The Warhammer 40,000 universe has always been an impressive work of dark science fiction, one that has benefited from several decades of lore adding more and more to its already impressively deep and rich world. Although something that I never realised back through the mists of time was that the dark future of 40K is suffering from a profound gender imbalance which is something that 40K has become rather notorious for.
Although the Sisters of Battle are seriously badass. Like really.
There are numerous games set in the 40K world (especially on PC) but one of the more intriguing ones on the horizon lately is Space Hulk: Deathwing an FPS game based on the tabletop game Space Hulk.
Originally released in 1989 Space Hulk was a tabletop game set in the 40K universe. One player played as a small squad of Terminator Space Marines investigating derelict drifting space craft (known as space hulks) via a series of different maps, whilst the other player played as the deadly Xenos (40K speak for alien) Genestealers. The game, like many from Games Workshop, proved popular with other editions released over the years the fourth edition being released in 2014.
The now defunct Full Control Studios produced a pretty good faithful recreation of the tabletop game which you can get on Steam and a follow up game, Deathwing (which takes its name from an expansion for the original table top game released in 1990) from publisher Focus Home Interactive and developers Cyanide and Streum on Studio is something a little different. Taking the concept of the Space Hulk tabletop game but in the style a first person shooter based around a story co-written by Gav Thorpe who has written numerous 40K novels for the Black Library.
Space Hulk: Deathwing looks set to be heavily inspired by Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels a punishingly difficult and claustrophobic FPS made by Electronic Arts in the early 90’s. Saying that this newer take on that idea has vast potential is a distinct understatement, an engrossing story featuring numerous missions spread across various sprawling Space Hulks with a squad of Terminators could be amazing. Outside of RTS games, like the incredibly popular Dawn of War franchise, 40K games seem to come off average at best so it would be really good if Deathwing bucked that trend.
As anyone familiar with 40K will know there’s a mindboggling array of weaponry, some specifically for Terminators. Examples being the default Storm Bolter and Powerfist combination to heavy weapons like the Cyclone Missile Launcher and Heavy Flamer. Terminators also have close combat melee weapons like Lightning Claws or the Storm Shield and Thunder Hammer. How many of these will feature in the game is yet to be seen but some are shown in the trailers released so far.
Where things get really interesting though is the player character in Deathwing is a Librarian, a special type of Terminator gifted with powerful Psyker or psychic abilities and powers. There’s no indication of how this aspect will manifest in game yet but it potentially adds a whole other level to game play. Whilst Terminators are reliant on their weaponry and armour when facing a Xenos threat Librarians can help their battle brothers with their potentially devastating powers turning defeat into victory. Having the player character be a Librarian potentially opens up skill trees and abilities to learn as you progress through the game which is something I really hope features.
A true Space Hulk inspired game needs to be more than Doom with a 40K paint job though, it needs to be a balance of ominous chilling atmosphere, tactical squad manoeuvres and frenetic action much like a distillation of the films Alien and Aliens which undoubtedly inspired the tabletop game.
One of the tactical points of Deathwing will be the use of doors in the vast eerie gothic space hulks. Securing doors can slow down Genestealers or prevent them sneaking up on your squad as easily. Genestealers are one of the deadliest creatures in the 40K universe, agile, vicious and devastating up close, they rely on ambushing prey and swarming with Genestealers coming out ventilation ducts, hiding in shadows and various other places in sprawling ships. Another interesting aspect is the localised damage system, if a Terminator’s right arm gets damaged he can no longer use the weapon equipped in that arm which could add even more tension to what promises to already be a tense nerve shredding experience.
Ultimately Space Hulk: Deathwing looks impressive but one of the major factors will be how AI factors into the game for both the players squad and the enemy, Streum On Studio has commented about their use of adaptive AI so the enemy aren’t just aimlessly blundering into the line of fire like cannon fodder. Just as important though will be the AI of your team, there’s nothing more frustrating as a gamer than having a character that’s supposed to be helping you get in the way or worse just stand there whilst you’re fighting for your life.
Deathwing is due for release sometime in 2016 on PC, PS4 and XBOX One.