Necromunda: Hired Gun Review — Down and Out in Hive Primus
Necromunda: Hired Gun is a game of two halves. The first half is all Gothic maximalism, gigantic skulls, and innumerable decorated buttresses looming out of the heat-choked industrial labyrinth that is Hive City.
Everything is over the top: bones and candles adorn every empty surface. Doors are opened by beating up mute, gagged servitors that exist only to be plugged into equipment as organic cogitators. Gangers roam the innumerable walkways and corridors, covered in Mad Max-style slapdash armor, tattoos, and punk haircuts. They carry brutal weaponry that fire enough bullets to empty a munitions depot or wield vicious melee weapons designed to maim and kill in as excruciating a manner as possible.
It's bold, bloody, and full of personality.
The other half is goofy and awkward. Baby-faced Ogryns leap towards you in combat like toddlers bounding around in low gravity. Gang bosses threaten with the same voice line over and over again as you spend five minutes pouring point-blank shotgun blasts into their heads, praying they will shut up soon.
Enemies congregate awkwardly on tiny platforms, like muscled lambs to their slaughter. The AI fails to give them any life beyond bullet sponge mannequins, and your melee finisher animations fail to align with them, leaving you stabbing a metal spike into thin air or shooting your pistol past their head as they fall to the ground limp with the same death grunt you've heard a thousand times before.
Most of your playtime in Hired Gun will be going back and forth between these two poles, often with such velocity and frequency to give you whiplash.
Necromunda: Hired Gun Review — Down and Out in Hive Primus
The environments in Necromunda: Hired Gun are absolutely stunning. French developers Streum On Studio have past successes in this area, with E.Y.E Divine Cybermancy and previous 40k game Space Hulk: Deathwing, showing they have the aptitude for the setting's particular mix of tech-noir and baroque. They well convey the Hive City of Necromunda, a sprawling, nearly-infinite megastructure made up of endless layers.
Colossal areas of each are devoted to a variety of functions: water reclamation, waste disposal, the endless forging of weapons and materials for the impossibly large and totalitarian Imperium of Man that fights a perilous battle in the galaxy above.
In this grim, urban sprawl, gangs and bounty hunters eke out a living, battling over territory, contracts, and rare pieces of archeotech that can be uncovered from abandoned areas of the hive. You are thrust into these internecine conflicts after a simple job goes wrong thanks to the combined efforts of a shadowy individual and an Escher gang leader, the Silver Talon.
You are left wounded and bleeding out before being rescued by an infamous who fans of Warhammer will recognize from a series of books. From here, you're kitted out with a series of bionic improvements and drawn into a series of contracts through which you'll get your vengeance, or at least that's the plan.
The story is fairly twisty and doesn't really have any impact on the overall proceedings, and at times, it seems to brush up against the absolute hell you raise during your contracts.
Each main contract is a primary story mission, sending you into the depths of the hive to slaughter hundreds of gang members to put pressure on the antagonists. These belong to three gangs: the hulking, steroid-abusing forgemasters of House Goliath; the all-female skirmishers and psychic dominatrices of House Escher; and the gun-running transporters of House Orlock.
Despite their visual variety, grunts come in a handful of levels with little difference between them, other than more elite enemies carrying slightly fancier weaponry and reflector shields. There are a handful of these, such as hammer-wielding Goliaths and teleporting, fireball-wielding Escher Death Maidens, which mix things up. Otherwise, the rest of your opponents are faction agnostic Ogryns (giant violent abhumans) and Ambots (hulking mining robots repurposed with military weaponry).
The one unifying factor is that all Hired Gun's enemies are pretty stupid, seemingly having traded their intelligence stat for constitution, making them unable to figure out how to mount a coordinated assault, though they're often able to withstand multiple headshots from your overpowered weaponry.
It's an issue until you fully embrace Hired Gun's old-school, boomer-shooter stylings. Hip firing and iron-sights are fairly interchangeable, and you move at a rapid clip. Early on, you get a double-jump and a grappling hook, as well as the ability to wall run, which means you quickly end up zipping around the tightly knotted industrial arenas, filling people full of bullets from oversized guns that rattle your teeth as you fire.
Couple this with a system that lets you regain lost health within a small, post-damage window and a series of skills that encourage you to get up close to your enemies, you'll be playing Hired Gun like the recent Doom games. Even the cock rock soundtrack tries to emulate iD's metal swagger, but it lands goofier than Mick Gordon's work.
Gunfire is fairly meaty throughout but lacks the real polish that most modern shooters have managed. Part of this is down to enemies' stiff animations, something that's also apparent when you get close and initiate the game's awkward-looking melee takedown.
Hired Gun looks every bit the part, with its detailed, grimy environments that convey the oppressive heat and dirt of living in the hive, but it really fails to convey the feeling. Everything is too lightweight, from systems to gunplay, and it would really benefit from a clarity of vision that embraces the over-the-top violence inherent in its source material.
Between missions, you'll return to Martyr's End, a bar and trading post where you can upgrade your bionics, tweak bits of your guns, and even upgrade your cyber-mastiff. That's right, you get a dog you can upgrade with bionics too. In the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, even humanity's best friend is not off-limits. In combat, you can summon your dog to highlight nearby enemies, and sick them on unsuspecting foes, but it feels like an underbaked addition overall.
Gun customization is also something that sounds great in theory but isn't quite nailed in practice. That is, unless you spend a lot of time searching for gear and mods in one of the many side contracts you can take between missions. Generally, you're able to mess around with muzzles, barrels, scopes, and magazines. You can also equip elemental damage archeotech. But normally, it never feels like you can really make meaningful changes, and gun archetypes rely too heavily on a variety of rapid-fire guns.
The game also restricts you to only taking a handful of weapons on a mission with you too and forces you to keep a hold of your original pistol (which you can never upgrade). It feels like an attempt to convey the less than superhuman status of Hired Gun's lead, but it chafes against the fact that you'll have most fun mowing down untold swathes of opponents, and won't be able to play with all your toys in the main missions.
Necromunda: Hired Gun — The Bottom Line
Altogether, there's a bunch of fun to be had in Hired Gun's over-the-top shooter action, but it's hampered by a bunch of rough edges. As a fan of Warhammer 40,000 and Necromunda, I cherished every second I got to spend in its sumptuous environments. There aren't many games where you get to battle along a train connected by chains containing links twice the size of a person, or a labyrinth of compacted trash cubes surrounded by gothic statues. It's a great setting.
It's a shame then that the rest is quite limp at times. It's not awful, but it misses the mark in enough ways that make the experience somewhat unsatisfying. Fights quickly devolve into autopilot shooting galleries, and repetitious barks and oblivious AI stop you from feeling like a skilled bounty hunter, making it ultimately feel like you're shooting sump rats in a barrel.
[Note: Streum On Studio provided the copy of Necromunda: Hired Gun used for this review.]