Genestealers ate my dog, I think. I’m about six hours in to Necromunda: Hired Gun, traipsing through a cultist lair, and I get ambushed by four Genestealers who promptly eviscerate my cyber-mastiff. On one hand, I’m very glad a game exists that allows me to write sentences like this. On the other, I decided to start the review here because this is about the time I stopped having fun.
OK. It’s now twenty minutes later and I’m having fun again, because I’ve switched my gun. I’d had a plasma rifle that was melting everything it touched in seconds a couple of levels ago, but was almost entirely useless against Genestealers. Hired Gun uses the same coloured, tiered loot system you’ve seen in countless games before, so switching weapons shouldn’t have been an issue. Here’s the problem: I replaced it with a gun I’d found even earlier, with notably worse stats, and it’s this lower tier weapon that melts Genestealers.
This is my major annoyance with what is otherwise a darn fun shooter. The combat can flow gloriously one minute, but then be beset, not by difficulty spikes, but by completely unexplainable difficulty tremors, with little to no communication, either tactile or through direct explanation. The trailer describes gunplay as a ‘ballet’, and it is, right up until it thrusts out a leg and trips you into a faceplant.
When we talk about ‘average’ games, we usually mean one of two things. First, there are games that excel at nothing, but don’t do anything especially wrong either. Popcorn games. Then, there are games like Necromunda: Hired Gun, a game that does a couple of things so well that its flaws become tolerable.
I cannot overstate how utterly jaw-dropping the environmental design is. Industrial slum planets like Necromunda are known as ‘Hive Worlds’ in 40k’s lore, a reference to the termite mounds these settlements resemble, and the relative insignificance of the human life within. And you really feel it. You are, to paraphrase Nick Cave, a microscopic speck in a catastrophic machine, and every cavernous smelter and actual human meat-grinding factory screams this out. The world here sings with grinding industrial cacophony and the ignored wailing of the endless, nameless dead.
This extends to the level design itself, given permission to exist as locations first and traversable videogame levels second by your grappling hook, wall run, and double-jump. Since you can effectively fly around the Underhive with a bit of practise – and since routes are often telegraphed with glowing green neon – the level design isn’t forced into making concessions, and the result is spaces that feel every bit as imposing and oppressive as they look. I can see this grating on some folk, but personally, I’m a huge fan of player-agnostic world design, providing the traversal options are there.
This environmental richness doesn’t extend to the written narrative, unfortunately. There’s about 7-10 hours of linear missions in Hired Gun, and despite being bookended by conversations and cutscenes, I found myself drifting every time a character opened their mouth. The whole cast sounds like they all met in the smoking area outside the same pub in Hackney, then stayed in that smoking area for the next four years, chuffing away until they were all convincingly tar-sodden enough to voice Hired Guns rogue’s gallery of dodgy pollution huffers. Everyone here’s uncle knows a bloke who will absolutely sell you a pirated DVD, and is smashed enough to forget that no-one has a DVD player anymore, because it is the 41st millennium, and people solely entertain themselves by being gigantic twats to one another. It doesn’t help how sidelined your character is to the actual plot. You feel like a passenger, rather than a major player.
Necromunda: Hired Gun is primarily a shooter, and when the shooting works, which is about 80% of the time, it is an absolute riot. Big arenas with loads of lovely verticality, dozens of enemies at once, chunky gibs, hefty guns, fast movement speed, and absolutely zero tolerance for standing still for more than half a second at a time. It is not unlike Doom Eternal, although enemies are smaller and usually further away from you, so there’s a bit more COD-esque precision shooting. The soundtrack is not unlike Doom Eternal either, and that is a good thing.
Where it falters is in trying to pile on a few too many systems. A melee takedown interferes with the rhythm of combat, trivialises some sections by making you invincible when you perform it, and rewards you with odd, janky animations. Your cyber-mastiff is much the same. You’ll learn to love that dog, if only because it marks out enemies in the haze of overzealous particle effects that can often make combat unreadable. Otherwise, and I hate to say it, but he’s not a good boy. He is a mediocre boy at best. He’ll occasionally decide to maul an opponent, locking them into another dodgy animation, but he’s never really satisfying to use. The most average of boys.
There’s a few more special abilities you’ll gain by purchasing them as upgrades. Berserk mode and a couple of energy blasts, time dilation, auto targeting, heat mapping. Berserk mode is the weakest, since any time the game moves away from shooting and into melee the jank starts to surface like flotsam, but the others all have their place. Health, speed, and shields are also upgradable. Of note is the ‘auto-sanguine module’, which basically pulls a Bloodborne by giving you health back if you damage an enemy quickly after they damage you. Like Bloodborne, and Doom Eternal, it does its job by encouraging you to stay in the fray.
As far as replayability goes – and I do think I’ll be returning to Hired Gun – there’s a load of tiered side-missions to choose from. They generally centre around killing things/destroying things/protecting areas, but they’re also very short, and a good way to generate cash. I’d say they could double the campaign’s length, if you’re into min-maxing.
Like punk, though, it’s creaky, it’s DIY, and held together by safety pins and duct-tape and more sheer belief than an Orkish trukk. The highs are high, but the lows are both irritating and disappointing, considering the potential here.