The Warhammer universe is massive, with new games in the series being released left, right and center. This time around we see the release of Warhammer 40K‘s oldest of board games, Space Hulk, in video game form once again as Space Hulk: Deathwing, developed by fairly new developer Streum on Studio.
You take the role of one of the most distinguished units in a Space Marine army, a Librarian, and more so a Deathwing Librarian. Deathwing is the first company of the Dark Angels chapter and is made up of the most elite units to be deployed. Deployed in badass Terminator Armour, your role throughout is to explore the Space Hulk, a derelict space ship that has long been lost to the warp, and find the missing Dark Angels ship that is within it. The problem is, however, whilst the ship was missing in the void, it was infested with an alien race called the Tyranid. These xenos are a menacing force who very much look like the Alien from a certain Ridley Scott movie. These aliens use hoarding tactics, charging foes in great numbers, and boy, are they terrifying at times.
Streum have done an extremely great job of capturing the essence of the Warhammer board game. The Space Hulk is filled with small, claustrophobic corridors just big enough for your massive suits of armour to fit into, and they are dark and dingy enough for Genestealers to traverse their way around, underneath or above to surprise attack your elite squad from any direction. The Space Hulk is like the playground for the Genestealers who are able to climb anywhere and infest anything. These corridors lead to massive rooms; some are generator rooms, some are shrines and temples. Each have brilliant architecture set to the Space Marines, and these gothic-styled rooms are generally the set pieces where your objectives are to turn on a switch or investigate an abnormal signal.
Your squad is an elite variant within the Dark Angels company, meaning you have access to the best weapons in the Space Marines armoury. Power weapons like swords, axes, maces and claws. Massive cannons like the assault cannon, plasma cannon and the heavy flamer. Each weapon can rip the enemy to shreds, literally. Your massive Terminator Armour, the best armour a Space Marine can wear, is an impressive piece of kit. It can withstand even the toughest of blows; not only that, but you look like a total badass. Littered with inscriptions and symbols, a lot of detail has been focused on them, and rightly so. Armour can be damaged on different sections shown by the blue figure above the mini-map like your arms or legs, chest or head; this damage is shown in different colours, blue being fine, and orange through red being bad. This adds a tactical layer to gameplay. You can be healed by the apothecary on your team or in single-player by heading back through the Psygate, a portal back to your armoury where you can change your weaponry and abilities.
Whilst exploring the Space Hulk, collectable relics are strewn across each area that give off a faint whisper as you get closer. These relics provide willpower and XP to level your squad which can be spent in 3 different talent trees to provide unique bonuses: Command, Devotion and Psychic. Command provides bonuses to your squad and how they perform together. Devotion provides bonuses to your character like preventing your weapons from jamming, more armour, etc. Psychic provides you with new abilities to use against your foes. Psychic abilities can only be used by Librarians, so they’re basically magic powers in any other universe. You can use chain lightning, teleport inside of an enemy to rip them apart, set them on fire, and so forth. It’s very satisfying, to say the least. Warhammer is a very dark and gritty universe, so don’t be surprised when you see the amount of blood and entrails lying around, especially when teleporting inside of an enemy.
Graphically, Space Hulk: Deathwing is amazing. Supporting Unreal Engine 4, the graphics in this game rival those in other games such as The Division and The Witcher 3 but in their own way. Warhammer is very unique when it comes to architecture, gothic halls and statues, and the way light reflects off of objects and illuminates hallways is impressive. These aesthetics play a very important role in Space Hulk: Deathwing and set the mood for the whole game; without them, the game just wouldn’t feel right. Genestealers use the darkness to their advantage as any xeno would. So, it’s incredibly important that Streum nailed this aspect, and boy, they did. As you walk along, entrances can be seen where enemies can spawn, and these are labelled on the map by a small alien symbol.
Sound is very important to this kind of game, and Streum have hit the nail on the head. The sound of the xenos crawling around behind a closed door whilst you’re unlocking it or crawling through the ducts above you is creepy, indeed. Each shot from your Storm Bolter or the assault cannon is a blast, literally. Plasma cannons fire shots that are like small nuclear blasts of light. The swing of your massive power fist or a power sword as it makes that force sweep and crushes the skulls of the Genestealers is superbly done. All these moments and actions are made seemingly real just by the audio.
When playing online, there were a lot of bugs, some of them game breaking. One particular bug where I couldn’t use my gun or melee was annoying; the only way to fix this was to leave the game and come back in, losing all the XP and weapons I had accrued. Considering you need these more powerful weapons to advance against the more sturdy hoards of Genestealers, i considered it a frustrating mess. There was also a lack of weapons in multiplayer, the heavy flamer, for one. Maybe they plan to introduce these missing weapons in the future, but content-wise, there isn’t enough to keep a group of friends occupied for very long. There are only so many xenos you can purge before you eventually get bored of the same weapons and corridors. This not only stands for multiplayer but for single-player too. It lacks content and variety. I think a good way to fix this would be to add some sort of system like in Warhammer: Vermintide where you collect new loot and weapons at the end of a mission to keep you wanting to repeat missions.
Developer: Streum on Studio
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: 14th December 2016