As a wee lad back in the day, I used to watch my brother collect and paint Warhammer soldiers. This was before he stopped being a nerd and decided sports were cooler (For which I still haven’t forgiven him); this was my first taste of the Warhammer universe. Particularly the 40K bit. My brother used to hand off the Space Marines to me because he didn’t like them; I never followed the proper painting instructions or played the actual game since I was having more fun making up my own stories that were interesting, and funnily enough significantly LESS violent than the real story! The highlight of my collection was a Terminator. For those unfamiliar a Terminator is basically a bigger and more heavily armed Space Marine – So when I was told there was a game series centred on these absolute beasts I was sold!
I booted up Space Hulk: Deathwing with a mixture of excitement and foreboding. While this would be a fun slice of my childhood brought to life, I was also well aware that Warhammer games don’t exactly have a stellar reputation with the exception of the Dawn of War RTS games on PC.
Right off the bat I encountered some snags with the game handling pretty poorly in most ways. Menus that don’t make sense and move like a train that’s hit a brick on the rails; gunplay is a strange affair with each weapon, feeling and sounding like you’ve strapped a galleons worth of cannons to your arms but having all the accuracy and power of a spit ball shot by an asthmatic. What’s worse though is the melee combat which more often than not left me flailing about with a hammer, missing most enemies and doing my best impression of a builder who’s stopped giving a shit on the job. First person melee isn’t a new thing and it’s pretty upsetting to see developers STILL struggling with it some many years after games like Oblivion got it right. If you’ve ever played Left 4 Dead or Killing Floor then you’ll be ready for Deathwing with the co-op mob killing gameplay feeling like a weightier cousin. So while I whined about the combat I will say it’s still fun and is solid enough not to cause frustration. A nice touch is that when you complete a mission in the story, you can go back later on and replay the area with a few new open paths and randomly generated enemy encounters to keep things fresh long after you’ve beaten the level proper.
I mentioned the story back there and I want to reflect on that a little bit. I’d love to tell you about the brutal and harrowing story I played through but there just isn’t enough there. The entire storyline seems to be you’re a Terminator in the Deathwing chapter of the Space Marines and there is a swarm of Genestealer Tyranids (Basically Warhammers answer to Xenomorphs) between you and your objective. That’s it.
Now I did a little research on developers Streum On Studio and saw that they’re fairly well experienced with the Warhammer 40K universe having made several mods for other games based around the universe, so finally getting to make a licensed game based on a franchise they clearly love must have been a glorious day and it does show. Deathwing’s visuals are gorgeous and feel like they’re taken right out of the source material with environments having that futuristic gothic style down to a T and character models based nearly perfectly on the very models I used to paint as a kid. Unfortunately there is still the feeling that this COULD be a mod. With the gameplay being so similar to other co-op shooters it just feels like there’s a layer of 40K placed over something a little bit better.
In all honesty Space Hulk: Deathwing is a good solid game with plenty to keep you shooting and stabbing your way through wave after wave of aliens for a few good hours at least. Maybe with a little more polish and a few gameplay changes we might have had a real contender in the world of co-op shooters but unfortunately with titans like Left 4 Dead and Gears of War still showing us how it’s done years later, Deathwing just doesn’t bring anything fresh enough to really stand out as anything more than a gimmick. By all means give it a try and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed, but unless you’re a huge fan of Warhammer 40K I just don’t think you’ll be wowed.
I give Space Hulk: Deathwing 6/10