Space Hulk: Death Wing
Streum On Studio/Focus Home Interactive
I must admit that I sort of got on the whole Warhammer 40K bandwagon pretty late. I’d always seen their table top games at my local gaming store, back when I was a serious pen and paper role playing aficionado, but thought it was a little too “board-game-y” for my tastes. Oh, and there was another small detail—those miniatures were frikkin’ as expensive as tarnation! (whatever that means).
I only began to see what the hoopla was all about when I first got a taste of what I consider to be the greatest RTS of all times: Warhammer 40K-Dawn of War. Combined with the Ultimate Apocalypse Mod, DOW was unparalleled at giving gamers an unequalled amount of variety and replayability—all with a healthy smattering of deep strategy.
Well, its follow-up DOW 2 sucked, and DOW 3’s prospects aren’t looking too bright, so I’ve been hungry to sate my recently acquired taste for anything Warhammer 40K, as of late. The recent Warhammer 40K: Eternal Crusade turned out to be pretty wretched, featuring floaty, light as air Space Marines hopping around on tiny maps, along with puny, tinny-sounding weapons.
So, when I’d first caught a glimpse of Streum On Studio’s Space Hulk: Death Wing, I got all giddy like a little school girl. The trailer was pretty darn epic, and the snippets of gameplay that I was able to find made it look totally badass. What specifically impressed me the most about the gameplay vids was that for the first time ever, they slooooooooowed the movement speed down, and made the Space Marines as bulky and encumbered as they ought to be. For some odd reason, up to now, game developers have erroneously envisioned Space Marines as some sort of fast moving ninja-types, sprinting around like Call of Duty soldiers and doing somersaults like highly-trained gymnasts.
I opted in for the Death Wing beta test, during the weeks leading up to the game’s release, and crossed my fingers. After playing the beta, let’s just say that I came away thinking that the devs still had a lot of work to do. The beta was buggy, had horrendously long loading times, and a whole host of other issues. Then suddenly, they yanked the beta and said that it needed to be worked on some more, which was quite understandable.
When I finally got my hands on a review copy, I downloaded it and promptly fired it up—again crossing my fingers. One of the first things that I noticed was that the lethargic loading screens of the beta were gone. So, I tried my hand at the game’s main campaign mode. Death Wing’s campaign tells the tale of a powerful Black Wing Librarian who is on a grand quest to retrieve an important relic from an enormous space hulk adrift in space.
The Death Wing is an uber-elite sect of the Dark Angels chapter of Space Marines, who are genetically augmented super-soldiers. In the game’s campaign mode, you control three other Death Wing battle brothers who will obey your every whim. Fortunately, the AI is so robust that your fellow Space Marines never get bungled or bunched up together in the oft-cramped confines of the space hulk. There is also a great deal of interactivity with the space hulk’s environs as well. Shoot a cathedral’s bell for instance, and you’ll hear it make that loud dong! sound. Blast a few holes in some pipes and watch flame spew forth from them, frying any living thing in their vicinity.
Space hulks, by the way, are enormous conglomerations of drifting debris—old space ships and space stations, asteroids, and other flotsam and jetsam that have somehow coalesced into one giant hunk. Some are merely abandoned husks, while others are inhabited by obscenely powerful entities. Sometimes, the multitudinous aliens known as the Tyranids will choose to infest space hulks, and use them as floating incubators for their malevolent brood.
Tyranids definitely have H.R. Gieger’s Alien aesthetic, and that’s obviously what they were designed after. In Death Wing, you really get the sense of that—it’s as if you’re cautiously investigating a much larger version of the Nostromo, only this time with ten foot tall, hulking Terminator armor-clad, elite Space Marines, carrying highly destructive weapons.
Death Wing’s much ballyhooed about co-op multiplayer mode is where you really get a sense of that. You and up to three friends can attempt to navigate the treacherous, cramped corridors, and claustrophobic chambers of the space hulk, keeping a beady eye (or sets of eyes, rather) out for anything that moves in the dark. Indeed, the devs really nailed the Warhammer 40K vibe, and the game is jam-packed with lore from the fantastic, futuristic series.
There are five classes available in Death Wing, an assault class for up-close melee engagements; a heavy weapons specialist with well—heavy weapons; a psyker-imbued Librarian, a healer, and a tactical marine that can offer buffs. There is also an experience system that allows you to level up your Space Marines. This can lead to acquiring better weapons and upgrades, granted you survive each level.
Survival is the key word here. Death Wing features some ferociously devious AI, with different types of Tyranid genestealers seeking not only to ambush your squad, but also outmaneuver it. I can’t tell you how many times that my squad and I entered a dimly lit chamber, scanned the areas as best we could with our electric torches, and then got hit out of nowhere from some murky area. Death Wing really forces you to be on your toes at all times.
Death Wing is a gorgeous game, visually. As mentioned previously, it really captured the Warhammer 40K aesthetic—the game is drenched in it (as well as lots of blood). The physics are also excellent, and when you blast some genestealers with your bolter pistol or light them up with a heavier weapon, their insectoid bodies react accordingly, blowing in half or having their heads explode, as well as many other grisly displays of carnage. The sound and voice acting is also top-notch, and the Space Marine weapons really feel like they have some kick to them and really pack a punch. I’m still trying to get used to the faint clicking and screeching noises that the genestealers emit as they stalk your squad from the dark—it’s really atmospheric stuff.
Space Hulk: Death Wing is an excellent science fiction, alien-hunting romp. There are a good assortment of character classes available, fun weapons and gore effects, and some seriously creepy atmosphere on hand to be had. While it still needs some optimization work, it’s a pretty solid product overall, so enjoy.
Space Hulk: Death Wing offers highly detailed visuals that suit its science fiction theme. However, you have to have an equally fast gaming PC in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:
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