Space Hulk: Deathwing PC Review
The license property for Space Hulk has already had a transition from board game to PC before. Recent adaptations were Space Hulk and Space Hulk Ascension. Both of those replicated playing the Games Workshop board game by turning it into a 3D, turn-based digital experience, which managed to closely capture what it was like playing the board game in the early 1990s. Space Hulk: Deathwing, on the other hand, flips the original concept and changes it into a first-person shooter that keeps the location set in the deep hulls of a derelict space ship, but uses this new perspective to offer a closer, personal experience against the incoming wave of lethal Genestealers.
Space Hulk: Deathwing is developed by Streum On Studio, the people who created E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy, a game that gained a sort of cult appreciation from a small group of gamers. The Warhammer 40,000 brand attached to Space Hulk is sure to get the studio and the game noticed, and the idea of a small group of cooperative players tackling a horde of aliens sounds like a sure fire hit, but travelling through the horrors of an alien infested space ship has its shares of problems that spoil the overall quality of the game.
For the none Space Hulk aficionados, all you need to know about the setting is that you take the role of a Space Marine Librarian – a dude who has psychic powers and basically kicks ass with lightning and other force-like moves – and with your small group of two to three companions, you must complete the tasks set by your superiors inside a huge derelict space cruiser while fighting off a huge infestation of Genestealers (aliens that belong to the Tyranid race, one of the most deadliest in the universe of Warhammer 40,000). It’s a rather straight-forward story that never goes anywhere fascinating, nor does it manage to develop characters. It’s nothing but an after thought, a forgettable tale focused on giving the player a target and then telling them to kill all aliens that stand in the way of retrieving said target.
While the story might be unsatisfying, it’s the attention to detail with the art that captures the atmosphere of the twisted, Gothic dark world of the Warhammer 40k universe. It begins with the Terminators themselves, hulking machines, part man, part metal, who move along with sheer weight, thudding the ground in large clanks with each footstep. They aren’t the fastest, but being a Terminator in this game truly feels like you are a walking piece of death and destruction, especially when armed with an assault cannon, firing off many rounds per second at the aliens, piling up the bodies around you. Streum On Studio have done a great job in getting across the feeling of what it’s like to be a space marine terminator, a sense of weight that comes with every move, every physical interaction with the Genestealers, be it smashing their faces in with a power fist or popping their heads off with the storm bolter, it all sounds and looks fantastic, and this goes hand in hand with the atmosphere created. The impressive way the artist have captured the essence of this religious infused space station drenches the video game in an almost perfect atmosphere that feels like the board game has been brought to life right in front of your very eyes.
Sadly, the initial positive impression of Deathwing‘s presentation soon becomes spoiled by the game’s lack of polish. As a title that runs on Unreal Engine 4, it should be optimised enough to handle what this game throws at the engine, but even on a PC that is running an i7-5930k and a Nvidia 1080 GTX, on maximum settings at 2650×1440, it was producing a lot of performance issues with frame rate suddenly dropping from 60 to 40 for no reason at all. Yes, there is a high amount of aliens rushing to kill you and your team mates, but the frame rate randomly tanks. Sometimes 60 will be held when completely surrounded by Genestealers, and other times they might only be a few, yet it’s dropping frames. Changing the settings to less demanding requirements to see if it was causing an issue did not solve this. No matter if it was lowest or highest, the frame rate still drops. I even had a couple of instances where the game locked up and crashed to desktop. A recent patch has helped with the crashes (it hasn’t happened since), but Deathwing still remains a below par optimised game for PC that should not be dropping the frame rate like it does.
While I did praise the game for capturing the setting immaculately, it does mean that the nine levels featured in the campaign eerily become blended together, as each mission is based inside space ships with dark, dull, gun metal coloured claustrophobic corridors that might open up into a large room, before shrinking themselves back down to connect to the next important zone. The fact that the game reuses earlier maps later on in the campaign does not help with the repetitive design. Small interactions exist with the environment, such as blasting pipes on the walls that cause an explosion or to shoot out flames to toast any unexpected alien near by. You can also lock doors to slowdown how the aliens get to your position. Genestealers can climb all around the environment, and in similar fashion to the Xenomorphs in Alien, will come through various openings, vents, doors, cracks in roofs to eventually get to where you are at. These attackers are made up of few different variants, but unlike Left 4 Dead – a game that Deathwing got a lot of comparison with before it was released – Deathwing doesn’t mix up its enemy attack designs. Expect to either be slashed in the face or shot with rockets or machine-guns from afar. From beginning to end, you are pretty much doing the same play style to get through the campaign – walking, shooting some aliens (or hitting them), hacking a gun turret, then continuing on to the mission goal.
Mission objectives lack any creativity, with the game packed with objectives that are often moving to a location, activating something or smashing something, holding off against a wave of Genestealers until the timer finishes, then moving on to the next objective, often backtracking to locations. Thrown in are optional relics to find and the occasionally journal to fill in the missing gaps about what happened on the ship. It is a shame that the developers could not think up ways to spice up the missions as even though combat can become repetitive in large chunks, the feeling of keeping oneself alive from the onslaught of ravaging monsters using all these iconic Warhammer 40K weapons is a brutal blast, but the boring mission design ends up making the whole experience a little lacking.
As players progress through the single player, more weapons, psyker abilities and skills become unlocked through skill points earned depending on how successful the mission was accomplished. Classic weapons, such as plasma guns, thunder hammers and heavy flamers are all available to unlock, although, Terminators can only carry one gear at a time, so the use of psygates are needed to teleport back to the safety zone to equip new weapons or revive team mates. There is a limited amount of times you can use the psygates in a mission, so it is advised to only use them when you need to replenish your comrades healing skills or revive someone. The AI is okay are standing with the player in battle on the normal difficulty, but they can find themselves overwhelmed with a flood of Genestealers. They can also find themselves lost, as the pathfinder algorithm gets them stuck in positions, which requires the player to return to the AI location and click the follow button to get them to attach to you.
Multiplayer doesn’t have this problem, as humans take over the position of the four characters available. There is, however, the whole issue with the discrepancy between single player and multiplayer, with the latter designed as if it was as last minute inclusion. Any of the nine single player missions are available in the multiplayer – missing their fancy story cutscenes – but each mission begins the player at level one, with players levelling up during the mission to unlock new weapons, which can be done on the fly in the equipment menu, but unlike the single player, these vanish once a new mission is started, as the player’s level is reverted back to one. It’s best to play on Codex Mode, a feature where all the weapons are unlocked and players get to pick what the starting equipment is, then must beat the missions with that selected gear. All class and weapon changes are disabled (along with the experience gain) in Codex Mode, making it the best mode to play, as there is no need to grind in missions to level up for better gear that you will lose once the level is complete.
As a fan of Warhammer 40,000, it’s a shame that Space Hulk: Deathwing has these issues that impede what should have been a great game. It brings to the PC an authentic looking Space Hulk title, one that fans will surely get a kick out of. But the potential this title had is washed away by it being plagued with performance issues and a lack of variety in its level and mission design. When everything is working, I was having fun, even if it was a little shallow, but these issues cannot save the amusingly raw and brutal combat from being part of a game where the overall experience is repetitive and its cooperative play is cumbersome.