Games Workshop games are everywhere at the moment. From iOS to PC and console games, there’s perhaps too many licensed games to give your attention to, as it seems like every possible board game is being adapted. However, Space Hulk was one of the first to make the leap, back in 1993, and there are a lot of fans of this particular offshoot from the main Warhammer 40K franchise.
That makes Space Hulk: Deathwing noteworthy in and of itself, and so it was gratifying to see that it now looks like something approaching a game, compared to the rudimentary tech demos I’d seen in the past. Boarding the space hulk has a pitifully small number of Dark Angels Terminators in a breaching pod, shaking violently as it accelerates, with just a few red lights breaking what would otherwise be inky darkness, as a few skull-shaped drones float around the boarding party and perform last minute maintenance. It’s immediately reminiscent of the moody lighting of classic films like Alien, and even more modern examples, like the opening moments from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
As soon as they smash through the exterior of the space hulk, stepping out into the interior presents you with what these truly are. Part asteroid, part wrecked space ships, they tend to consist of the ships of the Imperium, smashed together into a single, massive entity. That’s where the touches of variety can come from within the typically gothic architecture of the ship. Streum On have worked with Games Workshop to differentiate ships from different eras of the Imperium’s existence. Some will be more workmanlike, with tight and cramped corridors of metal, others more advanced feeling, or simply those with the decadence of stonework and huge cathedrals.
Regardless, you’ll often find yourself in the darkness, with little lighting and aliens rushing towards you. There’s an appropriate feeling HUD to your first person view, with the ability to call up a schematic of the ship you’re in at that time. However, the Imperium has existed for thousands of year, and being smashed into other hunks of metal and asteroid has a tendency to alter the layout of a ship. in both minor and major ways. Your ability to literally smash doors open will come in handy at times, but with the somewhat freeform nature of the levels there will be the opportunity to find other ways to your objective, and locking doors behind you can become an important tactic in battle.
As a Terminator, you are a hulking mass of metal, with a genetically engineered super soldier at its core. Armed to the teeth with the very best weaponry the Imperium has to offer, these are the most experienced and most elite of the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines. They’re a precious and exceedingly powerful military resource to draw upon, but while they might be the elite strike units, the myriad alien dangers they face mandate that they are so heavily armoured, instead of being hit and run specialists as modern special forces are depicted. They march into battle and they stay there until whatever threat they face stops twitching.
That bulk means that this will be one of the slowest moving first person shooters of modern times. When games are increasingly focussing on upping the speed and pace of the gameplay, with jetpacks and human augmentation everywhere, Space Hulk will have you walking forward at a more methodical rate. The game’s pacing will then come from how it manages to throw alien threats your way.
Just as in the classic boardgame that serves as its inspiration, your foes in Space Hulk are Genestealers, the heralds of a Tyrannid invasion fleet. With six arms and chitinous exoskeletons, they take home in space hulks, spreading and adapting their genetic code whenever given the opportunity. They are what will stand in your way, as you try to hunt down a Dark Angels ship that has become part of the mass of this particular space hulk, but the Genestealers and their hive mind make for wily foes, and one scenario shows had the Terminators trying to disable an engine room, to stop the ship they were currently on from being separated and ejected into space.
The game will throw them at you, both in dribs and drabs and en masse, coming at you from every conceivable angle. The basic ‘stealers need to close the gap and rely on melee attacks, giving you plenty of time to gun them down as they charge at you. Even though they can take advantage of the shifting scale and scope of each environment, clambering up pipes and gantries or trying to flank you and your strike team, they’re simplistic foes which could doubtless become quite tiresome after a while. It’s a good thing that human hybrids can mix things up with firearms, and other, larger and more threatening monstrosities will feature as well.
Having said that, even the basic Genestealers will be able to provide a considerable threat, especially in large numbers. You take damage to different parts of your armour, to the point where it can restrict your ability and mobility in combat, and it seems to be difficult to avoid this during certain larger battles. Even with the two Terminator squad mates backing you up and following your orders to hold position, follow you and vice versa, it seems like it will be easy to be overwhelmed.
Thankfully, one of them is an Apothecary, but Streum On have made concessions to the game’s difficulty. You’re more than an average Terminator, but are also a Librarian, one of the Imperium’s most talented psykers. As such, you can emit a pulse wave of psychic energy, that sends Genestealers flying, but more importantly, you can teleport yourself back to a safe zone and armoury via Psygates. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a departure from the lore of the universe, but these allow you to switch up your loadout mid-level, fix yourself up when you’ve taken too much damage, and take a break from the action briefly in a safe zone.
Using the Psygate does have a downside though, costing you points at the end of each level and potentially locking off some of the more advanced weaponry, from later in the game. There’s everything you can think of here, from the standards of a Storm Bolter and Powerfist to the heavy weapons such as the Assault Cannon, the more unusual like the Flamethrower – which if you ever want to be slashed at by flaming Genestealers is the way forward – and melee options like twin Lightning Claws.
Picking complimentary weaponry and working together will be just as important when it comes to the co-op in the game. Somewhat disappointingly, there won’t be any kind of Left 4 Dead-like versus mode, but there’s the potential for something a little bit special, thanks to the labyrinthine ships and the endless enemies the game can throw at you.
For Warhammer 40K fans in particular, Space Hulk: Deathwing looks like it could be pretty good, and it’s great to see the progress that has been made over the last year. Streum On will have to be wary of the game becoming a repetitive slog, but the signs are encouraging that, within the setting of the boardgame and its universe, they’re trying to mix things up as best they can.