The Warhammer 40,000 license has been pulled and prodded in just about every direction these past few years. You can barely go a week without seeing another 40K game pop up in the news as developers looking to mine what is perhaps one of the richest sci-fi universes ever created, but unlike a lot of these smaller, more shallow adaptations, Space Hulk: Deathwing has an air of quality to it. This is a traditional squad-based shooter, from a relatively well-known publisher, appearing on home consoles.
From the perspective of a Warhammer 40,000 fan, there’s a lot to like, especially when you consider how the last couple of Space Hulk titles ended up. Based on the 1989 Games Workshop board game, it revolves around a very specific chunk of 40K universe, putting you in control of a Terminator squad as they embark Xenos-infested spaceships. Naturally, there are parallels with 1979’s Alien, Space Hulk’s Genestealers closely mirroring the creature designs of H.R. Giger. There’s also a mixture of gothic and industrial aesthetics throughout and a recurring sense of claustrophobia.
However, where the crew of the USCSS Nostromo found themselves completely picked apart by a single Xenomorph, Space Hulk flips this around. You are superhuman soldier of the Adeptus Astartes and a member of the elite Deathwing company. Clad in Terminator armour you can make easy work of the Xenos threat, though only when working as part of a team.
Each mission has you battling Genestealers with up to three squadmates in tow, whether real players or AI stand-ins. The way these levels have been patched together is fairly basic, giving you a handful of objectives to complete before making your way to the extraction zone. However, no matter where you are, you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled as Xenos emerge from just about every nook and cranny.
As dull as the objectives are, mowing down hordes of these aliens is initially quite fun. One aspect 40K fans will appreciate is the amount of character customisation available, allowing you pick various classes, weapons, and abilities. If playing offline, you also have the option to outfit your two AI companions, tailoring them to suit specifics scenarios, whether that means having some extra firepower or an Apothecary on standby if your health begins to dwindle.
Although Deathwing is meant to be played online with friends, it’s a shame Streum On Studio didn’t spend more time making the friendly AI more competent. Space Hulk gives you the option to issue commands but my fellow Terminators often felt ineffectual, letting the enemy slip through our defences all too often.
It also lacks the tactical depth one might expect from a game with “Space Hulk” in the title. Most maps have hackable turrets and blast doors which can be sealed though these are relegated to optional, tertiary gameplay elements. Instead of using the environment to your advantage and hunkering down for an intense Xenos onslaught, each encounter feels like a choppy mess. There are definitely some fun moments, but to say it’s rewarding would be a bit of a stretch.
The Enhanced Edition adds in several areas over the original release on PC in 2016. There’s the new Chaplain class to choose, more class customisation options, some new weapons and enemy types, and some mission randomisation, but they don’t alleviate the fundamental issues with the design.
Those wanting a great squad-based shooter or a truly essential Warhammer 40,000 game will have to keep searching. At a glance, Deathwing seems like a solid adaptation and it nails that distinctive Space Hulk look and atmosphere, but there’s just not enough variety or depth to keep players engaged beyond those first few encounters.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 Pro – Also available on Xbox One & PC