I wanted to like Space Hulk: Deathwing. I really did. The premise is encouraging and the pre-release footage and screenshots were ticking all the right boxes. The actual game just comes off feeling a little soulless however, and there’s only so long I can take trudging through miles of identikit corridors fighting off endless waves of enemies before I reach for the ESC key. Tedium is the one word that springs to mind, briefly offset by playing with a buddy but ultimately repetition always kicks in.
Part of this is down the Space Hulk (40K) franchise itself, which ardent fans will be quick to use to defend the game. All the levels look the same - But that’s what Space Hulks are supposed to be like! The enemies are stupid and give me no downtime - But that’s what the unrelenting difficulty of the boardgame is like! This may be true, but sticking close to the source material has done Space Hulk: Deathwing no favours, and certainly doesn’t make it a good game.
The nearest game I think of to compare it to is another Warhammer property: End Times - Vermintide, although there are certainly comparisons to be made with Left 4 Dead. It’s you and up to three co-op buddies trudging through gigantic, seemingly abandoned spaceships. You play as Space Marine Terminators, each with special abilities and unique skill trees. As you battle through the level and kill the alien Genestealers you gain experience and grab new skills, powering yourself up the further you head in. The RPG side of Deathwing is certainly on the light side, giving you the feeling of progression but little real control.
Enemy variety is another killer. There are basically two types of Genestealer - ones that run straight at you and others that shoot you at a distance. Sometimes you get some cloaked enemies to mix it up. Oh, and there’s a few larger, boss-type creatures known as Tyranids, but for the most part you’re just gunning down thousands upon thousands of bog-standard Genestealers. It’s like Serious Sam in molasses. While Space Hulk: Deathwing seems punishing at first, before long you realise that taking it slowly is key, keeping your distance and funneling the insectoid enemies into chokepoints. Once you’ve got that down it is literally a case of rinse and repeat for nine levels.
The Deathwing campaign is playable both solo (sending out sporadic instructions to your AI partners) or co-operatively. Each of the nine missions is set aboard a giant maze-like vessel with snaking corridors, plenty of dead ends and a worrying number of entry points for Genestealers.
Action is split between pretty brutal melee combat and ranged weaponry. Genestealers explode satisfyingly with a well-aimed swipe, while it is undoubtedly satisfying to just let rip with your chaingun, mowing down enemy after enemy. Ammo is unlimited so you really have no excuse to stop firing. Unfortunately however environmental destruction is basically non-existent, making it feel like you’re traipsing around an empty shell than a real environment.
One of Space Hulk Deathwing’s strong points is undoubtedly its visuals. It’s incredibly authentic to the source material and surely one of the better looking Space Marine games out there. Everything is dank, gritty and generally unpleasant, to great effect. It would have been great to get a little more variety but Streum On basically backed itself into a corner with the IP. To the devs credit they do make the most of what’s available with bloody corpses strewn everywhere, giant gothic cathedrals and demonic altars.
Ultimately, Space Hulk Deathwing is the empty shell of a great game, desperately looking for some substance. It’s the perfect game to play for an hour but every moment after this it just gets a little bit more tiresome. The story is gibberish to all but the most ardent of Warhammer 40K fans and ultimately doesn’t provide enough variety to propel you through with any certainty. It’s Left 4 Dead without the frenetic pace, deep tactics and unpredictable thrills.