Sadly, the enemy is directly behind them.
Our familiarity with the Warhammer 40,000 universe is primarily limited to two games, the third-person shooter Space Marine and its prequel, Kill Team, a twin-stick shooter. Still, both were enjoyable titles, and we were curious when Focus Home Interactive announced it was bringing the previously PC-only Space Hulk: Deathwing to the PlayStation 4 as the Enhanced Edition. Time to saddle up and purge the unclean.
Speed and agility aren’t on the menu in Space Hulk as your character is a heavily fortified walking tank of a man. You’ll have both a ranged and melee weapon (one in each hand) as well as the ability to employ some psychic powers to take down your enemies. A ponderous sprint can be used to cover ground quickly, and an aim down sight function can help with enemies at distance both by zooming in and activating a filter that illuminates them.
Everything is structurally solid on the combat front, and yet nothing shines. No matter how big of a gun you’re wielding, shredding enemies never feels all that satisfying. The same can be said for the melee attacks that have no heft to them, somehow draining the joy out of slicing and dicing alien hordes. It just feels like you’re going through the motions.
You’ll also be able to issue a handful of commands to your two squadmates, and it’s here that the game really begins to stumble. The radial menu is just too clunky to be used in the heat of battle, which is a problem since your A.I. buddies are nearly incapable of anything beyond breathing and putting one foot in front of the other. We’ll dive deeper on the problems in that area later, but suffice to say the game does you no favours with the way it has you give orders.
Contained within a massive spaceship, Deathwing is relentlessly dark and frequently claustrophobic, though it does occasionally open up with massive cathedral-like rooms. While it looks alright, it clearly lacks the polish of higher-profile FPS titles. Still, it does manage to create a certain sense of tension and foreboding — well, as much as it can when you’re armed to the teeth. It also does a solid job of simulating you donning massive, lumbering armour.
Voice acting is mostly found in long-winded, lore-laden monologues setting up chapters (to help cover the lengthy pre-mission load times). That’s not really a sin for a shooter, but it feels like a missed opportunity not to lend an iota of personality to either of your squad mates, who are silent outside of barking out a battle cry here or there. Sound effects at least fare a little better.
There isn’t much of a story here outside of some broad strokes where you, known as The Librarian, and a pair of battle-brothers must sweep through the derelict “space hulk” and clear it of the genestealing Tyranids. You’ll be given additional objectives as you progress, but it’d be fair to summarize the experience as “kill everything in sight.” For those that still enjoy a little more motivation than that in their first-person shooters, prepare to be disappointed.
We’ll continue with that theme of disappointment with the terrible teammate A.I. during the single-player campaign. In theory, your Librarian is flanked by a couple of certified bad asses, both decked out in heavy armour and even heavier weaponry. In practice, they’re borderline useless. Apparently the burden of firing any direction but straight ahead is too much for them, and they’ll happily wander into your line of fire or stop in an entryway you’re trying to seal just for good measure.
Discouragingly, those aren’t even the low points for the A.I. No, that would be reserved for your squad’s healer, who will only take action when specifically directed by you. That means he’ll let himself or your other A.I. team member die, forcing you to use a “psygate” to temporarily return to your ship and undergo medical treatment, including resurrection for your fallen brothers.
In other words, you’re pretty much on your own across the campaign’s nine chapters, which can take better than 10 hours to complete. While you should expect to do the heavy lifting in any scenario with A.I. teammates, you should be entitled to competency from them, and their complete inability to do basic things unguided is pretty frustrating.
As you’d suspect, those issues are cleaned up when switching to co-operative multiplayer when people sub in for your team (and you’ll actually get to choose your class). This is the preferred way to play, even for the typically antisocial among us, as you can actually admire some of the chaotic action you were too busy cursing the A.I. for to notice on your own time.
Progression is rewarded with points to unlock new abilities along three pathways that focus on strengthening your teammates, improving your physical skills or upgrading psychic powers. It’s an underwhelming system, primarily offering up “under the hood” improvements like faster hacking or a marginally better armour rating for your teammates. There’s nothing here to fundamentally change your approach.
Where it all ends up is that Deathwing is duller than it has any right to be based on its mix of poor A.I., paint-by-numbers combat and lack of meaningful progression through the game — both in terms of character growth and just visual cues in chapters that you’ve accomplished something, anything, beyond slaughtering a bunch of Tyranids.
Although not a bad game, Space Hulk: Deathwing Enhanced Edition is eminently forgettable. Perhaps those better steeped in the lore of Warhammer 40,000 will get more out of it, but for us it lacked a spark to get us meaningfully invested in what was going on.