In 1975, three men founded a company called Games Workshop, a company which would go on to dominate the world of miniature wargaming. If you were a fantasy or sci-fi loving child of the '80s or '90s in the UK (and in plenty of other countries besides, no doubt), then you probably had access to these tabletop battles which were tiny in some respects but epic in scale. Later came a series of board games from the company, and among them was Space Hulk.
Now out-of-print, the boxed game was set in the world of Warhammer 40,000 and saw a group of elite space marines take on an evil race of genestealers. It was, for the time, an incredibly progressive board game where you could randomly build different maps using a series of tiles.
Games Workshop might have started with tabletop games and paintable miniatures but the company has had its hand in the world of video games for many years, although attempts at replicating the tabletop empire's success have had mixed results. The world of Warhammer 40,000 is full of rich macabre lore brimming over with dead emperors, genetically enhanced super soldiers with psionic powers, over the top weapons and very cool terminator armour (not to be confused with Arnie, of course). The 40K universe is, for lack of a better word, bleak.
The game brings over this rich backstory and on first impression, the visuals of the game are pretty accurate. The space hulks are huge, dimly lit abandoned ships with a gothic cathedral edge. It gives the playing environment a really eerie and at times claustrophobic feel. If you're not familiar with the universe then this may seem a little over the top, but we think it stays pretty loyal to its source material. We spent quite some time just enjoying the ship's architecture as we wandered around.
The single-player portion of this first-person shooter sees you playing as a space marine in terminator armour, trudging around these floating cathedrals, shooting a variety of different creatures while you're winged by a couple of AI characters. You take the role of a librarian (you won't be checking out any books, don't worry) in one of the chapters of the Dark Angels, but if you're not familiar with the source material then you'll be none the wiser as to what we're talking about. This is the game's selling point, but it's also a problem. It's way too geared at existing fans of the franchise rather than winning over newbies. While the story does give you enough to know what's going on, there are plenty of references that only fans will get.
The most popular enemy is affectionately known as the genestealer, and these are not unlike Ridley Scott's Giger-inspired xenomorphs. They sprint at you at great speed, traversing any and all of the terrain found in the ship in order to get at you. The genestealer is a ferocious creature that attempts to infect you and turn you into one of them, a hybrid. Added to the host of enemies is also the menacing tyrant. At times the genestealers come out of the walls and ceilings at you, while the sound effects keep reminding you that you're very much not alone.
This ambience really keeps the suspense up, but at times your character seems to be a little too sluggish (undoubtedly to represent the hulking armour you're wearing) and combined with the fact you do a lot of wandering around and backtracking, the game at times feels a little unfocused and that can even get frustrating. While the speed of the game and walking does feel deliberate, authentic even, not everyone is going to enjoy the pacing of the action.
The campaign does give you a bit of story thanks to some convincing voice acting, but the levels seem pretty long and you spend too much time just plodding along. The AI of the enemies themselves isn't the greatest either, and often they just choose to run at you or take long shots if they have guns. While at times the hordes of aliens running at you can be quite intense, it soon gets a little repetitive. That said it's pretty hard to not enjoy slaughtering these creatures with either a gun, melee weapon, and even your psionic powers. A lot of the weapons are there from the miniatures, like the power fist and bolter, and your trooper can be upgraded as you progress.
The game also features a multiplayer mode where you can take on the campaign levels with four online players. This means the struggles endured with AI teammates in the single-player are gone and instead the game starts to be pretty fun. After completing some of the campaign levels we found ourselves gravitating back to this mode, and this was especially true when we found a team of fast-moving buddies who worked well together. There's also a system which allows you to upgrade your character with new weapons and things like skulls and Mad Max-esque cosmetics found in the tabletop game's scripture, adding to the longevity on offer. Finally, there are some special missions that come along with the enhanced edition. These tend to be shorter and we thought their brevity worked.
The campaign isn't the highlight in Space Hulk: Deathwing then, but at least it's got enough story to keep fans entertained. Ultimately it's let down a little by visuals that lose their lustre and below par AI. While at times it can be pretty atmospheric, the pacing can be too slow and certain missions can feel drawn out. Some of the missions just felt too long for our liking. Deathwing does come alive in multiplayer but, unless you're a fan of Warhammer, there are probably other co-op shooters you should probably look at first.