Ever since the groundbreaking success of Doom in 1993, first person shooters have become arguably the most popular genre in all of video games. In the last 25 years gamers have been treated to the likes of Counter Strike, Battlefield, Call of Duty, Halo, Destiny, and even two Doom reboots- the list goes on and on and on. With such an abundance of these games available to players, a first person shooter in 2018 has to offer something unique in order to stand out. Like introducing MOBA gameplay a la Overwatch, allowing players to run on walls and jump into massive mechanized warmachines like Titanfall, or infusing RPG elements into every aspect of the game like Destiny. Unfortunately, Space Hulk: Deathwing offers an utterly generic first person shooter experience that is ultimately forgettable.
Developed by StreumOn Studio, Space Hulk: Deathwing adapts Games Workshop’s classic Space Hulk board game from the Warhammer 40,000 universe of board games into a fully fleshed out first person shooter complete with a wide array of weapons, enemy types, RPG-like perks, and weapon attachments to accompany the full solo campaign. This is not some half-baked FPS with the Space Hulk name thrown on it- this is a fully conceptualized experience that will make any Warhammer 40,000 fan proud of how close it is to the source material.
That being said, there is a very steep barrier of entry to understand the context of this game. Players who walk in blind with no idea of what the Warhammer universe is about will be thoroughly confused. The opening cinematic alone is crammed with enough lore to give a three hour lecture on.
Throughout the game I had to pause and google something in order to understand just what the hell was going on, including having to discover just what a “Space Hulk” is. I’m sure players who are versed in the Warhammer lore will find no such confusion, but uninitiated players will be confused from the onset. The game itself does almost nothing to indoctrinate new players into the lore, meaning they’ll have to fend for themselves if they want to actually comprehend the experience.
The still-kinda-long-but-as-short-as-I-could-make-it rundown of the story? The game puts players in the laughably over-sized armor of a Librarian of the Dark Angels First Company Space Marines as they investigate the sudden appearance of a Space Hulk, amalgamations of wrecked ships, space stations, and asteroids that have been molded together thanks to unnatural rips in space called Warps. When the marines arrive, they encounter an insurmountable force of Genestealers, hive-mind aliens who raid these Space Hulks for ancient technology.
Missions are pretty cut and dry, usually moving from one objective to another to destroy something or defend a stronghold from waves of enemies. Although the objectives are pretty generic each level boasts multiple paths and mysterious areas for players to investigate on their way to the objective. This encourages experimentation and exploration from the player in order to decide the most efficient route toward an objective. The environments players explore may get repetitive after a while, but fans of the Warhammer universe will love the aesthetic of the game. Mutilated corpses, humans being used as batteries, and creepy space cathedrals populate nearly every level.
The problem is, exploration and experimentation aren’t rewarded enough to justify the encouragement the game places on these elements. Too many times did I die and decide to try a different route only to find a dead end or get stuck in the same fatal predicament as before. Dying after experimentation is particularly frustrating when death routinely means losing 15 to 25 minutes of progress. I quickly learned my lesson and stopped exploring, just tried to get to the objective in the most linear way possible.
The time between objectives is where the game’s biggest detractors shine brightest. For starters, the pacing of each level is grueling, with way too much time spent aimlessly walking around environments looking for the right way to go. This wouldn’t be so bad if the environments were a joy to explore, but every corridor quickly becomes indistinguishable from the next, often leaving me wondering if I was walking in circles or if the level design was just that repetitive. I was intrigued by the architecture and statues that littered the interior of the Space Hulk, but with no proper introduction into the lore I quickly lost interest in these symbols and what they represented.
Enemy encounters in between set-pieces are so sporadic and quick they do little to interrupt the mindless meandering toward the objective. During these meanderings the horrendous sound design of Space Hulk: Deathwing becomes glaringly apparent. I hope players are comfortable with the sound of giant boots clanking against metal grates, because they’ll hear it non-stop throughout the entire game. And believe me, it gets annoying very quickly. The boots are almost loud enough to drown out the remainder of the early 2000’s sound effects that plague the rest of this game.
None of the guns sound powerful nor particularly unique, they’re just loud and repetitive. The sounds of guns reloading are reminiscent of the Area 51 arcade shooter from the 90’s. The endless, cliche chatter from the player’s squad mates gets old within the first half-hour despite being decently voice-acted. Most excruciatingly is the sound of any metal on metal contact- it’s indescribably bad, piercing the player’s ear drums each time they have to hack down a door with their sword, which happens often. There just isn’t a single pleasant sound in this game.
When it comes to the actual first person combat, Space Hulk: Deathwing succeeds in the most basic way possible- you point at enemies, pull the trigger, and they eventually die. I didn’t feel a full sense of control with any of the weapons I was given, and while there are a decent amount of options to choose from, I always felt like I was just spraying and praying my way through enemies. There’s no satisfaction to landing headshots or taking down a particularly tough enemy, nor any skill needed. Just point in the general direction of the enemy and hold down the right trigger.
The melee combat suffers from much of the same problems- there’s no real differentiation between weapons and no feeling of control over their efficacy, especially when dealing with endless hordes of Genestealers. For the most part, the melee weapons felt completely useless, too slow to dispatch the speedy Genestealers who rush the player with their claws out and ineffective against the Hybrids who attack from afar with rifles. The same could be said about the game’s psyionic attacks- they never feel particularly useful nor lethal. The melee weapons are a lot more fun , however, when battling hybrids wielding melee weapons of their own, tasking the player with parrying attacks and timing their own in order to survive.
At least there’s a wide array of enemies to combat, even if the gunplay and enemy AI could use some work. There’s three different types of enemies, each with their own subtype and unique abilities. Some attack with automatic weapons and rockets, others attack with mining tools, while the Xenomorph-esque Genestealers that players combat the most simply charge at their assailants in great numbers- usually in a straight line. While these different enemy types vary in how difficult they are to kill, none of them require a certain change in tactics or approach to defeat. Each can be effectively dealt with by simply spraying them full of bullets. This leads to monotonous gameplay that gets stale within the first 30 minutes.
The gameplay does have brief blasts of entertainment once players reach their objectives, where they’re usually met by a sea of charging enemies. In these moments I was awestruck by the sheer carnage onscreen and even a little surprised that the game could handle so many enemies at once without crashing. Blindly firing at a group of five enemies is no fun (which happens so often in the moments leading up to the objective set pieces) but emptying a full clip into a charging horde of Genestealers and frantically reloading as they close in was actually exciting- easily the most exciting parts of the game.
From a technical standpoint, the game works, just not all the time. I only experienced one full blown crash on my PS4, but in this day and age even one crash on consoles is infuriating. The frame rate also skipped or completely froze for a couple seconds often, especially while traversing into a new environment. It often took textures a couple seconds to load, more often than not, whenever I entered a new room.
This may be a remastered edition running on the Unreal Engine 4, but I don’t think players would know that from looking at it. This still very much looks like a game from the previous generation. Even the pre-rendered cutscenes show their age, looking about as good as most low end current-gen games look in-game. The lighting effects, however, are outstanding, illuminating just enough the environment to allow players to see but not so much that any sense of mystery or fear is stripped away.
There’s not much that Space Hulk: Deathwing does to retain the player’s interest. The repetitive, outdated sound design will grind ears down within minutes. The generic, uninspired gunplay rarely invokes any sense of excitement. The pacing of each mission leaves players aimlessly walking about repetitive, averagely rendered environments. The only moments of true fun come at the objective markers that usually feature a large action setpiece, but these moments are so few and far between they’re simply not enough to warrant the time necessary to reach them. Simply put, Space Hulk: Deathwing is a generic, uninspired, and often times boring first person shooter that does nothing to stand out in an overcrowded genre.