When I first saw there was going to be a first-person shooter based on the Space Hulk games, I was overjoyed. The typically turn-based game puts you in control of a squad of Terminators with heavy bolters, flamethrowers, and swords as you wander through the claustrophobic remains of a giant ship, strategically covering halls and denying spawn points of the Genestealer aliens trying to surround and outsmart you at every turn.
While Space Hulk: Deathwing captures the atmosphere and some of the lore, where it falls short is the strategy part, which is at the heart of the Space Hulk games. Of course, this isn’t to say it’s a bad game. It has its satisfying moments of laying fire down a corridor as a wave of genestealers runs into your stream of bullets, but hear me out.
The game had a rough start. When it was first released it was poorly optimized. Many complained they couldn’t get it to run, and many complained that even if they could run it fine, people they played with online would regularly drop off. People simply weren’t able to play it. Many of its negative ratings on Steam were from this.
The developers patched the game not too long after, and performance is now tolerable. But there are still some complaints.
For me, the fun of Space Hulk is the ability to strategically cover halls and passages, and strategically denying enemy spawn points, as the squad moves towards its goal. The biggest problem I had with Deathwing is that most combat goes to hand-to-hand battles, and the game’s close-quarters combat system isn’t that fun. Basically, you can equip a sword, claws, or a mace and just click your way through a horde of enemies.
One problem is that the bolters, the regular weapons, have clip sizes that are too small to get through a wave of enemies. If you have a squad equipped with these, combat is almost guaranteed to end in close-quarters combat.
The solution I found was to only use the heavy weapons, which have much more robust clip sizes. Using these, the game in my opinion is much better. You can blast through a full wave of enemies, keeping them at a distance while strategically moving towards your objective. In my experience, these weapons are the only ones that are fun to use (although I have seen players gleefully pounding genestealers with the mace, just the same).
In the single player mode, you’re assigned two squadmates, who you can assign to cover points, follow you, or perform a handful of other tasks. They can cover halls, but it always works with partial effectiveness. Most of the time I found myself keeping the squadmates on “Follow Me” mode, since it didn’t seem to make much difference either way.
The AI all around isn’t that great. Squadmates are only somewhat useful, and the enemy typically just rushes at you with little change.
Where the game really shines, however, is in multiplayer mode. The dangers of each enemy wave typically ensure that the squad sticks together, and typically ensure that anyone who doesn’t is quickly overran. Players need to work together to cover all vulnerable points, and it has a feeling similar to the Aliens (and note, Space Hulk was initially inspired by this) film where you can see enemies moving on your motion detector, and you’re relying on the players next to you to fill the gaps.
The problem with the multiplayer mode is the lack of story (which is pretty decent in the single player mode) and the lack of progression. Unlike the narrative single player mode, each map just feels like a map. Also, while you unlock different tiers of weapons as you progress, you’ll need to start over again for each match.
Altogether, Space Hulk: Deathwing is a decent game can be a blast to play with friends. Check your system requirements before picking it up, don’t expect the same same strategic depth as other Space Hulk games and you may enjoy it.
Space Hulk: Deathwing is available on PC, XBoxOne, and PS4 for $39.99.