computer game. Before I continue, I should note that the following is my surmise from evidence, and that no "paternity test" has been done for the genealogy I suggest.
Nick and Julian Gollop are best known for UFO Enemy Unknown, released in the US as X-Com: UFO Defense, even though that game was released in 1994. The basic framework for X-Com was laid out much earlier, in Julian’s 1984 game Rebelstar Raiders and refined by Nick and Julian’s 1988 Laser Squad. These games set out the turn-based, hidden-movement, action-point, fragile-unit, ranged-weapon, hit-chance, cover, overwatch and opportunity fire model that define X-Com and LSN. Space Hulk uses the same model, though its rules are even simpler. One of the defining similarities of the games is that skilled use of overwatch and opportunity fire (one command, two military principles) is necessary to achieve victory.
In 1985, just a year after Rebelstar Raiders, Julian made fantasy strategy computer game Chaos for Games Workshop. Four years later, the year after the publication of (computer game) Laser Squad, the first edition of (board game) Space Hulk hit stores. All I’ve really demonstrated here is that the games have similar mechanics, that there was chronological proximity, and some degree of business, if not personal, connection and communication. But the only games I’ve played that feel like X-Com are the Gollups’ other games (including LSN), and Space Hulk / Alien Assault. The Jagged Alliance games have some of the same strategic elements, but they just don’t play the same.
The other obvious influence on Space Hulk is Aliens,
which was released in 1986, three years before Space Hulk. Of course, the influence of Aliens on gaming is ridiculously huge, and of Aliens v.s. Predator (the 1990 comic book, not the 2004 movie) nearly as much so.
Regardless of how much it owes to Aliens, the original Space Hulk and/or the Gollup brothers, Alien Assault deserves credit for its finely-honed sense of suspense and fog of war so thick you can chew it. The re-skinned and re-branded Alien Assault also has an all-new set of campaigns - and they’re better than the classic ones imported from the original board game. The fragility of your soldiers and the inability to restore a save in mid-scenario will have even experienced gamers chewing their fingernails every time they click the "end turn" button, but the balance is right.
Each scenario can easily be played in under an hour, dividing the game up into bite-size chunks, and you can save and exit if need be, so I suppose that that any industrious person who needs an edge could save-scum their way through a tough scenario.
It’s a good pick-up game. Just getting through the new set of training missions without casualties is plenty challenging, and there’s hope for more campaigns to come. What remains to be seen is if Alien Assault’s dev team will decide to make the most of their hard-won freedom and expand the game into something more than just a well-executed homage. The potential is there, if the will is.