The Warhammer 40K universe is so rich with lore I don’t think we’ll ever see an end to new experiences being built from it. Indeed whilst I was aware of the original Necromunda games, having seen a couple people play them in my local Games Workshop store back in the day, I had never really dived into the lore of that particular corner of the 40K universe. So I was intrigued when I saw the trailer for Necromunda: Hired Gun, thinking this might be a good introduction to another part of the world I’ve enjoyed experiencing for the better part of 2 decades. However, whilst there are some decent fundamentals here, Necromunda: Hired Gun suffers from severe repetition in its core game loop; the things that are meant to make it infinitely replayable actually making it quite dull after only a few short hours. Even the hefty lore of the 40K universe isn’t enough to save it here, the narrative’s scope decidedly narrow given the world it has to play in.
Had I known going into this that this is the same developers that brought us Space Hulk: Deathwing I might have been prepared for that.
You play as an unnamed mercenary who takes on a job with a crew of people you can trust. However that quickly goes sideways and all of your team is quickly eliminated, the perpetrator making off into the night before you’re able to exact your revenge on them. The next thing you remember is waking up in a Rogue Doc’s surgery, him telling you that a friendly benefactor has fitted you out with some of the most advanced cybernetics that you’ve seen to date. You know that this wasn’t just a friendly favour but you’re determined to find who killed your crew and give them the end they deserve.
Hired Gun is one of those games that looks great from afar (like in the screenshot below) but loses a lot of its lustre when you get up close. This is deliberate though, as the game is focused much more towards fast paced action and rushing from one point to another rather than giving you ample time to take in the scenery. They’ve also got the 40K aesthetic down pat, the environments teaming with overwrought gothic structures interspersed with all sorts of weird machinery that would please the Emperor mightily. The visuals do feel slightly behind what I’d consider par these days but given that it is heavily focused on speed and intensity the drop in visuals is the typical price games like this pay. My only real complaint would be the lack of diversity in the environments, enemies and weapons, everything seemingly coming from the same base stock with only minor accoutrements to differentiate them.
The core game loop of Hired Gun is most closely aligned to a looter shooter, although it’s only single player and the inventory system doesn’t function like you’d expect it to. There’s also RPG elements thrown in for good measure, allowing you to upgrade your character and your trusty cyber-mastiff companion with new cybernetic enhancements. The game has some open world characteristics in the sense that you can choose to follow the main mission or take your pick of side missions which are typically shorter, skirmish focused engagements that’ll net you credits and some reputation with a faction (although what that does exactly, I have no clue). The replayability is supposed to come from the fact that the loot is all procedurally generated, pushing you to grind out some levels so you can chase that sweet top tier loot so you can… go and get more loot. On the surface these are all good things to have in a game but the trouble is that the core of the game, the combat, just stops being engaging after not too long.
To be sure the fundamentals are mostly done right; the action is always fast paced and you’re not likely to be short of something to shoot for long, but it doesn’t take long to meet all the different enemy types and then every encounter simply becomes a trial of “how many waves of these guys do I have to beat”. Indeed it also probably won’t take you long to figure out what weapons are good and which ones are total trash, ensuring that you’ll become nigh on unstoppable after a couple hours. That in itself isn’t a bad thing, I think games have a terrible habit of trying to be the next thing all the teenagers tell their friends they need to “git gud” at, but when you’re facing off against the same enemies time and time again? It just seems bad. Worst still is when you can sometimes stumble into a boss fight only to finish it without even realising that you were, you know, fighting a boss which I managed to do on more than one occasion because they just weren’t much more challenging than the other enemies I had encountered.
It also doesn’t help that the main progression system, upgrading you and your mastiff’s enhancements, doesn’t really do much to change how you play the game. To be sure you’ll quickly unlock new abilities after your first couple of missions, but the upgrades from there don’t do anything to fundamentally change how they interact. So once you’ve unlocked your core set of abilities the upgrades just make them better/cool down quicker/give a percentage based boost/etc. which, objectively makes them better, but doesn’t change how the game plays. Given that there’s really no variety in enemies you’d be hoping that you could at least mix it up a bit on your end but that’s unfortunately not the case, even with the weapons.
Now I may have lucked out early on, or maybe it was due to me quickly figuring out that stacking loot bonuses was probably the smart thing to do, but it didn’t take long for me to find a few weapons that were just bonkers whilst the rest were just garbage. There’s nothing more deadly to weapon variety than having certain classes of guns that just plain suck in comparison to another one, even when you’ve modded them to the nines and have tried desperately to figure out where they’re actually effective. After the first few hours I standardised on a heavy bolter style gun that could one shot most enemies without a shield, whilst other guns would take full clips to bring people down. That kind of power disparity isn’t something you can really overcome, especially when the game’s main way of turning up the difficulty is to throw more enemies at you. Are there potentially some weapons that were great and I didn’t give them a shot? Probably, but I usually had a couple different guns loaded up to try and seriously none of them could hold a candle to my mainstay, even after running it for 4 hours straight.
The game’s high mobility (dash, wall run, double jump and grapple all as default abilities? you crazy) does lead itself to some rather awkward interactions at points. There were multiple points where I found myself trapped in one place or another that I was most certainly not meant to be in, usually resulting in a mad spamming of all abilities to get myself out of. There were also a good number of bad event triggers scattered around the place, some of them progression blocking. It may have been something a simple as an enemy spawning out of bounds but that was of little comfort when the objective was “clear the way” and… I had seemingly done that but couldn’t progress further. I’m more than happy to write these off as growing pains for an indie studio but they still don’t make for a great experience when they do happen to you.
I honestly couldn’t tell you too much about the story as it’s really not that memorable. To be sure the opening sections are great at building out the world (well at least enough for a 40K fan like myself) but from there it kind of gets lost in a generic revenge plot that meanders around from place to place without any real overarching narrative to really pull you in. All I know is that there’s various gangs backed by higher ups who are fighting each other and…someone else is controlling them and they were the ones who killed your crew? I dunno, it just seemed whenever the story was starting to make progress it just seemed to result in another gang war and the other times you’d get set off on a single mission that seemed to have no relevance to the overall plot.
Necromunda: Hired Gun is definitely a step up for Streum On Studio, a developer that’s managed to take away my coveted wooden spoon award for 2017 with their previous 40K game. Whilst the fundamentals of the game are on point there’s a lack of variety in the core game loop that prevents it from being the game it wants to be. The very things that were put in to make the game replayable have instead done the opposite, turned what could’ve been a competent corridor shooter into a repetitive, grindy, single player looter shooter that doesn’t really grow beyond its first few hours. However I have to give credit where it’s due for progress as, much like Spiders before them, whilst their current games might not be something to write home about there’s the potential for them to produce something worthy in the future.
Necromunda: Hired Gun is available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S right now for $54.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 6.3 hours play time and 39% of the achievements unlocked.