Space Hulk: Deathwing Review

If the idea of jumping into the outsized armor of a Warhammer 40K Space Marine and blowing away enemies with equally overpowered ammunition sounds like a good time, Space Hulk: Deathwing is the game for you. Well, you and three buddies. Obviously built for four player co-op, as a purely single player experience, Space Hulk: Deathwing's flaws start to stand out.

It's a common joke that Games Workshop will license the Warhammer brand to just about any product, but Space Hulk: Deathwing is a pretty convincing argument for its setting and gameplay. There isn't a great deal of complexity to the story or characters. You play as a Terminator Space Marine and trudge through dozens of corridors, vaporizing Tyranids and other enemies with an arsenal of maximum damage dealing weapons and powers. The setting is both literally and figuratively metal as hell, and the dark and derelict spacecraft give off a pretty oppressive vibe. Unfortunately, the spaces can also start to feel repetitive and hard to navigate and it isn't uncommon to be confused about where to go next.

Get some willing friends together, and Deathwing offers a good variety of classes, weapons and tactics that can be very engaging.Absent those three Warhammer-loving friends, the game's AI companions will happily but rather stupidly fill in the squad. In addition to controls and a UI that could use a dash of elegance, the AI squad isn't always so reliable or useful in many tactical situations such as targeting enemies approaching from behind or the sides, and they can turn into intractable, corridor-blocking obstacles at the worst moments of a fight. As characters, the AI companions are underwritten ciphers and while much of Deathwing is voiced well and appropriately melodramatic, there is a lot of confusing exposition that I suppose would make more sense to someone more deeply invested in the Warhammer world and lore. For most players Space Hulk: Deathwing will probably reduce down to the lowest possible denominator of "go kill stuff." 

The basic loop can be undeniably fun, and many of the game's weapons are incredibly satisfying, with punchy sound design that rattles the room and lots of colorful explosions and gouts of Tyranid gore. Looking like the love-child of a gothic cathedral and HR Giger, the game's environments and architecture are stylish but somewhat lacking in detail, polish and refinement.

Although it seems like it should be a natural fit, gamepads are only partially supported on the PC and even with mouse and keyboard, control feels sluggish and the game's unreliable framerate doesn't help. Like the Tyranids, game-crashing, mission-ending bugs pop up quite frequently.

There is an ideal way to approach Space Hulk: Deathwing, which is with a trio of Warhammer 40K fans and pretty modest expectations. In that situation, blasting through the game and taking turns with the four distinct classes can be a lot of fun. As a solitary experience, the lack of engaging story and characters, class limitations, frustrating AI and various technical issues tip the scale to the negative.