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‘Warhammer 40k: Space Crusade’ Isn’t Worth a Boarding Action Anymore

4 Minute Read
Mar 20 2024

Space Crusade is the first Warhammer 40k video game and it was great. With an emphasis on the past tense.

When video games were really hitting their stride and starting to have these new-fangled doohickeys like “graphics”, board games were an obvious target for easy adaptations. The gameplay was already designed, they didn’t need to run that quickly, and there was already name recognition.

When Games Workshop tried their hand at it, it went really well, actually. Unfortunately, too many technical hurdles make this one game worth leaving behind.

Space Crusade was released in 1993 by Gremlin Graphics Software. It was based on the board game of the same name, which also doesn’t really hold up. However, upon its release, Space Crusade the video game was highly praised and won numerous awards and acclaim as being a faithful adaptation of the board game. Which is very much is.

What’s Great About Space Crusade?

Space Crusade has a lot of small conveniences that weren’t as readily available at the time. Things like a minimap weren’t standard fare yet. And the minimap here is perfect. It shows the entire map, it’s clearly indicating your marines, walls, closed doors, open doors, and alien blips.

Similarly, the unit select panel at the bottom right is very useful. Each marine has two indicators above showing if they have moved or attacked. And an indicator below, showing who is currently selected.

As stated up top, graphics in games were really starting to spread their wings and Space Crusade goes full albatross with its shooting sequences. The isometric view for shooting is wholly unnecessary but adds so much charm to the game. I love the visual flare of the enemies exploding in a mushroom cloud, even if you punch them.

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
This framerate is unedited from how the game plays in real time.

There’s level progression! You can save your commander from mission to mission and rank them up over time. Plus, each marine can be equipped how you like, to a point. You can play as the Blood Angels, Imperial Fists, or Ultramarines. Each squad can be outfitted separately and even played all together! So you can play hotseat co-op or solo.

What’s Bad About Space Crusade?

Firstly, it’s just so slow to play.

I played on a DOSBox emulator (link at the end), and the gameplay was just so sluggish. It’s entirely possible (nay, likely) that playing it as intended would have had a smoother gameplay. So, I’m not really holding that against the game itself. But, as is, every button takes a half second to process and cumulatively it just means every turn takes a minute longer than it needs to.

I still have no clue who that alien is supposed to be.

The bigger issue to me is the screen resolution is very limiting. The main gameplay area is just shy of being the right size. This means there’s a lot of scrolling to look around. The game tries to be helpful, but it just doesn’t land. The buttons on each edge of the screen scroll, and the button in the lower left turns on scroll mode, which helps. However, as often as you need to make minor adjustments to the map, it ends up becoming very tedious and also just adds these small incremental additions to how long each turn takes.

And for as much as I do love the isometric attack screens, they are about 10 seconds each and play every time, even if you miss. This has the same design as those SNES-era platformers that had too many animation frames for their movement for the sake of “realism”. But only made the games clunky to play.

Final Thoughts

Space Crusade did exactly what it set out to do: Be a faithful adaption of a board game. However, low screen resolution means a lot of clunky scrolling, and low processing power means the game is a slog to get through. From a design standpoint, it’s excellent. It’s not a bad game by any stretch, but merely held back by technical limitations and favoring flashy cinematics over player engagement time. As such, viewed through a modern lens there just isn’t much to laud anymore.

If you don’t agree, why not try the game out for yourself? You can play it in your browser right here. Type “Space” at the prompt to get started, and type anything to get past the security checkpoint. If you wanna give the manual a spin, that’s over here.


Author: Matt Sall
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