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Space Hulk: Deathwing's road to recovery

I couldn’t remember a thing about last December’s Space Hulk: Deathwing [official site] without going back to read my own review – a statement which in itself perhaps constitutes all the review you might need. As well as inciting the inevitable deep self-loathing, reading back my own words also stirred vague memories of the L4D-like Warhammer 40,000 team shooter running about as well as an Ork who’s already participated in fourteen Waaagh!s in one day.

Though Deathwing’s road to greatness might be a longer one, its most recent update aims to put paid to its performance issues. The results are tangible, but mixed.

Update 4, so named because it is the fourth major update, is a tech-heavy patch rather than boasting many new features. Claim the devs, “we updated the graphical engine and rebuilt all the levels.”

The major issue I faced when I played Deathwing soon after launch was the frame rate more than halving whenever more than a couple of enemies were on screen, to the point that it was only consistently playable if I dropped graphics settings to a bare, sludgey minimum. This was a damn shame as, while the game’s structure and action is currently too repetitive for its own good, it was a beautiful sight when settings were at a respectable level. Really nailed the heavy metal, massive spaces and foreboding gloom of Space Hulk’s Terminators vs Genestealers warfare.

Not everyone suffered similarly, with AMD graphics cards particularly bearing the brunt, but it was serious enough that “our first priority after the release was to fix the most urgent technical issues,” say devs Streum On Studio. As such, here’er the at-a-glance main fixes in Update 4:

  • More weapons in Multiplayer – this includes the addition of the Heavy Flamer and Hellfire.
  • Expanded class loadouts in Multiplayer – each class has more choice of what to bring into battle!
  • Improved multiplayer load times – simultaneous loading time for all players.
  • Performance improvements.
  • Loading time improvements.
  • General stability improvements.
  • Multiplayer experience improvements.
  • Improved Anti-Aliasing options.
  • Hardware-related issues Fixes (on AMD graphics cards).

There’s also a raft of specific bug fixes for the bug god, which you can goggle at here. As you can see, another priority for this patch has been resolving multiplayer issues. I remember I had a few sudden disconnects but don’t recall any loading times woes, but horses, courses – glad to see they’ve tightened things up there, in any case.

I just fired Deathwing back up for a quick half hour, and the good news is that now I’m able to keep settings pretty high and ol’ Shulky McShulk remains playable throughout – often sitting at 60 or more frames. The bad news is that the framerate is still super spiky, dropping dramatically between 10 and 30 frames during combat scenes and in some empty environments. Unlike the unpatched version it usually stays above 30 so that’s all good, but I suspect it’s a whole lot more bearable on this adaptive sync monitor I have than it might be in the more mainstream land of Vysnc.

Hopefully further tweaking can achieve more, but it seems that the devs’ next priority is features. “We’ll now focus on improving gameplay and content based on your feedback since launch – replay value and multiplayer long term progression are our main priorities.” Which, I would hesitantly suggest, is a careful way of acknowledging that Deathwing doesn’t offer much variety. Singleplayer, with its relentless trudges back and forth across the same spaces, got old fast, but the desperate teamwork of multiplayer had more verve to it, and I guess that’s where they’re going to focus.

There’s a solid core to Deathwing, and I do hope there’s a way to lift it out of the somewhat dull doldrums without betraying the values of Space Hulk – which is to say, big gothic space-spaces, hordes of enemies, slow, thumpy movement and extreme lethality.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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