It’s a pretty good time to be a gamer and Games Workshop fan. There’s a slew of games that have been announced or are in development covering the breadth of Games Workshop universes. And while the ten-sided dice and miniature painting may not appeal to everyone, I’ve heard space marines make for pretty good video game fodder these days.
Rodeo games have gratifyingly focused on a little-known corner of the Warhammer 40k universe with their latest game Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion. The Deathwatch are a special chapter of elite space marines handpicked from their respective legions and tasked with eliminating the zeno threat across the galaxy. In 40k, Space Marines are genetically modified post-human super soldiers, that have back up hearts and lungs that can breathe poisonous atmospheres, they are essentially immortal as long as their heads don’t get chewed off and in Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion they face their arch nemesis and perhaps the most alien of the 40k races, the Tyranids. With a name like that the Tyranids are (obviously), an extragalactic race hell bent on consuming all biological life in order to multiply.
Deathwatch started off as a mobile game before it was enhanced with updated graphics for this PC release. The mobile DNA of the original game comes across quite clearly in this enhanced version. Somewhere during the port process Rodeo Games must have offended the Machine Spirit. This version of the game still carries over some of the mobile versions quirks; some instructions still ask you to tap the screen and although the micro transactions have been removed, you are awarded space bucks at the end of each mission with which you can buy packs of cards that will randomly award you new space marines and war gear.
The gameplay is turn based so it is slow and methodical, the space marines don’t have a great deal of movement range, so you will end up moving incrementally towards the objective while reserving action points to leave your marines on overwatch for the enemy turn. The action takes places across grid-based maps (or boards if you will) which occasionally causes problems with movement and positioning. Marines and enemies take up one square, meaning if they are standing in a doorway, your other marines cannot see, move or shoot past them. The line of sight mechanics also prevents your squad from seeing what lurks behind visible enemies until they’re reduced to chunks of meat.
Mission variety is limited, with most objectives providing a mix of running down the turn counter, or moving the squad from one position on the map to another. You will frequently find yourself creating overwatch traps and waiting for the bugs to come to you.
There are camera controls, allowing you to compose cool scenes and zoom into the action, however, moving the camera anywhere other than its default birds-eye-view obscures the markers around the base of each character that display remaining action points. Irksomely, during enemy turns the camera pans to active enemies to display their move, while in principle this makes sense, it often doesn’t show which of your units is being targeted so you have to wait for the camera to pan back to your squad before you see which marine as being targeted.
Deathwatch does get the look of the 40k universe right. The use of Unreal Engine 4 (which seems to be the current go-to game engine for 40k games) is used to great effect. The marines look every bit as menacing as they should and the environments are particularly faithful to Imperial architecture and 40k scenery. Additionally the weapons are spot on; bolters are lethal and accurate while the heavy bolters lugged around by devastator marines have the satisfying percussive boom of a gleefully over-sized gun.
In many ways Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion feels like you’re playing the tabletop game with the miniatures and there is something rather nice about that, there’s no two player mode in this game, but I suspect it’s top of the wishlist for a sequel. I also spent a lot of time while playing this thinking it would make a great mobile game, and for that reason I can’t recommend it highly enough. But if you’re looking for a deep tactical turn-based Space Marine shooter for your PC, you might be disappointed and at £20 you’d have to be an Imperial acolyte to succumb, especially when the mobile version can be had for peanuts. There is a good game here and I have no doubt a few DLC packs or even a sequel aimed more at the PC crowd could win over the non-compliant. Despite its issues I genuinely hope this isn’t the last outing for the Deathwatch.
-Focusses on a less well-known part of 40k universe
-Environments and characters look great
-Would make a great mobile game
-Lacks tactical depth
-Some balance issues
-Awkward camera controls