Space Hulk: Deathwing
As strange noises emerge from the darkness, your full-body terminator armour clangs around the claustrophobic corridors of the vessel. These groaning walkways have gone untrodden for millennia. Suddenly your motion tracker bleeps into action: a service panel bursts open and out pours a swarm of rampaging claws and teeth. Will your super human Space Marine squad be overrun or instead purge this xeno filth from the galaxy?
There’s been numerous videogame iterations of Games Workshop’s classic tabletop game Space Hulk, but none have managed to create an atmosphere quite like this latest version from Streum on studio. The essence of the game, essentially the hive firefight from Aliens but with walking tanks instead of Colonial Marines, has often played out relatively slowly (or even turn-based) but here it’s given the frantic -real-time pace of squad-based shooters like Left4Dead.
The nine mission long campaign revolves around exploring the titular hulks looking for lost relics, cleansing them of their alien infestations whilst performing arbitrary tasks such as overloading power networks and salvaging information from data points. As the squad’s leader, a powerful Librarian class Space Marine, you’re naturally obliged to issue on-the-fly orders to your team (consisting of a heavy weapons chap and a medic) with the most pressing request likely for you or your squad to be healed in the heat of battle. These orders are selected using a wheel-type menu and can be easily botched once the havoc erupts.
The apex of Deathwing’s gameplay is facing the innumerable hordes of Genestealers, trying to hold the line before the timer for some forgetful task has expired. This may appear to be a case of point and shoot, but the cruel addition of mid-fight gun-jamming will invariably turn the tide against you – a punishing mechanic lifted straight from the source material. Further to this, a melee based loadout will skip this issue but certainly has its own pitfalls.
True to the lore, the Genestealer enemies are ferocious foes. They move like you’d expect a multi-limbed biomechanoid killing machine to – leaping through the air and slashing from all angles, bursting from the shadows. It’s a shock the first time you seemingly put one down only to realise, all too late, that it’s merely switched to a ground-hugging crawl, ducking underneath your bolter blasts to pounce from underfoot. As you progress, your squad faces deadlier Genestealer strains, from the humanoid firearm wielding hybrids, to enhanced versions able to cloak themselves or use psychic attacks, to boss-like mammoths such as the lethal broodlord.
The AI suffers from standard problems such as friendlies stepping into your line of fire and becoming snagged on scenery, but you’re able to pass through them when necessary which either helps your gameplay or hinders the experience depending on your perspective. I mainly found the squad to be worthy allies, especially once an effective squad loadout is implemented.
Co-op multiplayer is a slightly different and more engaging affair, with a four-man squad going over the campaign’s missions with new loadout options compared to the single player campaign’s Librarian, and variety offered by the player taking on different roles such as medic or heavy weapon support. This also leads to a natural inclination toward the higher difficulties – which is how Deathwing is best experienced.
The hulks’ Gothic architecture, imposing statues and mechanical apparatus present you with both confined and open spaces over which to do battle – they feel suitably ancient and haunted. The art direction and sound design combine to create an eerie and overbearing atmosphere that, when experienced properly (headphones in the dark), offers an immersive experience indeed. With regards to stability, it’s worth mentioning that Streum On Studio has been duly patching reported bugs as fast as possible, with stability increasing steadily since the initial release.
Besides the action and some exploration, Deathwing offers plenty for those with a deep knowledge of the 40k universe, from references to the Dark Angel Space Marine chapter’s history, the attention to detail in the arsenal to the many mutations (biomorphs) present in the Genestealer foes. As someone who’s grown up with more than a passing interest in 40k, most of the dialogue and events made sense to me, but I imagine the terminology and background being rather baffling to players coming in fresh. It’s therefore likely that only longtime fans will get the most out of Deathwing – and hopefully improved stability and future content will ensure they stick around.