Necromunda: Hired Gun is so close to being Warhammer 40,000 Doom.
Necromunda: Introduced pistolthe revelation in march caught me a little on guard, twice as when i realized it was out in june and not some years into the future. Streum On, the small French team behind, usually takes some time to post a new game.
But many years of experience and Focus Home Interactive’s newfound support have clearly helped the team get the perfect size and scope for their games, because Hired Gun is a game that entertains, and sometimes impresses, without falling into the trap of over-ambition.
Necromunda: Hired Gun is a pretty simple game to explain. It is a first-person shooter with a linear story. You play as a bounty hunter who is sent for targets hiding in expansive 40,000 locations from Warhammer. You do this with the help of a surprisingly large arsenal of weapons, which takes the form of looting various rarities that you can customize, upgrade and adjust in a hub world.
Being set in one of Warhammer’s 40,000’s under-explored universes helped each story mission stay healthy. This is not your typical jingoistic walk with xenophobic Space Marines. Necromunda’s criminal underworld is made up of clichés – dingy bars, remodeled factories and garbage dumps where gangs operate and fight for territory – but one of the things that makes it work is that the same places share Warhammer’s 40000s propensity for greatness. One mission made me fight around and board a massive cargo train, while another sent me to the site of an industrial drill to infiltrate the micro-pop-up city that supports it. My desire to see what strange position the game would send me next kept me hooked on the main story, but it is the battle of the match that made that journey exciting.
Like the general layout, the Hired Gun borrows a lot from other great modern shooters. It is mechanically closer in feel to the new Doom; always surround yourself with enemies in arenas where you are free to whip around from place to place, sometimes flanking and other times taking cover. Movement leans a little closer to Titanfall, with quite responsive animations, the ability to drive on the wall, and of course a grab hook. This is already a solid mix, and Hired Gun often brings these inspirations well together, but many times it loses some of its grace.
Most of the game’s movement abilities are unlocked from off, or shortly thereafter. It felt good to have so much freedom from the beginning, but the tendency of the controls to feel imprecise took away from the feeling of power.
Take the wall, it is activated by holding the space bar when you are close to a wall. But the space bar is of course your jump button. Jumping into a wall, running on the wall and jumping away, inexplicably uses a single button. This fancy layout made it harder to draw in the heat of battle than it needed to be, and prevented me from mingling regularly in walls.
The grab hook has a similar problem. While it can impressively attach itself to any point in the environment, it is not always clear what is too far or too close. The physique of the grip hooks is otherwise usable, but rudimentary compared to Titanfall; it sucks you into what you lock on, and does not take into account your progress. You will not use it to wrap around corners like you could in Respawns game. It’s fun to use, but does not always have a place beyond letting you tear off the shields of certain enemies. Your base jump in Hired Gun is already quite high, and can be further improved with upgrades. Often I want to go whole levels without having to wall.
Another thing the game borrows from Doom is dodge, which realistically is what you will rely on the most in combat. This is fine, but it does feel like the other abilities are a bit wasted.
Your companion mastiff is another potentially interesting addition that falls a little flat. Pathfinding for the dog is spotty, and although it helps with volume control while flanking or handling another group, the way it works is so rigidly mechanical that it feels like a hologram from Miles Morales or any other cyberpunk game.
I would like to see the relationship develop in one way or another, but there is another area where Hired Gun is missing.
Between missions, return to the hub area to talk to some NPCs, browse side missions that visit areas you have previously explored, sell any redundant prey you found, and spend your earned money on character upgrades and new abilities for you and your dog friend. Martyr’s End is the name, and that’s where the story… takes place. Most of your conversations will be with your therapist, who is the main driving force behind the story. These moments are so short and so often lacking in excitement, the game almost feels like it’s trying to get through them as quickly as possible.
Although there are a couple of outstanding scenes and some really surprising moments, most of the acting is three and overly styled, even for a Warhammer 40,000 game. When I did not hope that the cast would do a better job, I often wondered why the sound mix was so lacking. A character whispers almost all the lines – probably meant to be discrete – but they are just also quietly it sounds like the actor was recording his dialogue over the phone. So many dramatic moments are subdued by how supported the voice track is in the mix.
Even starting these conversations can be a bit of a job. You have to wait for characters to turn the right way for the interaction prompt to work, and a cyberpunk-y visual glitch effect can make it harder to read subtitles. This lack of polishing can also manifest itself in things like strains that sometimes occur in combat when switching between areas, or in how there is no way for you to edit the load without starting a mission.
Things like that are well insulated, but most of them occur in Martyr’s End, so you’re often reminded of Hired Gun’s shortcomings just as you finished the better part.
Beyond general polishing, my biggest problem with Hired Gun is meeting and level design. I’m not talking much about the design of the various arenas – they are usually interesting to explore, especially if you go for all the hidden chests – and large enough to allow a good selection of combat.
My main question is how meetings take place within the levels themselves. Either you start in secret, at which point it is incredibly easy to break it and immediately get into the thick of it. There are no detection meters or HUD indicators for field of view. You are either spotted or not spotted, and it is never clear what you did to alert enemies. Considering how action-packed Hired Gun is, and the fact that fights will almost always break out anyway, these moments of stealth do not always make sense.
When the battle starts, the biggest challenge is actually trying to see where the cursed enemies are. I’ve been messing with my brightness settings all the time just to try to figure out a consistent way to identify enemies. When I look at my footage, there are countless occasions where I stop firing because I think it’s just continuing to hit an enemy incredibly close to me that I just did not see.
Each time I finish an enemy wave, there will be about 30 seconds where I try to find out if I’m good at moving on, or if a new wave has created a place that I need to find. The enemy’s visibility problems are exacerbated by the fact that they like to duck, weave and lean. Many times you will just see your arm sticking out from a corner that is peeling you. This is not exactly a colorful game, so part of that ambiguity is welcome, but making the enemy’s silhouettes too dark, or giving many of them active camo, causes the Hired Gun to otherwise make noise. In well-lit areas, the smoke and particle effects can also be overwhelming on their own, and often hide enemies in large battles.
It’s the feeling that Streum On tried to compensate for these problems with a few mechanics. It’s an area scan upgrade that highlights enemies, but before you can afford it, just summoning your mastiff can reveal enemies through walls. This is actually the main reason why the dog is useful. It’s also a blood-borne healing mechanic, if you get hurt shortly after taking it, you get some of your health back – another cool idea that doesn’t always have a place.
You come down to the lead in a corner, and immediately return to the fight because you took out an enemy. The idea of treating enemies like walking health packs is fun, but the way it is currently balanced removes a lot of stress when you can just focus down an enemy and soak up some HP.
Many times most of these problems do not detract from how good it feels to participate in Hired Gun’s brand of violence – shoot the impressive arsenal of weapons and play in the sandbox. From Bolter’s cleavage to the silent threat of a repressed Stubgun – it was increasingly difficult to pick favorites for a load.
The game’s medium difficulty level has enough leeway for me to constantly switch weapons just for fun. It did not feel right to play a complete mission without using every weapon I brought, and the sound of headshots never ceased to be satisfying.
And so, Necromunda often swings between a brilliant indie gem and a frustrating middle-class game. For a few moments, it’s the best Warhammer 40,000 action game – when you cut enemies and watch their skulls explode into the rocking tracks, and look stylish as you grab a hook and double jump. Other times you miss a big historical battle because the sound mix of an important character was too low, or you feel like you are looking for enemies as if it were Warzone.
Platform reviewed: PC code provided by publisher.