It’s been my experience with games based upon the Warhammer intellectual property that they are either really, really good: see Dawn of War, Dawn of War II, Total War: Warhammer or just absolutely horrible: see Warhammer 40K: Eternal Crusade and just about every other video game with Warhammer in the title. It’s not too often that they fall somewhere in between. I did enjoy Warhammer: Age of Reckoning for a period and would call that one middle of the road but it’s clearly failed the test of time and proved that it wasn’t the game most players hoped it would be.
This is the second attempt to make a Space Hulk game in the last 3 years. That usually doesn’t bode well for a title. The previous incarnation was from Full Control and was a turn based game that attempted to faithfully recreate the board game from Games Workshop originally released in 1989. Unfortunately that game didn’t seem to resonate with an audience. Most felt it was decent but didn’t live up to its potential. I’m still amazed that people keep holding the bar so high when a new Warhammer or 40k game is released. I’m thinking we should set our sites low and not be disappointed. So that’s what I did with Space Hulk: Deathwing and I’m glad I did. Streum on Studio and Cyanide (the co-developers) don't disappoint.
A Space Hulk is either a ship, or a cluster of ships and asteroids that have been fused and mangled together through the warp in space. They tend to be tainted with chaos and can have all kinds of evil life forms living in them. In Deathwing you stumble upon a Space Hulk that has come out of the warp in space and appears to be from the time of the Horus Heresy which took place 10,000 years previous. Needless to say you are curious how the ship ended up in this state, but more importantly you want to recover whatever Blood Angel relics (a chapter of Space Marines) might still be left on board.
The game has a nice cutscene to kick things off. While not anywhere near Blizzard, or Square Enix quality it is informative, looks good, and sets the tone of the game. It explains who you are, who your chain of command is, and why you are going into the Space Hulk. You are a Librarian. This is a keeper or knowledge and has some mystic properties. You can see into the future and you can also see across distances and you are slightly aware of what is taking place on the Space Hulk. You are accompanied by two of your fellow Space Marines in Terminator armor. All Space Marines are elite forces with heavy armor. Terminator armor is even bigger and badder than what most Marines wear. These are the elite of the elite.
You are fired from your ship into the Space Hulk on torpedoes to establish a landing head. The campaign has 4 difficulty levels: Disciple, Chapter champion, Lion’s sword, No mercy. Neither of which seem to have friendly fire. This is a blessing in disguise. A hallmark of Space Hulk is small tight corridors that you are fighting in. It’s next to impossible to shoot down a hallway and not hit one of your squadmates.
Do yourself a favor and don’t bother playing the tutorial. Jump right into the campaign. When you select campaign it’s going to make you play through the tutorial anyway.
The first level is a slow bake. You’re not just thrust upon waves of genestealers as soon as you land on the hulk. The enemy is teased out around every corner but you can never quite catch sight of them. By the time you first encounter a genestealer you know you are going to be attacked but you still get a startle by just how quick the attack comes after such a prolonged build.
As you progress across the hulk you’ll get updates from your headquarters such as where to proceed through the ship and what your new missions orders are. Along the way you’ll also want to stay vigilant and be on the lookout for Dark Angel relics. There are 24 of them in total and the maps will tell you how many are available to find on each.
You’ll control your other two squad members by holding down spacebar and using a radial menu with your mouse. This is much better suited to a controller layout than it is a mouse and keyboard. Thankfully the game has built in controller support as well.
The game across the introduction and first two stages makes good uses of the rich Warhammer 40k lore. From unique skills in the supporting roles of the command characters in the games. Premonitions from the Librarians, and the iconography on the Marines and throughout the Hulk. All of these tie back to the history that Warhammer 40k has built up over the past 30 years.
While this version of Space Hulk doesn’t feel designed to be an RPG there is some character development. Between chapters you can spend points you accumulate on three different skill lines. If you don’t spend your points at once you lose them. There is no hoarding allowed. You’ll also unlock new weapons as you progress throughout the game and can change your different loadouts. You can rock a sword, axe, or powered first to slash, hack, and batter your opponents into submission with one hand while you blast them with a variety of bolters in the other.
While the game starts off with a cut scene they seem to end there. The end of each mission recaps the story so far with a text box on the load screen. Before the next mission begins you’ll receive a mission brief from your leader Grand Master Belial, these are fully voiced.
The game features destructible environments, if you shoot a pipe that has gas it will start a fire plume, if you shoot barrels they will blow up. Other types of pipes if punctured will arc plasma. These can hurt your enemies. They don’t really seem to have too much of an impact on you. You can also beat down doors. I found this much more satisfying than actually taking the time to open them. Some pipes will also bellow out steam. These tend to look more like little puffs of cotton balls. The games graphics really aren’t the greatest.
There have been complaints about the system crashing. In the time I played the game I didn’t run into any crashes but I did notice the game is a resource hog. As mentioned earlier the game doesn’t look that great so it’s weird that it has such long loading times and places such a strain on your system. Hopefully we will see some stability and optimization patches in the not too distant future.
If you are a Warhammer Fan and looking for a fix Space Hulk: Deathwing just might scratch that 40k itch. If you aren’t a Warhammer 40k fan there are a lot better first person shooters out there for the money.