Floating silently through space, the space hulks are a silent but deadly threat to the safety of the Imperium. With unknown numbers of genestealers on board the ball of wrecked ships lost in the Warp, it’s up to the Space Marine chapters, the most elite of the Imperium’s troops, to board and neutralise this particular enemy of humankind.
As we’re seeing so often with Games Workshop games in recent time, Space Hulk: Deathwing takes the core premise and ideas behind one of their board games and transforms it into video game form. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Space Hulk has been turned into a video game, with the classic DOS and Amiga version released in 1993 and a more modern interpretation made in 2013.
However, while those were both quite literal interpretations of the board game, Deathwing takes it more as a source of inspiration, instead translating it into a first person shooter for PC and the latest batch of consoles. You step into the hulking great big Terminator armour of a Dark Angels Deathwing and head into the dark and foreboding depths of the hulk.
This isn’t a colourful world, though, with the Gothic stylings of the Imperium’s ships all stone and steel grey, and with the most prevalent source of light coming from your armour’s torch. Yet you will go from the closed and cramped confines of small tunnels that are barely big enough for your huge suit of armour to the cavernous cathedral-like spaces.
The levels within the game won’t be simple and straightforward either, with a sprawling mass of paths to follow evident as soon as you look at the tactical map. While you might have a main objective to head towards, secondary missions might pull you in other directions, and the plan is to revisit reuse these areas in different ways.
Of course, at any point, the genestealers could attack you and from any direction. They won’t be restricted to the basic, pure form of these chitinous alien beasts either, with the human-genestealer hybrids able to wield weapons at you, and perhaps a few further surprises up the developer’s sleeve.
Whatever foe is ahead of you, you can almost certainly count that the enemies will be trying to also come from behind. The genestealers are all joined together by a psychic hive mind which will allow them to try and coordinate their attacks on you in such an unscripted fashion, and catch you by surprise. With the thick and heavy Terminator armour, their best hope is to do damage from behind, cumulatively wearing down your armour in a location-based damage system.
That’s especially true given the kinds of weaponry at your disposal. At certain key points you’ll be able to switch you weaponry around, in an expansive arsenal that you unlock by hunting down important artefacts and relics to bring back to the chapter. The possibilities span all of those from the board games, meaning that there’s everything from the heavy bolter machine gun to a shield and power hammer combo, or even the rather awesome looking lightning claws. That’s all before you consider the psychic Librarian powers that you’ll come to unlock.
Also looking after your back will be the rest of your terminator squad. These AI units are at your disposal however you see fit, and can be equipped in different ways, whether it’s with heavy armaments or as an Apothecary medic. Ordering these troops around sees you dip into the tactical map to set waypoints, but this doesn’t quite pause the game for you, instead slowing it to a snail’s pace for a limited length of time. Then again, that’s not going to be quite such a worry when tackling the game co-operatively, with up to four players able to team up.
Whether together or alone, a powerful tool at your disposal during battle will be the ability to manipulate some parts of the world around you. If you find yourself suddenly attacked, it’s prudent to back yourself into a corner and prevent the enemies from flanking you. It could be as simple as shutting and then breaking a door (which you’ll have to subsequently smash down to get through) or if you have it equipped, the flame thrower’s residual fires do a great job of blocking off areas too.
Since I last saw the game, nearly a year ago, the work done by Streum and Cyanide has progressed quite dramatically. What was little more than a tech demo has been fleshed out into something that’s starting to resemble an actual game. It’s still a long way off its intended release towards the end of this year, and there are still plenty of places where it could be furthered and improved, but it has the potential to be another solid translation of a Games Workshop property.