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Caledonian Deathwatch Network

Game Review: Space Hulk – Deathwing (PS4)

Developed By: Streum On Studio, Cyanide

Platform(s): Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4

Genre: First Person Shooter

 

Overview

 

Step into the (armoured) boots of one of the Dark Angels’ finest, as you brave the unknown depths of a derelict Space Hulk! Deathwing is a First Person Shooter, where you take command of a small squad of three Dark Angels First Company (also known as the Deathwing) Terminators.  You play as an unnamed Librarian, and joining you are companions Barachiel and Nahum. Your quest will take you deep into enemy territory, as you unleash the deadly weapons at your disposal in the fight against the Genestealer menace!

Gameplay

 

The first thing that you need to know about Deathwing, is that it’s a First Person Shooter – and yet it’s also not a First Person Shooter. That sounds like a completely ridiculous thing to say, but stick with me! Yes, you can equip a plethora of Imperial classics such as the Thunder Hammer and Plasma Cannon, but you also need to think about other things such as squad management. In fact this is probably one of the things that I enjoyed most about the game – all of the tiny nods to the Space Hulk board game. In addition to the actual wandering around the (super immersive) environments, you have to factor in a lot of variables:

  • Squad Loadouts
  • Squad Positioning and Orders
  • Health management
  • Resource Management
  • The Optimal Route

 

A big part of the game is deciding what to equip, and also what your fellow Terminators will equip. As the Librarian, you have access to (eventually) all of the Imperial arsenal. You can choose to use Force Weapons (which reduce cooldown time on your destructive psyker abilities), go gun crazy with one of the Assault Cannon Variants, or get up close and personal with the Thunder Hammer or Mace of Absolution.  Your squad mates are a little more restricted. Barachiel can take most weapon configurations (meaning you can customise him to suit your Librarian’s build, which is nice), but Nahum is a bit more restricted. As the apothecary, he is the only one in your squad who has access to the vital Narthecium – the most valuable piece of wargear held by your entire unit.

 

 

The range of Psychic powers that you have access to is good – you can definitely suit your Librarian to be the kind of character you want. There are destructive ranged powers, powers which stun enemies, and powers that enhance your own attacking capabilities. These all have various cooldown times depending on how powerful they are. A nice feature, is that if you use a Force Weapon, your cooldown times are reduced considerably. The trade off is that the Force Weapons are literally not in the same class as something like a Thunder Hammer, so you have some tough decisions to make about how to get the best out of your character. This is another nice nod to the board game, in that you have to consider the tools your squad has carefully, and how best to approach a particular mission.

 

 

You can change your squad load out in between missions, and also during missions using the Psygate. The Psygate is one of the most difficult resources to manage, in that you only have three uses per mission. Using the Psygate revives fallen squad members, replenishes the charges in the Narthecium, and also saves the game. This means that its absolutely essential to try and “get the most” out of each excursion out into the space hulk. If you use all of your Narthecium or Psygate charges too early into a mission, it can be a tough slog to try and make up that ground. Its a really delicate balance between succeeding, and being forced to restart your mission.

 

 

The actual gameplay is not unfamiliar to those of you who have played any First Person Shooter – you navigate a map, have access to various weapons, and need to kill a bunch of enemies along the way to fulfilling your mission objectives. This is a task however, far easier said than done. Deathwing is an excellent game – but the difficulty can be off the charts at times. Quite often you can be patrolling quite happily along a seemingly empty corridor, when all of a sudden a flood of Genestealers starts emptying out of the walls/vents/thin air to tear you to pieces.

Combat is very intense (and enjoyable), and in almost every occasion you truly feel as if your character is fighting for his life. Again, like the board game, you need to keep an eye on many variables in order to emerge triumphant from a skirmish. It’s crucial to keep an eye on not only your health, but the health of your squad. When ambushed by a swarm, or confronted by a powerful enemy, your teammates health can crash in the blink of an eye, prompting you to fumble desperately for the command wheel to issue a recovery command.

 

 

At first, this mechanic frustrated me (especially in the heat of battle), but it actually adds a layer of tactics and realism to combat. Also all of the various weapons “feel” right – for example, Thunder Hammers deal explosive, crushing damage, while you can also get immense satisfaction from spraying down a corridor with a full Assault Cannon clip. If you’re using a ranged weapon, you also have access to heat vision to try and assist you during the chaos of a large confrontation. Make no mistake – combat is intense and amazing fun, but you absolutely need to approach it with a plan and some strategy. The old “Run and Gun” tactics that you can employ in many a FPS are suicidal in this game.

 

 

You can also develop your character’s abilities during the campaign. It’s not deep enough to be termed as an RPG (or even an RPG-lite), but its a nice little touch that lets you specialise your squad’s development further. For example, you can unlock more psychic powers, or spend more points into “squad buffs” that improve your team’s survivability and endurance. You earn Fervor points for these upgrades during the game by performing well in missions. Good performance includes taking little damage, enemy kills, and finding hidden relics (which mostly amount to easter eggs) on each map. This is another nice addition to personalising your Deathwing experience – you can make your character a Psyker to be feared, or more of a squad commander boosting his team.

 

 

During the game, your main opponents will be Genestealers – but there are some awesome appearances from Genestealer Cults units, such as the Magus, Aberrants and Acolytes. Most of the cults units serve to offer ranged attackers (such as autoguns and mining lasers), and they are a welcome addition, faithfully rendered closely to their miniature counterparts. As all Space Hulk aficionados will tell you though, the Genestealer is the meat and drink of the game. There are several types of Genestealer as well, which really mixes up the experience. For example, warrior strains are good in combat, but they are nothing compared to the fearsome Scythe Strains, who will make you think “oh s***” when they crash out from a wall or up from underneath you.

Stalker Strains are cool too – invisible to the naked eye but make your radio fizzle out and show static when they are nearby, they will often get the drop on you. Each encounter presents its own set of tactical challenges – you could be rushed by a group of warrior strains, while a squad of acolytes pelts you with fire from an elevated canopy. The game is unapologetic when it throws you into varied and challenging tactical positions – even on the easiest difficulty, the answer is rarely “shoot everything until it dies”. I definitely appreciated that the game made me think outside of the box more than once.

 

Lastly, the tactical interface is pretty cool. It shows you your current location, and also the location of your squad mates. You can also see your current objective (and also set custom waypoints should you so wish). One really cool thing about this game – the maps are HUGE. They are also (except in some very specific cases) not linear. This means that if you find yourself struggling to complete a mission by following a specific path, you can retry and take an alternative route. I highly encourage this, not only for the gameplay benefits, but purely to see more of the absolutely outstanding environments on display here – this is a gorgeous looking game.

Story

 

There will be some SPOILERS here  – you have been warned!

The actual story itself is quite light – the Deathwing have been deployed by Belial – who is frequently with you on Vox and in mission briefings, which I thought was super cool – to investigate the derelict Space Hulk Olethros (which is made up of several ships, including a Cadian vessel and also a Black Templars battle barge). Admittedly, I was super giddy at the sight of the Black Templars stuff, because I am a massive fanboy of theirs! At the start of each mission, you get a cool narrative briefing as well which is really cool. This is usually followed up by direct orders from Grand Master Belial, which is another reason to get all giddy (if the Dark Angels float your boat!)

 

 

Initially, you are on the lookout for “Dark Angels Secrets” – because whether they admit it or not, the Dark Angels are closer to heresy than they want the wider Imperium to know. After all, their hunt for the Fallen is both relentless and eternal. As the campaign develops, your character begins to develop some psychic visions – these vary, from detecting entities such as enemy Broodlords, to also reliving parts of the past. These visions are triggered when your party enters the Caliban’s Will – a Dark Angels ship which has been consumed by the wider Space Hulk. There are even references to Luther, and the civil war on Caliban during the Horus heresy. The actual story turns out to be slightly less interesting than some of the Heresy references you can find, which is a shame, but there is definitely still some amazing content to be found here – if you dare to explore the Space Hulk to the max.

 

 

The absolute best thing about this game though, is its ability to literally make you feel like a Terminator of a Space Marine chapter. When you walk, you literally feel like a walking battle tank (which is what Tactical Dreadnought Armour is supposed to feel like). Your weapons seem powerful and fearsome, you have a really cool looking HUD and vox channel – the game does an amazing job of placing you in the Deathwing unit and making you feel like you belong. The Space Hulk itself is grand, intimidating and majestic at the same time. If you ever wondered what one looked like – this game does a damn good job of placing you directly into the realm of your imagination. Even the Psygate area which acts as a respite for your squad has cool Skitarii guys working on repairing your squad’s armour. There are so many neat little touches and tributes not only to the board game, but the wider Warhammer 40k universe.

 

 

The game sounds great, it looks great, and it’s once of the best 40k experiences I’ve had (in terms of making me feel like I was part of the universe). One humorous note to close on – if you’re a fan of our podcast, you may recall the “Would you rather be a Chaos Spawn or a Servitor?” debate. That debate was started purely because of this poor bastard right here:

 

 

The Jury is out on that question!

Roundup

 

If you are a fan of FPS games and of 40k – this is an essential purchase. It is not an easy game, and there are definitely some punishing, punishing area. But if you are up for the challenge, and want to get stuck into some meaty 40k gunplay, then this is absolutely the game for you. Its immersive, tactical, challenging – and most of all, bloody excellent fun!

I played this on the PS4, but it’s also available for Windows. Go purge, in the name of the Lion and the Emperor!

 

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