Game name: Necromunda: Hired Gun
Release date: June 1, 2021
Available on: Steam
Genre: First person shooter
Developer: Streum On Studio
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
I tend to open my reviews with a paragraph talking about the game being reviewed, but today, I’m going to break that tradition and start with a sort of disclaimer about myself. I’m a first person shooter guy, and when I say that, I do not mean “Call of Duty” or similar modern military shooters, but Doom, Quake, Shadow Warrior, Duke 3D, Blood, etc. I grew up with these games and until the indie scene (and id Software) resurrected the genre over the past five years, I’d been disappointed with my favorite genre for more than a decade. You should take that in mind as you read this review, because it’s something that deeply affects how I see Necromunda: Hired Gun, and in that regard, my opinion on the game could vary wildly from your expectations.
Warhammer 40k games were somewhat rare a decade or so ago, something that will probably seem strange to anyone reading these words in 2021, as they are now dime a dozen. It’s during these dark ages that a small French company named Streum On Studios created E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy, a cyberpunk first person shooter with strong immersive sim elements that was clearly inspired by Games Workshop’s sci-fi tabletop franchise. Divine Cybermancy wasn’t exactly well received, but I’m willing to bet that most people who got to play it came away impressed by the scale of the project, as well as the obvious passion the developers poured into it as they made it. Why do I bring this up? Well, Streum On Studios went on to make two more games after that, one was a deeply flawed (but still somewhat fun) adaptation of Space Hulk, and the other is Necromunda: Hired Gun, the title we are reviewing today.
As you might have expected from the title of the game, we play as a mercenary looking for cash in Necromunda, one of the many Hive Worlds that work tirelessly to produce men and supplies for the Imperium of Man in the Warhammer 40k universe. A contract goes badly, and we end up having to replace some of our flesh with a few extra cybernetic enhancements that will prove incredibly helpful as we take on all sorts of scum (human and otherwise). We also have a cybernetically enhanced mastiff that can be petted at the hub area that acts as our base of operations, or used as a murder friend during normal gameplay. The hub also features vendors and quest NPCs which give it some life (and add extra stuff for the player to do, as we can engage in repeatable side quests in order to get some quick cash). You won’t find an award winning story here, but the narrative advances the storyline at a steady pace and it’s hard to feel like you are wasting your time as the campaign progresses. When it comes to worldbuilding though, Streum On Studios have utterly nailed the 40k universe, and the visuals of Necromunda itself. Every level showcases the imposing scale of a Hive World, and even newcomers to the franchise will find plenty of things to enjoy from just looking around the maps.
Gameplay-wise, Hired Gun is a mix of Nu-Doom and Shadow Warrior 2 with some bits of E.Y.E. thrown in for good measure. Right from the first level we can already see the building blocks of an incredibly fun experience as the game teaches us how to wall run, dodge obstacles and air dash, and then from the second level onwards, things get even better with the addition of a double jump mechanic and a grappling hook. This is the sort of game where you can start a fight wall running close to a bunch of mooks, then double jump over their heads, drop a grenade on them, direct your attention at a shielded foe, take away their protection with a well timed use of the grappling hook, and with a second button press, get up close and personal and finish them with a gory execution, all in the span of two seconds. Our bounty hunter moves with the speed of the Doomguy and has learned the Slayer’s secret to immortality during Glory Kills (yes, you get health back from executing opponents, and you are impervious to damage while the animation plays out, something that other developers who have tried to implement this mechanic always seem to miss). And the best part? That’s the stuff you can do from the second level onwards (so it’s the protagonist’s “base” power level) but there is an upgrade system that will let you unlock more abilities, get upgrades for your health, extra uses of the grappling hook before triggering the cooldown, and other interesting stuff.
Most of the levels are huge, offering multiple routes to get to our objectives, owing to the game’s penchant for enhanced mobility options. Using a grappling hook to get to vantage points will quickly become second nature, and there’s always some loot hidden around the place, so I also got used to checking every nook and corner for chests and other things. I’m not a big fan of the way enemies spawn once we trigger combat arenas, since it feels a bit messy, but this isn’t a deal breaker like it was for Dragon Age 2, as there’s no need for carefully planed tactical party combat here. After all, we are just a mercenary with an arsenal of guns waiting to murder a bunch of thugs.
And speaking of guns, before Necromunda: Hired Gun came out I was somewhat skeptical of Streum On‘s ability to nail the feel of Warhammer 40k guns, since that was one of the issues their Space Hulk game had (weak sounding bolters that would probably be confiscated by the Ordo Hereticus as anathema). Thankfully, my fears didn’t come to pass, and Hired Gun‘s weaponry not only sounds appropriately punchy, but it also feels powerful. Gunfire tears through flesh like a knife through butter, removing limbs at will and leaving behind bloody messes that were once gang members fighting over scraps in the Underhive, and once we get our hands in a bolter, everything feels all right in the world, no matter the abomination standing at the other end of our weapon. Grav guns aren’t as powerful as my mind tells me they should be, but this is mostly an academical discussion and not something that negatively affects gameplay. I can confidently say that Necromunda: Hired Gun‘s arsenal feels as good as Serious Sam 4‘s, if not better.
Interestingly, Streum On Studio went the “showers of loot” route for Hired Gun, so we’ll find all sorts of guns, charms and trinkets as we explore the game’s levels or take down big baddies. Does this means we are playing a looter shooter, like Destiny? Not really, this is more in line with Shadow Warrior 2, where we’d find upgraded versions of our arsenal over the first few levels, and then we’d be able to just settle on a few specific bangers for the rest of the adventure. Unused loot can be sold for cash so it doesn’t go to waste, and overall, the loot system doesn’t feel tacked on. It’s not something that’s necessary for the game to feel as good as it does, but in my opinion it also doesn’t make it a worse title than it would be if it was removed. A weapon modification system is also present, where we can add laser sights and other stuff to improve weapon stats (as an aside, seeing Picatinny rails on sci-fi guns was a pretty funny thing) but with the exception of the option to add elemental damage types or explosive shells to certain weapons, this wasn’t an aspect of Necromunda: Hired Gun that I felt brought anything important to the table.
Going back to something I’ve mentioned in passing before, this title also features an upgrade system where we can spend the cash we get from selling loot or completing contracts. Once again, this isn’t anything out of this world and there aren’t any really important choices to make (as long as we are OK with doing a bunch of repetitive side quests, we can get all the upgrades in a single playthrough) but it doesn’t feel out of place either. The upgrades range from stat improvements (more health, more shield, better accuracy while wall running, etc.) to straight up new abilities such as a short range teleport that also happens to deal damage to our target, or a bullet time ability, or an autoaim module, etc. Our war dog can also be upgraded (and we’ll see him go from mostly normal dog to full on cybernetic canine, something that made me think twice before hitting “yes” on a few upgrades).
And while we are on the subject of the cyber-mastiff, this is probably the one area where I felt somewhat disappointed with Hired Gun, as the trailers sold the dog as a very important part of our bounty hunting career, but from my experience, it mostly works as an active ability we trigger once it’s off cooldown, so it can mark target for us and deal with some of them on its own. Not really a great showing for man’s best friend, but at least it’s a useful feature. Speaking of useful features that are a bit undercooked, the Glory Kills implementation is VERY important but also supremely flawed, as once we’ve upgraded our character to the max, we can pretty much walk into fights and spam E to execute foes, without even needing to damage them with our guns beforehand. This can somewhat be applied to many other aspects of the game, but I’d be lying if I said that I care about the lack of balance. Necromunda: Hired Gun is focused on being fun above all, and that is pretty much all I want from this type of game, so unbalanced or not, I still love it to bits.
I wish I could say the same for the tech part of the game though. While this is mostly a great looking title (thanks to an excellent art direction) you can tell that it was made on a relatively small budget when looking at character models and animations, which can be rough (this is especially noticeable during cutscenes, as most characters will do whatever they can to avoid showing their lips as they talk). Glory kills can trigger weird bugs where the camera decides to go flying and then instantly come back to the place where the animation started, and I’ve experienced stutters at multiple points during the campaign, even though the game was running at well over 100fps most of the time. Textures can also sometimes glitch in certain areas (mostly graffiti seems to be the big issue). I also had a hard time following some cutscenes due to some atrocious audio mixing, but this is an issue that’s being actively worked on, and the developers have already issued a patch that mostly corrects it.
Tech issues aside though, Necromunda: Hired Gun is hands down the most fun I’ve had playing games this year. Streum On Studio made a first person shooter that is utterly unbalanced yet unabashedly entertaining and just a joy to play. I can see players being discouraged by the iffy performance or slightly outdated character models, but those who soldier on and keep playing will be rewarded with a true diamond in the rough that can at times feel like the DOOM Eternal of Warhammer 40k.
8.5/10 – Great.