Posted on 12 Jul 2017 by L Coulsen

Space Hulk: Deathwing

The Defence

Developer: Streum On Studios
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Genre: Shooter
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 14 Dec 2016

The Prosecution

Minimum
Recommended
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 3.1 GHz
AMD FX 3.5 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 660
AMD Radeon HD 7870
RAM: 8 GB
HDD: 40 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Partial
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: Yes
FPS Lock: 60
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i7 3.4 GHz
AMD FX 4.0 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 970
AMD Radeon R9 290
RAM: 8 GB
HDD: 40 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Partial
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: Yes
FPS Lock: 60

The Case

The Warhammer 40k franchise has quite the torrid history with, shall we say, questionable video game adaptations. Though some have gone on to become solid series’, with dedicated fan-bases beyond the initial Games Workshop customers that really deserve far better by now. Most, sadly, wither in the mediocrity that they seem so eager to court. Then along came Streum On Studio, boasting a massive Unreal Engine 4 powered behemoth of first person Xenos slaying glory with Space Hulk: Deathwing, and many a gamer (myself included) started to wonder if, just maybe, it would be something worthy of praise… then it arrived, and we realized everyone involved should choke on a bag of dicks.

The Trial

Okay, it’s not quite that bad, but dear Gods, the launch week was insufferable. With several game breaking bugs that, for some (thankfully now very, very few) people, still persist to this day. Along with intermittent Fatal Error crashes and a number of just plain bizarre design choices, all of it comes together to leave us…well, it’s not a terrible game, that would be unfair. There’s actually a hell of a lot to like, not least of which being the atmosphere, which is absolutely superb. But the overall package is ultimately underwhelming.

Or rather, it was. Over the following months, a lot of updates have been coming along that reflect what the fan base has been saying, and though a large part of me is frustrated that I’m effectively supporting a botched game, the sheer amount of effort that Streum On have put into fixing everything has been commendable. Even now, there are still new features being tweaked and refined, all of which will be added at no extra cost. Including, but not limited to, the already added random mission system and a persistent level up system for the game multiplayer portions of the game.

Gameplay is generally quite engaging, putting you behind the might of a literal, one man, walking tank. An Epistolary (psychic) Terminator Librarian in single player, or your choice of one of five in four player co-op. Including the Epistolary, Apothecary (healer), Heavy Weapon specialist, Melee and Tactical who can revive fallen allies. Though there are more skills and abilities to unlock in the single player, and far more weapons available, the differences between the five do make co-op compelling…but more on that later.

People powered Space Ships... why didn't I think of that!?

The absolutely delicious level design and texture work, superb lighting and generally competent enemy A.I., pitted against the full weight of your wits and superior weaponry makes for some intense, heart pumping gun battles. Not least because your two AI companions are as dumb as shit on a log on a Tuesday. The Apothecary, in particular, is an exercise in frustration, unable to heal himself without your say so, and determined to charge right into the middle of every horde of Genestealers possible. I eventually gave up on trying to keep him alive all together and just gave him a Thunder Hammer… which ironically, kept him alive, but unable to heal as he could no longer equip the Narthecium.

It’s worth mentioning, again, though, that this is a visually breathtaking game. Everything is beautifully, lovingly rendered. Including minute details on each Terminator’s armour, doors that have to be opened and closed via their actual control panels. And a plethora of books and purity seals emblazoned across walls that… have actual, legible text on them, and a lot of it. If there’s one thing to take away from the game that stands out above and beyond, without a single discernible flaw to mar it! It’s a damn fine looking game that will impress your eyeballs from start to finish.

The nine missions were also reasonability engaging, with a light plot that, nevertheless, has enough death to suck you in. Hearkening back to a much maligned page of the Warhammer 40k history, known as the Hersey. A time when things were, well, kinda’ heretical. The titular ‘Deathwing‘ are about to find out that their Gene-Seed, the stuff they are literally made from, has been absorbed into the Genestealers, quite literally defiling their genetic heritage. This adds a degree of gravitas to the experience that was quite surprising. I mean, it comes from a board game that was about, literally, nothing more than killing all the enemies, or setting fire to a room.

We don't need no water, let the fuckin' Xenos burn...

Post launch, each of the seven maps have been updated to support a procedurally generated mission system. Seven, not nine, because two of them are reused in the final stages of the single-player campaign. So yes, nine levels, but seven maps. The new system allows you to drop back into any previously finished map, spawning at a random location, with a series of three or four tasks to complete. They aren’t massively varied, typically consisting of go to point A and kill the Xenos, then point B to destroy something whilst killing Xenos, point C to protect an injured terminator… while killing Xenos. But it’s a first person shooter, the defining feature of which, being that you shoot things in first person, killing Xenos… so it’s to be expected.

Besides, the overall gameplay, atmosphere and, increasingly, A.I .makes for an extremely engaging experience each time out. Though it will certainly be better once persistent progression system is introduced. Due to arrive towards the end of the year, to coincide with Deathwing’s console release, the existing five multiplayer classes will be replaced with a blank slate. This will also introduce new skills and weapons, with EXP in both single-player and multiplayer missions carrying over to allow you to customize your terminator however you want. The single-player campaign seems like it will remain a separate entity, so only levels you finish via returning for a random mission will contribute.

That’s not as bad as it sounds though, as they are rather shorter than the campaign missions, and any level you have already finished can be re-accessed at any time. So you can just grind out on the first mission, over and over, if you really wanted to. Or you could download the save file that Streum On made available to unlock all the levels if you want a bit more variety. Or just, y’know, finish the campaign yourself, the normal way… by playing it, like it was intended. It’s well worth playing through, trust me.

Clean up on aisle 752... and bring the heavy-duty mop this time.

Sound design is pretty darn close behind. There’s very little music to speak of, with what little there is being primarily incidental, background music. It works though, really well, never jumping up to dominate the scene, but always dramatically present when most needed. Whilst the sounds of the Terminator footsteps, weapon fire, and the Genestealers shrieking and skittering in the distance are all beefy and bombastic or distant and echoey consecutively.

Unfortunately, that leaves us with nothing more to talk about other than the shortcomings, which are in shocking large supply. There’s no New Game+ or level replay, meaning any progress you make is completely undone if you want to go back over something. Considering there are collectibles known as ‘Relics‘ to find in every level, new skills, abilities and weapons to unlock… yeah, that’s frankly baffling in this day and age. Exacerbated further by the Co-Op mode doing the same thing… on every single level! Granted, there’s also a Codex rules option, which gives you all of the (far less numerous) weapons and skills from the outset, but limits your re-spawn amount and prevents you changing mid-mission. Also, no relics, because reasons!?

My single largest complaint, however, as nit picky as it seems, is the fucking Warrior-strain Genestealers! Most of the time, they’re fine, providing a large, more robust version of the standard Genestealer, to take a few more hits before they go down, but every once in a while, they spit acid in your face, with pinpoint accuracy, and kill you instantly. It’s absolutely infuriating, especially when you realize there are very limited save opportunities. Checkpoints are way too spread out, and the only way to manually save is by using the highly limited Psygate ability, which admittedly fully heals your squad and allows you to change equipment, or by using one of the interactive consoles of which there are, like, two per level… at most.

The Verdict

Overall, Space Hulk: Deathwing is a superb game, sadly marred by some utterly baffling game design choices and still persistent bugs that make it unplayable for some people to this day. Honestly, considering the abysmal launch, when even the game developers themselves had fatal error crashes during Livestreams, which they were obviously aware would inevitably happen… it became immediately clear that this was a game pushed out well before it was finished due to a rapidly drying up budget. Effectively making Deathwing a fully released Early Access title. If it had gone to Steam Early Access instead, offering just the co-op to dick around with, whilst the rest of the game got fixed, it would be (almost) entirely forgivable. Having said that, the time and energy that has been spent fixing everything post launch has offset a lot of the complaints, and the upcoming Enhanced Edition looks set to make it the best Space Hulk game, if not the best Warhammer game, ever made.

Case Review

  • Environments: Beautiful to look at, and well designed with lots of different paths all feeding back into each other

  • Post Script: Though it does not excuse the poor launch state, the sheer dedication Streum have shown to fix everything should be an example to all developers.

  • Co-op Leveling: Going back to level 1 at the start of each chapter is annoying, but not insufferably so.

  • Length: Only nine levels, clocking in at barely eight hours even if you’re scouting around for everything.

  • Hordes of Klendathu: We’re here to fight Xenos, not bugs.

  • Warrior Strain: Seriously, screw those guys!

4 Score: 4/5
An amazing game, almost ruined by a terrible launch and poor design choice, but now making itself a must own game.

Evidence

  • Graphics: A nice variety of options, allowing lots of tweaking of individual elements to your liking, but persistently poor optimisation has left many with absolutely zero ability to actually affect performance even with everything at minimum. Some people also found a really weird film grain effect with the Post Processing on anything above Medium.
  • Audio: Nice and simple, everything you need, nothing out of place, and no major need to play with anything to get the balance right.
  • Controls: Everything except healing for teammates (hard bound to 9 and 0, 'cause reaching clear across the keyboard is so convenient!) is customisable...for mouse and keyboard. Though there is a controller option, for some reason it is not currently a compatible control option in game, barring some kind of third party modification such as the Steam Controller.
4 Score: 4/5

Never having played a Warhammer 40k game before, Space hulk: Deathwing eases the player into the world quite well, explaining the past and the present via exceptionally well narrated loading screens. Your character expanding over time via leveling up really helped you understand the awesomeness of the Space Marine psyker, the Librarian, which you play exclusively as during single-player. Consisting of huge engine rooms, disturbing cathedrals and suffocating corridors with plenty of in-between, spanning over nine chapters, each roughly taking around 30 to 60 minutes to complete (depending on difficulty… and luck). As part of the Dark Angels Space Marines most elite unit known as ‘Deathwing’, you and your team investigate the disappearance of another team who boarded the Space Hulk in search of superior technology and ancient artifacts. The shit eventually hits the fan and you fight through hordes of mutated Genestealers as you try to escape..

Deathwing is the Alien: Colonial Marines game we were all promised; it’s gorgeous and terrifying, with wall to wall blood, guts and brutality, with a never ending stream of deadly creatures wanting a taste of that sweet, sweet ass. Powered by the almighty Unreal Engine 4, every square-inch is filled with detail and amazing set pieces right down to the Space Marines armor, nothing is overlooked and everything is absolutely gorgeous, easily one of the best looking atmospheric games of 2017. The sound design is superb, from voice overs to weapon blasts, psychic powers to the death shrills of dying Genestealers, and the constant hum of the Space Hulk itself, a variable treat for the eyes and ears at every step. The actual gameplay is well polished too, from the melee strikes of a Thunder Hammer, the pew-pews of the Storm Bolter, down to the destructive blasts of Chain Lightning.

Launching with many problems… despite patches fixing many of them, especially the abysmal co-op lag spikes and disconnects, the main problem however (and ironically, one of the best parts), in my opinion, was the Co-Op mode, which felt completely tacked on last minute, lacking the polish seen within the single-player campaign. The online experience between you and three mates will be one filled with hours upon hours of great fun, but that boils down strictly to the fantastic action and horror atmosphere. It lacks concurrent leveling for the barely distinguishable playable classes, you can’t collect artifacts, and with no moments that feel cohesive to a typical Co-Op experience, besides endless monsters, and moving from point A to B. In the end, Alien: Deathwing Space Marines is well worth a play through and holds countless hours of Xenos killing fun for you and your space buddies, and with a decent amount of weaponry and skills to unlock, and wave after wave of “Xenomorphs” bearing down on you at virtually all times; a non-stop rollercoaster ride full of tension, carnage and mayhem, get it, got it, good!

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