There have been few games over the past year stranger than Space Hulk – Deathwing. While this is a clear labour of love, with a staggering level of detail, a solid story and one of the best examples of M41’s grim, dark atmosphere to date; what is clearly a fantastic game is hidden behind a brick wall of bugs, coding errors and poor platform optimization.
The story is largely what you would expect if you have played any Space Hulk game to date: A mishmash of ancient warships has emerged from the hellish realm of the Warp, spat back out as a twisted amalgamation of various vessels, and it’s the job of the Adeptus Astartes to secure the relics within. It’s direct and uncomplicated, but a wealth of cutscenes and voice actors delivering the most bombastic performances on the planet adds a bit more depth to things this time around.
The history and design of the vessels you visit is also staggeringly well presented, as you will find yourself fighting your way through the bowls of a Mechanicum vessel to a Black Templars warship. Everything from the overt cathedrals of a battle barge to minor details such as personal reliquaries or workstations tells a story, and their design largely sidesteps the risk of this becoming a glorified corridor shooter. Even as you cave in the skulls of a few hundred xenos hybrids, it’s hard not to admire the effort put into the level design.
The core combat also proves to be relatively solid if somewhat methodically mechanical. While typical Space Hulk games are careful affairs of turn-based planning, this is more akin to SWAT 4. You order your units to move about, hold down objectives, seal doors and repair armour as you advance forwards, always keeping an eye open for alien threats. Yet, unlike that game, you can take your fair share of hits, and dish it out in return with an exceptionally broad variety of melee and ranged weapons. These range from plasma cannons to the old fashioned storm bolter, with even a few psychic powers to call upon. While certainly basic in some regards, it nevertheless relays the sheer intensity of combat. You are always outnumbered, and always on the verge of feeling as if you are about to lose despite your sheer power, which makes every victory all the sweeter.
Such strengths serve as a solid basis for a great game. Unfortunately, everything else here is such a chaotic mess that it borders upon heresy.
For starters, the feedback to the player and certain UI aspects are rough bordering upon unfinished. While a new artifact or item might boost your personal durability by 10%, it never offers you an exact stat to work from. This is something further hampered by a surprising number of typos and outright false details, both in the flavour text and basic statistics, meaning you can never fully rely upon the information you're given. This sort of thing would likely lead you to an early grave, were it not for the poor AI of your allies and foes; both of who you can often find running headlong into gunfire and walls alike.
Yet, even if you can stomach such flaws, the game is so poorly finished that it might as well be a rough tech demo. The frame-rate will drop to near nothing with the slightest sign of activity, and the core game crashes like there is no tomorrow. You will often find yourself stuck on unending loading screens, doors which won't open and even stuck with guns which cannot fire. Certain prompts will fail to trigger and more than once the elite First Company veterans have unloaded clip after clip into a nearby wall, detecting a foe somewhere on the other side. At times it reaches Gearbox levels of ineptitude, and any comparison with Aliens: Colonial Marines in regards to bugs is well warranted.
If this were finished it would be the best game Warhammer has seen since Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, easily scoring seven on here. It is a joy to let loose with an assault cannon and its hectic fun can easily rival Vermintide, but its shortcomings cannot be overlooked. Wait a few months and then get back to this one after a few patches, but for the moment stick to Space Hulk: Ascension for your 40,000 fix.
WARHAMMER 40,000: SPACE HULK - DEATHWING / DEVELOPER: STERUM ON STUDIO / PUBLISHER: FOCUS HOME INTERACTIVE / PLATFORM: PLAYSTATION 4, XBOX ONE, MICROSOFT WINDOWS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW