Developer: Streum On Studio Publisher: Focus Home Interactive Platform: PS4, XB1, PC Review code provided
The Space Hulk series has a somewhat branching history. It started as a tabletop dungeon crawler that was later converted into an insanely difficult tactical shooter for DOS. Some years ago, another PC title called Space Hulk was released, and it stuck more to the old tabletop formula and had more in common with XCOM than the DOS game. Now with Space Hulk: Deathwing Enhanced Edition, we are once again donning the Terminator armour to explore a derelict spaceship in first-person.
Making pretty good use of the Warhammer 40K license, Deathwing is full of winks and nods throughout its dark and spooky corridors. You see floating servo-skulls, dead tech-priests and find powerful artifacts as you are exploring an ancient Space Hulk. The gigantic derelict ship has returned after being lost in Warp Space since the time of the Great Crusade, 10000 years earlier in the Warhammer timeline. The Warp is very dangerous in W40K, full of metaphysical demons and lovecraftian elder gods that are hungry for snacks from the material dimension and far too often something still remains on these dark ancient hulks when they reappear.
I have always felt that the Warhammer 40k universe is especially well suited for video game adaptation. There’s so much there that fits perfectly in videogame form with its chainswords, zombie space Jesus (the Emperor of Man), British space fascist (basically the whole Empire) and green-skinned cockney scrappers (Orks). It is a hodgepodge of influences and references. And It is the type of universe that only spawns in the mind of a 14-year-old metalhead, though this one has been built upon and expanded for decades. It takes itself entirely seriously but by its absurd nature it does not expect us to do so. Deathwing lives up to this standard well with dialogue about battle brothers, rightful hate and Holy Terra.
The thing I remember most from the old shooter game is that it was very difficult; you died almost instantly if you made a mistake, and it also had a spooky atmosphere with creepy noises and the sudden appearance of hungry Tyranid aliens.
Deathwing does a great job with retaining enough of its legacy while still modernizing it to make it playable for today’s audience. As your Space Marines stomp around, you hear bulkheads and metal walkways groan, the ship starts shaking from time to time and snarls and screeches are heard in the distance. Turning of the lights, putting on a pair of headphones and wandering through the claustrophobic corridors can be quite spooky at times.
Being a bit more forgiving than its old DOS predecessor, Deathwing plays a lot like a Left 4 Dead game, albeit with more objectives on each map. In single-player, you take command of a Terminator Librarian; basically a kind of battle mage with access to powerful psychic abilities. Together with two other battle brothers, an Apothecary and an Assault Terminator, you make a pretty formidable team. Or you would, if the AI was any good.
Your companions can sometimes do a decent job with killing enemies, but they react very slowly to hints that an enemy is behind them and you will have to do some babysitting. For instance, your Assault Terminator can acquire a heavy plasma cannon, which is a really powerful weapon with a lot of splash damage. A human player would use it to bombard enemies around corners or launch its hot death into doorways ahead of them. Unfortunately, this is beyond the AI who has to see each enemy before reacting and start shooting, which ,coupled with low fire-rate, renders what should be a really powerful weapon largely useless. You do have the ability to order your team around and set them up at specific places, but unfortunately the gameplay is so fast-paced and hectic at times that such preparation is entirely impossible. Much like Left 4 Dead, Deathwing will constantly spawn mobs to hunt you down so you are never really safe anywhere. The lack of an AI that can act tactically is a real shame, especially since they removed the ability to take direct control of your other team members that was one of the core mechanics in the old DOS game.
That said, it is a much better game to play in single-player than Left 4 Dead ever was.Thanks to unlockable weapons and a simple but neat upgrade mechanic there is enough there to string you along. Despite its AI flaws, I found myself thoroughly enjoying my time with the campaign. Though, I do enjoy the ridiculous lore in Warhammer games so that should perhaps be taken into account.
Graphically, the game makes good use of Unreal Engine 4 but the whole game is a bit on the dark and brown side. Since it is all taking place in one single ship, the aesthetic doesn’t change much throughout Deathwing. You are treated to some splashes of color here and there as you find some old engine room or a vaulted cathedral in the ship, but it mostly just highlights how drab the rest of the game is.
Likewise, the sound in the game is good but can be a bit flat at times. The boltgun weapons just don’t sound like they should, for instance. They are supposed to fire rocket propelled explosive ammunition, but they basically sound and act like a standard machine gun. Apart from the ambient noises, the sound is not as crisp as I would have liked. Moreover, while playing with headphones some weird things started to happen with the sound channels; I would constantly think something was going on behind me when it actually was in front of me. While it adds a degree of frantic panic to the gameplay, it is clearly not the way it is supposed to work. Despite these mars on the presentation, it does succeed in making you feel like you are these huge guys in power armor that are capable of smashing through brick walls (because of course you build spaceships out of stone in Warhammer) and steel doors like they’re paper.
While the single-player has its problems, it is in co-op that Deathwing truly shines. Playing with friends, you can all of a sudden plan out and execute some more complex strategies. For instance, you can hack turrets and take control of them remotely, in single player, the AI is not up to the task of watching your back but in multiplayer it is a formidable tool at your disposal. You also gain access to more weapons, classes and ways to customize your Space Marine when playing in multiplayer, which is really fun. So, grabbing this game with some friends is clearly the preferred way to go. It is also the multiplayer that has seen the most spit and polish in this edition of Deathwing, new random missions and the customization options are all new additions that were not there when it first launched on PC. The new Chaplain class is also made available to you in these missions, together with some new weapons to play with.
All in all, Space Hulk is a really fun and tense shooter that is best enjoyed with friends. Unlike many other similar games, the single player, despite its flaws, has something to offer lone wolves as well.