When I was a kid, Warhammer 40K was one of the first tabletop games I ever played. I say “played” lightly because my young self didn’t have the slightest clue how to play the correct way. Even so, the Space Marines were always my favorite. I read my fair share of books and loved the universe.
Now, in 2018, we only have a handful of games based on this universe. Space Hulk: Deathwing is here to offer us a new slice of this epic and sprawling lore. Does this first-person shooter represent a great representation of this world, or should it be accused of heresy? Read on to find out.
A Strong Start
The campaign in Space Hulk: Deathwing can be played alone or online with friends. It starts with a very promising introduction that lavishes in the gothic flavor of Warhammer 40K’s lore. A guttural narration explains the situation involving am an amalgamation of ships floating through space known as a Space Hulk.
You are part of a team of Space Marines sent in to purge the Space Hulk of genestealers, which are just as scary as they sound. Thankfully, you are equipped with a massive suit of armor, known as Terminator Armour, and some righteous tools of destruction.
There’s some intrigue in the beginning about what you’ll find on the Space Hulk, and talk of some incredibly ancient technology somewhere on board. It had me hooked with a great first impression, stylish imagery, and some great voice acting that sold the mission for me.
Unfortunately, as you get into the story, you’ll find that much of it is relegated to mission briefings that aren’t anywhere near as engaging. There are still developments and some cutscenes to be found in the six-hour campaign, but nothing lives up to the promise established in the opening cutscene.
I would have liked more narrative woven throughout and a lot more lore. As a fan of the universe, I would have been more than happy to read about the collectible relics or the origins of Space Hulks like the one we found ourselves in.
It’s just frustrating because what story the game does have is quite interesting, but there’s just not enough of it. Granted, the focus of the game is to play cooperatively online, so lots of story moments would hurt the pacing, but since the game features a separate gameplay-focused mode, I don’t see why the campaign couldn’t have been more of a bastion for lore, especially given the source material.
Gameplay That Grates on Your Patience Over Time
The gameplay in Space Hulk: Deathwing is not what you would expect. While Warhammer 40K is traditionally a turn-based experience, this game goes full first-person shooter. The missions take place in claustrophobic environments that offer large rooms connected by tight tunnels.
The controls feel suitably weighty as you move like a walking tank through the environments. Aiming feels loose due to the nature of the weapons, which are mostly of the “spray and pray” variety.
In single player, you’ll be joined by two squad members, one of which is an Apocathery that can heal everyone a set number of times before the ability needs to be recharged. During a mission, you can use an ability to open a portal a set number of times, which leads to a safe haven.
Returning here will refill your health, recharge abilities, and revive any dead squadmates. You can also come here to change your weapons or abilities. Think of it as a panic button when things get out of hand. It’s pretty useful, and it helps keep the game’s intensity in check and the difficulty on the right side of possible.
Certain weapons will work best for missions, and some feel more viable than others. Enemies will often come in massive numbers, so you’ll need something that can handle crowd control. While something like the flamethrower weapons works well for this, it doesn’t handle long range well when you’re getting hit by ranged attacks.
You’re only allowed a melee weapon and one weapon, so a mistake in your choice will require you to use one of your precious portals to switch things out. As a single player experience, Space Hulk starts out really fun, and the A.I is pretty capable. While I wished they would heal each other automatically, they were able to hold their own in combat for the most part.
While new enemies do appear, the campaign starts to become repetitive after a handful of missions. The environments all start to look the same, and the lack of consistent story doesn’t offer a lot of reason to keep pushing forward.
This is remedied by bringing some friends into the fold, and the option to choose your class adds another layer to the strategy. The Apothecary is the only class who can heal, so you’re practically required to have one on your squad.
The enemies do offer a challenge by taking different routes and coming in different flavors with ranged attacks as a potential threat. In the end, though, it really just boils down to them rushing you, so you’ll often find yourself backpedaling to keep from getting swarmed.
Despite the repetition that sets in, the combat feels solid in Space Hulk. Guns have a heavy punch to them, and the melee feels nice and weighty. Enemies will fly back and react to your attacks in gory fashion, which I enjoyed.
Additional abilities, like a shockwave or a burst of lighting, allow you to customize your other abilities. Throw in the ability to hack turrets, block door, or plain cut them down, and you have a fair amount of options for the combat.
The problem is that the core experience rarely changes during the campaign. The additional special missions mode that allows you to play randomly generated objectives helps with this, but the environments rarely change significantly.
It just doesn’t offer enough variety to carry you through the experience. When you also consider the unreliable frame rate, the game can also feel pretty rough at times when everything hitches up for several seconds at a time.
Additional variety and polish in the performance would have gone a long way here because I like the core concept, it’s just not fleshed out enough.
A Dark and Gritty World
The Warhammer 40K universe is full of visuals that mix machines with organic matter, and gothic architecture with sci-fi settings. It’s a nasty, bloody, and strangely beautiful world. In other words, it should be the perfect setting for a video game.
Space Hulk: Deathwing does pull from these rich visuals to an extent. The detail and design of the Terminator Armour and the enemies are great, for example. The initial impression of the environments is also very positive, with heavy industrial and gothic influences.
The visuals do lose their shock value once you get into the game, however, because they will tend to look largely the same throughout. That’s really where Space Hulk stumbles, unfortunately.
There are enough ideas in the Warhammer 40K universe to fill a literal Space Hulk, but this game doesn’t take advantage of them enough. While it does function well as a first-person cooperative shooter, it’s great ideas only carry it so far before it becomes less and less exciting.
For diehard Warhammer 40K fans, I recommend checking this out on a sale, or perhaps if you can find friends to play with. It does have a lot going for it, but the issues with repetition and performance keep this Space Marine squad from reaching true glory.
Final Score: 6.5/10
A copy of Space Hulk: Deathwing was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 5/27/18