Who hasn’t heard of Warhammer 40000 at this point? It’s a pretty iconic mainstay of gaming culture; hell, even Starcraft is pretty much off-brand 40K if you think about it. Say what you will about Games Workshop or their business practices, but it’s hard to deny that people who are into this kind of thing are pretty familiar with the Space Marines of the Imperium of Man at this point.
With that in mind, it makes sense to push out some new games featuring this beloved setting, and with that we’ve got the multiplayer-focused Left 4 Dead-esque stylings of Space Hulk: Deathwing.
Deathwing puts you in control of a Space Marine from the Dark Angels chapter; you’re the classic Xenos-stomping metallic badass that all geeks know and adore. They’re hulking masses of flesh and metal that go around enforcing the will of the Emperor of Man in the grim, dark future of Warhammer 40000. A Space Marine wields a giant, deadly chainsaw sword, a pistol that shoots self-propelled rockets and, in this case, mighty psychic powers that can lay waste to entire hordes at a time. Why wouldn’t you want to be one of these guys?
In this case, your Space Marine and his battle-brothers end up exploring the Space Hulk Olethros – an abandoned ship teeming with dangerous alien life. You’ll need to find out what happened and recover any valuable artifacts or information, all the while dealing with alien attacks. Deathwing’s closest relative is the recently-released Wahammer: End Times – Vermintide, itself essentially a Warhammer-themed clone of zombie-smashing sim Left 4 Dead. You’ll battle giant hordes of Xenos, most commonly the iconic Genestealers, as you explore the dessicated halls of the Hulk while completing simple point-based objectives. You’ll also want to keep your eyes open for valuable Space Marine relics.
Space Marines aren’t exactly known for their agility, so you’ll primarily make your way using massive amounts of firepower instead. Plenty of iconic 40K weapons are available for use, along with the aforementioned psychic powers. Blasting baddies with a mighty Bolter or hacking them into steaming ribbons with a Power Sword is always a pleasure and Deathwing continues that fine tradition, but don’t come into this game expecting much in the way of strategy; you’ll win most fights through the massive and direct application of violence. You can order your teammates to assist you as well as customizing their loadouts and skills, but the best way to stay alive is to quickly and efficiently kill everything rather than worrying too much about what your brothers are up to.
Deathwing’s level design also supports the idea of this not being an overly, well, “thinky” game. There are a bunch of hallways. You’ll walk down them. Sometimes there are doors, and you can smash those open, which is hilarious. Every so often you’ll have to stop and defend a given point against waves of opponents, but the game rarely gets more cerebral than this. Strategy was never a central focus of the Space Marine ethos, anyway: an open mind is like a fortress with its gates unbarred and unguarded, after all. Praise the Emperor!
You’ll have the best time with Deathwing in multiplayer, where you get a couple of buddies together and each of you takes command of a Marine. There’s a class system involved here, so each player will want to pick a class that suits their playstyle and supports the rest of the team. The single-player AI is a little brain-dead, with your brothers serving largely as moving, Xenos-blasting health packs and meat shields, and having players directly in control of the rest of your squad does a lot to make the game more interesting. I’ve seen reports about multiplayer connectivity issues, but the people I played with and I didn’t encounter any of these; regardless, you’ll want to test multiplayer early on so you can refund the game if need be.
Something must also be said for Deathwing’s presentation. If only one thing could be said about the 40K universe, it would be that it’s consistent: we know what to expect from a game about Space Marines, and Deathwing delivers. The halls of the Olethros are packed with the sort of dark, gothic imagery that 40K lovers expect. There are also plenty of logs and little details to check out as well, though much of the flavor text could have used a second pass from a proofreader or someone with native English proficiency; developers Streum On were previously known for EYE: Divine Cybermancy, an impenetrable mass of weirdness masquerading as a shooter, so it’s no surprise that Deathwing’s text isn’t entirely understandable much of the time.
It can’t quite compare to the legendary Warhammer 40000: Space Marine, the pinnacle of 40K-related video gaming and one of the best beat-’em-ups to have ever been released. Still, Space Hulk: Deathwing is a solid and enjoyable FPS experience. If you don’t come in expecting the sort of strategy inherent to the tabletop version of 40K, you’ll have a decent time; if you do the same with some friends then you’ll have a great time.