This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Necromunda: Hired Gun.
Normally, I'd spend the first few lines vacillating around the point like a ballroom dancer trying to conceal their stiffy, but this week, we're doing a shooter for big, bloody, burly types who like getting straight to the point and making loud noises when they lift heavy things. Grrrr! And you know what else big, tough, violence-liking people like? Warhammer 40K, where only the hardiest warriors and most delicate miniature painting brushes can survive; where space marines like tricked-out walking Volkswagens lock saw-toothed blades with intergalactic terrors while their all-knowing overseers argue over who's got the most accurate tape measure.
Necromunda: Hired Gun is a first-person shooter set in the 40K universe; specifically, on the planet of Necromunda, and I wonder why it's taken so long for someone to set a first-person shooter there. You know how planets in sci-fi always have a single theme: the desert planet, the ice planet, etc.? Well, Necromunda appears to be the first-person shooter planet, since it consists entirely of brown industrial environments and there are only two jobs available: gunfighter, or whoever it is that carves skulls on everything. Seriously, get a skull-carving apprenticeship in the 40K universe, and you're set for life; you'll get contracts for everything from plumbing to the emperor's new personalized stationery.
So I can only assume that Necromunda: Hired Gun was the result of someone at the Warhammer factory playing some Doom Eternal and realizing, "Hey! We practically invented big-cock sci-fi gunfighting with dudes who look like they're wearing their entire bathroom suite! Time to get in on this!" And so, they made a game much like Doom Eternal, emphasizing high-speed action, mobility, and an environment that looks like what Silent Hill looks like if you feel very guilty about the time you hosted a barbecue in an abandoned steel mill, but with the Warhammer 40K branding.
So the plot is, you are the titular hired gun living amidst the constant gang warfare of the Hive cities, where all the women have mohawks and belly shirts and all the men look like they got dragged through a combination sewer and decommissioned optometrist's equipment storage facility; you take a routine job to shoot up some lads, but I guess didn't read the briefing properly, because we end up getting shot up by the lads we were supposed to shoot up. Then we get enhanced with a few more copper pipes, and there's something going on with a new piece of MacGuffin technology that all the gangs are after, and someone murdered someone high-ranking, I think, and-- oh, whatever. I think the only way to fully appreciate this plot is either to already know a lot about Warhammer's setting, or to stop giving a shit and just focus on waiting for everyone to stop talking so you can go to where it says to go and shoot all the dudes.
So the environments are fairly open with a lot of verticality, and with your double-jump and wall-run and hookshot, you can merrily fling yourself around them like the Swiss Army knife in an industrial laundry facility you somewhat resemble. But comparisons to Doom Eternal dry up quickly; there's a strategic element akin to Doom's "chainsaw the baddies, win a prize" thing, where you get health back if you shoot enemies after you've been hit. But this isn't like Bloodborne, where getting hit once is the first bite of a three-bite shit sandwich; it’s a high-octane shooter. We’re constantly being hit, because at any given moment, there's more hot lead in the atmosphere than breathable air, so we basically just get health back from shooting things and the distinction was pointless.
There's also something akin to the "glory kill" mechanic, but instead of having to wear an enemy down first, you just run up and press the "Use" key at any time, whereupon your character does something, and the enemy dies from it; that's as much as I can say with confidence. Maybe if the graphics weren't so murky and every character weren't so heavily accessorized, the slightly overlong kill animations wouldn't look like poorly-lit footage from David Attenborough's The Life of Refrigerator Parts, which I had plenty of chances to enjoy, because you can't be harmed while the animation plays out and you get health back from doing them, so there were entire platoons I cleared out just by running up to each enemy one-by-one and pressing E like an eager waiter with a plate of murder canapés, and I can't imagine that was the intended experience.
You also have a dog; a big, friendly bite-monster who lives in the special doghouse in your bum until his cooldown finishes. It's one of the more prominent among the ninety billion bells and whistles this game has, but it has the usual issue of NPC fur-baby support: that pointing at a target, telling Mr. Scruffles to bite its nipples off, and the process of Mr. Scruffles figuring out how to get to them is infinitely less efficient than just shooting them in the head with your gun, especially since Mr. Scruffles doesn't have your mobility, and while you're hookshotting and double-jumping around, can only cock his head in confusion before chowing down on his own bum. But the dog is useful, because while he's out, all the enemies are highlighted through walls; very handy with architecture as busy as this. Frankly, I'd have rather just had the see-enemies-through-walls-o-vision and left the dog and the collection of poo bags at home, but whatever; let him have his fun. It’s like having to make friends with the kid who owns a pool, I suppose.
Held up against neo-Doom's tightness of design, Necromunda falls short; its various gimmicky mechanics work together like horny cats in a taffy-pulling machine, and the layout and visuals aren't clear enough to serve the quick decision-making fast-paced gameplay demands. Still, put all that aside and embrace the flow of traversal and combat, and you might find yourself riding the wave of enjoyment, until you get to the end of a mission and have to deal with the user interface, at which point the wave of enjoyment crashes into a concrete jetty, and you get your head stuck in a mooring ring, and there's a shark.
Seriously, the in-game menus are horrible; you end a mission, and you're expected to sort through the various guns you found, and the lucky charms and status items that all look like they'd be more at home in a crafting survival game being combined with ten of their fellows to make an iron shovel, deciding if the “3% reduction of cholesterol from Chinese takeout” bonus they offer makes them worth hanging onto. And if I decide to sort something into the "hang onto" pile, does that mean it's equipped now, or do I equip it in the load-out screen or at one of the merchants in the hub area, all of which mutely present a sort of cross between a fractal and a sheet of graph paper and expect me to know what the fuck I'm there for, like the audience at the TED talk in that recurring nightmare I have?
Thinking about it, having to stop the action every now and again to get angry over a bunch of calculations and graph paper might be on-brand for Warhammer, but it's still a pace-stopper, even when you have figured it out. You know how you know you want to hang onto a gun in Doom Eternal? You fire it at a bunch of imps and then count how long it takes for disembodied armpits to stop dripping off the ceiling.
- Eat the guilders: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
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