As a lapsed fan of the Games Workshop and many of its creations, I’ve always appreciated the video games based on their popular table top games. From Mordheim to Blood Bowl to Battlefleet Gothic: Armada and everything in-between, I’ve always enjoyed re-visiting the worlds and lore that I spent an inordinate amount of my teenage years poring over but this time, in video game form. One of the latest entries on this ever growing list of games is Space Hulk: Deathwing which initially released on PC in 2016 to mixed critical reception. Since then, developers Streum On Studio have been working on addressing much of the criticism the game received upon its initial launch which is culminating in the release of an “Enhanced Edition”.
A new progression system, a new support class, new weapons, new enemies, new skins, perks and replayable “Special Missions” have been added to the base PC game for free for current owners and are all included in the PS4 version (on which this review is based) which launches on the 22nd of May, 2018.
No game I’ve reviewed has ever made me feel more like a hypocrite than Space Hulk: Deathwing Enhanced Edition has. If this was any other game, I’d be lambasting the slow, clunking character movement but here, where you’re in control of a lumbering Dark Angels Terminator, that feels appropriate. Right, even. If this was any other game, I’d be criticising the cheesy dialogue – such as “We are the Emperors blade!” – but this is par for the course in the Warhammer 40K universe. In any other game, if the majority of the enemy types just mindlessly ran at you at full pelt, I’d be calling out terrible AI, but in Deathwing you’re fighting a lot of Genestealers and that’s literally the best tactic to use with them in the table top game. In any other game, I’d be calling out the clichéd sci-fi environment and generic Space Marine character designs but this aesthetic has been around for more than 20 years and these are literally Space Marines which bring the box art from the front of the 40K game to life. The easy and apparent flaws with Space Hulk: Deathwing Enhanced Edition are more artistic choice than a genuine design issue and they’re carefully in-keeping with the source material. While the game certainly has other problems, there’s this thematic edge built up be these decisions that give it the feeling of being a tank sized, super human Terminator with impossible weaponry strapped to your arms. As a first person shooter, these choices make Deathwing feel positively ancient but as a W40K Space Marine simulator, they’ve achieve the desired effect.
The synopsis: In Space Hulk: Deathwing you play as Dark Angel Librarian that has been tasked by the chapters higher-up’s to board a Space Hulk called Olethros and clear out any hostiles. Being a Space Hulk game, this of course means you’ll be fighting off Hive after Hive of Genestealers that have made this mash up of space ships their home. Soon after arriving and carving out a blood soaked beachhead, you discover that there’s something ancient and mysterious hidden deep in the hulk that threatens the very future of the chapter. This game barely bothers with scene setting or exposition and presumes the player has a few years’ experience throwing dice saves, memorising the Codices from 40K and that you won’t furrow your brow in amusement when your commander shouts “FOR THE LION!”. It’s a quintessential plot from a universe where there is only war, steeped in lore that you’ll either understand implicitly or feel completely confused by.
Each of Space Hulk: Deathwing’s levels are set on the sprawling layers within the Space Hulk. As for the levels themselves, they only have a few objectives in their repertoire – go here and press that, go here and destroy that or go here and stand there while stuff attacks you for a set amount of time – which are repeated throughout the game. To reduce the amount of frustrating repetition, the levels are completely open to explore and using blocking actions to lock doors behind you, you can funnel your path through each level. Say there’s a Tyrannid spawn spot behind a set of doors in an area you’ve already explored, you can lock the doors behind you to prevent an attack from the rear. Before the credits role, the lack of variety in objectives does start to cause a grind, especially in the last few levels when the difficulty really starts to ramp up.
The difficulty level isn’t aided by the AI of your Space Marines brethren. Throughout the game you’re accompanied by 2 fellow Terminators, one of which is an Apothecary who can heal any damage to himself, your other partner or the player character. Unfortunately, he’ll only ever do so if you command him too. There’s no initiative and even if he’s capable, he’ll just let himself die unless you tell him to heal himself. Similarly, when using the aforementioned door blocking, one of your AI party will mindlessly stroll through the door you’re locking, trapping themselves on the wrong side until you unlock it again.
As for performance, the PS4 version of Deathwing runs smoothly for the most part. There’s very occasional half-second hangs where the game stalls for just a moment. This is normally when there’s a lot of enemies on screen and it’s for such a short time that it barely effects the overall experience. There’s occasional frame rate drops but these are, again, a rarity. In other instances, when looking along a long corridor, you can see distant rooms popping together as they load. Again, this only happened three or four times throughout the entire game but I know that this is important for the pixel and frame counters out there.
These issues do little to detract from the best part of Space Hulk: Deathwing Enhanced Edition – the combat and gun play. There’s no nuance to the combat here. There’s no intricacies. It’s about standing in tight corridors as a wall of claws and bones and teeth come running at you and you just fire as fast and as hard as you can. This is when Deathwing comes into its own. Where you’re stepping over Dark Angel corpses, the muzzle flash from storm bolter that’s going hell for leather in your hand is lighting up the dark corners ahead, the gnawing and thrashing of the Genestealers is coming from all around you but you just keep shooting and shooting and shooting. There’s a lovely low level tension that runs through everything this game does but when everything lets loose and comes crashing down on you, it’s enough to get your heart racing.
As you progress through the Space Hulk, you unlock new weaponry that you can equip on yourself as well as your squad mates. This makes for a customised experience even if it’s just to feel what each of the weapons in the game controls like. Getting to torch a room full of aliens with the Heavy Flamer might not be the most strategic thing to do in Deathwing but it sure is therapeutic. If you’re feeling a little out-gunner in a mission – say you’ve equipped the Lightning Claws that do melee attacks only and that particular mission is full of ranged enemies – you can call a PsyGate to transport yourself back to your base to heal and to switch up your weaponry. PsyGate’s are limited use and are replenished by getting relics which fill a “Willpower” bar but they’re a really interesting touch that let you switch it up mid mission.
One of the really nice touches in Space Hulk: Deathwing is the aiming reticule. When aiming you’re weapon you get 2 markers – 1 crosshair which indicates where you’re aiming and another smaller marker which shows you where you’ll actually hit. Say you’re standing in front of a railing and you’re firing off in to the distance, with this second marker, you’ll know if you’re about to put a bolt into the railing right in front of you rather than the enemy 100 meters away. It’s a cool little addition which really helps in those tight clutch moments.
Visually, Space Hulk: Deathwing absolutely nails that 40K aesthetic. That gothic meets sci-fi, baroque meets steampunk, industrial brutality meets religious iconography – it’s everywhere here. Sure, Deathwing isn’t the most detailed of games but it does what it does well, creating that oppressive, war-torn look in every corner you can rummage through.
A word on the online portion of the game: In the pre-release state, the online servers for this game have been understandably a little barren. I have managed to experience one online session playing with 2 other players and this entirely changes the experience. Replacing the near redundant AI team mates with human squad members who each have their job to do is a revelation, leaning on the pillars of play that the likes of Left 4 Dead and Army of Two defined. Even from my short and limited experience with the online portion of the game, it’s plain to see that this would be the definitive way to experience the game, shouting at your friend to heal you why he/she’s being hit in the face by a rocket launcher.
If you were to compare Space Hulk: Deathwing Enhanced Edition to many other modern day first person shooters at face value, it’d come up short in almost every regard. It’s clunky, slow paced, stereotypical and corny in the extreme but for those gamers who also have a love for 28-millimetre tall Space Marines and the world in which they wage war, this game offers something more. Space Hulk: Deathwing makes very little effort to be accessible to those who don’t know a foam sword from a power sword, instead opting to attempt to be the most authentic recreation of Space Marine Terminator combat to date. In this regard, it’s a true success and the most faithful Space Marine simulator ever created.
Space Hulk: Deathwing Enhanced Edition is available now on PlayStation 4 (reviewed on standard PS4) and PC.
Developer: Streum On Studio, Cyanide
Publisher: Focus Home
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we received a copy of the game from the publishers. For more information, please see our review policy. As the share functionality was disabled prior to launch for this game, the images included in this review were provided by the publisher.