In Need of an Upgrade
I’ll fully admit that Necromunda: Hired Gun caught my interest from the very minute that I saw the very first trailer for it. Normally, I’m more of an RPG guy—I like my shooting and stabbing turn-based—but I am in no way immune to the charms of a nice-looking first-person shooter. And Hired Gun looked really nice. After all, what’s not to love about a game revolving around running around in Warhammer 40k‘s world as a suped-up merc with a cyber mastiff at your side? Apparently, quite a bit!
I wanted to like Hired Gun. And, in a way, I still do. But there are so many things wrong with it that I cannot call this game “good” as it currently is. Ironically, Hired Gun mimics the Warhammer 40K universe a little too well because it feels like parts of it were put together in a very questionable and unorthodox manner. And, unless the many problems plaguing this game get fixed, I’m not so sure that I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone.
Just a Gun on the Run
Necromunda: Hired Gun‘s story is really something that gives more to players who invest more into it. On the outside, it’s a fairly basic story of survival and revenge. The game begins with the player and two of their allies taking on a job against the Escher Gang and almost succeeding, only to be wiped out by a mysterious, hooded figure at the end. While the protagonist’s allies end up meeting a rather untimely demise during this time, the player finds themselves miraculously rescued by none other than renowned bounty hunter Kal Jerico just as their consciousness begins to fade. This, of course, sets in action a chain of events driven by the desire to find out just what happened to the player—but, as many of you know, things are never quite that easy in the Underhive.
As I’ve already said, how much you enjoy this story, and perhaps even how you end up viewing it, has less to do with the writers and more so with the player—at least, when comparing this game with others. That’s because, in the grand scheme of things, your character (at least as far as I’m aware) is incredibly insignificant. This game takes place within the Warhammer 40K universe, which has existed since the late 1980s. You’re not some hero (or, more realistically, villain) out to change the world. You’re just some heavily augmented mercenary with a robo-dog who indiscriminately kills for a living, so long as the pay is good. That is perfectly fine in this setting. This game’s story is all about the little things, really. And, because the game is set up in this way, you don’t even need to know anything about Warhammer to play it. Are you going to miss all of the finer details? Yeah. And it’s probably going to be less enjoyable, too. But it’s definitely not inaccessible!
Doomed from the Start
Woah! Hold on, there—that subheader isn’t quite as damning as you think. It’s a pun, I promise. More specifically, a pun referencing the fact that this game plays a lot like—you guessed it—Doom! I should probably go into a little more detail for those of you out there who don’t fancy games like that (goodness knows I’m no Doom aficionado, myself). Really, the long and short of it all is that Necromunda: Hired Gun is 1) level-based, and 2) linear.
The fact that Hired Gun is linear doesn’t mean that you’re just running down hallways and gunning down everything in your path along the way, though. Okay, actually, you do gun down everything in your path, but your way from start to finish is never that straightforward. For all of the slack that I’ve given this game so far, most of Hired Gun‘s level design is actually very nice. Most of the levels are impressive in size and can take you a decent bit of time during your first time through them, and the level design is approached in such a way that no two stages ever feel the same (which is good because there are only about a dozen of them).
Another thing that helps shake off any feelings of Hired Gun‘s levels being overly linear is that the game makes them highly explorable and encourages it. Early on in the game, the player gets a grappling hook that allows them to latch onto surfaces from very far away and zip-zoom over toward them. Because of this, reaching high areas and performing small acrobatic feats are very much possible and oftentimes pay off when you’re looking around. Just be sure you’re not exploring too much, though… You might find yourself clipping out of bounds, otherwise.
Keep Your Friends Close…
I’m glad that I could dish out some genuine compliments in the places that Necromunda: Hired Gun deserved them, because now we’ve got to focus on the problem area—and, oh, what a problem area it is. I’m going to bury the lede a bit here; I don’t think that I’ve ever been so disincentivized to shoot things in a first-person shooter before. Oh, sure, you get plenty of neat guns and plenty of customization options. And the gunplay itself? It’s pretty great—very smooth more. But, as you progress, enemies get stronger. They have more HP, they have more ways to hurt you, and they have these really annoying shields. And that would be fine if you also grew with them. It never felt like you did, though. But do you know what can take care of all of that at once? A melee takedown.
I might look a little bit like an idiot here, but I’m going to admit that, by the time I got to the end of Hired Gun, about 80% – 90% of my time in combat was spent sliding around and using melee takedowns. You’re invincible while you’re doing them, you recover a ton of health, and they’re guaranteed kills. The game also likes this because it usually ended up giving me A or S ranks when it came to my “combat style” or whatever it was called. Generally speaking, I like to use a bit of finesse when I play shooters. A good setup leads to a good takedown, you know? And I’m aware that games like Hired Gun aren’t necessarily made to let you be super-sneaky. But the fact that I could rarely seem to injure any enemies that I wasn’t at least somewhat close to was incredibly frustrating. So frustrating, that I resorted to the extremely effective “Slide-‘n-Stab Method.”
In Hired Gun, there is one enemy that no amount of melee takedowns could defeat, however—the game’s abysmal framerate! Now, dropping frames on a PC game is something that I’ve encountered enough times to expect. The same goes for dropping frames when playing console games online. But never have I ever experienced so much stuttering in an offline, single-player console game before. Every level—the hub world included—will stutter from time to time, which can really throw you off when you’re in the middle of fighting something. There were even a few times where the game stuttered for so long that I actually thought that it had frozen—either that, or that the game was going to crash. Fortunately, it never crashed during the stuttery frames—the crashes would always just happen randomly.
Necromunda: Hired Gun had the potential to be a great little romp into the delightfully dreary world of Warhammer 40k, but it missed the mark on getting there. If you really, really like Warhammer and want to scoop up every little piece of lore that you can, then there are worse things that you can buy than this. Unfortunately, unless the developers decide to dedicate some time to get things running properly, Hired Gun isn’t going anywhere good any time soon.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, PC; Publisher: Focus Home Interactive; Developer: Streum On Studio: Players: 1; Released: June 1, 2021; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Necromunda: Hired Gun given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.