Necromunda: Hired Gun (Xbox Series S) Review

The brutal combat of Doom, the liberating movement of Titanfall 2, RPG-lite upgrades, and looter-shooter mechanics, all crammed into the Warhammer 40K universe… that could work.
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I enjoyed Necromunda: Hired Gun – developed by Streum On Studio and published by Focus Home Interactive – far more than I expected, thanks to solid gameplay that wasn’t entirely overshadowed by a general lack of polish and multiple bugs. It’s obvious which games the developers looked to for inspiration, and Necromunda: Hired Gun has solid foundations. However, it’s hard to appreciate the good elements when dealing with wonky animations and progression-halting bugs every few missions.

Necromunda: Hired Gun plays out in the underhive regions of “Hive Primus”, the capital of the Imperial forge world of Necromunda, a barely controlled mass of humanity, engaged in mass production of goods for the Imperium of man (with zero interest in preserving the environment). You can pick from a dozen male or female bounty hunters, and find yourself sent on a mission to catch the killers of a merchants guild member. It all goes wrong and you find yourself part of an unfolding conspiracy, in which everyone seems to know more about than you do.

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Martyr’s End is the hub area, which provides quest givers, incidental dialogue, a contract board, and shops for upgrading your bionics and weapons.

Necromunda: Hired Gun liberally pulls characters and lingering plot threads from the Necromunda comics and, more recently, the Black Library novels. Fans of the IP will recognise the infamous bounty hunter Kal Jerico, who serves as the instigator for the initial investigation and a source of information during the story campaign. He suggests bounties to the protagonist that coincide with his own goals and saves you a few times, but it’s clear he knows more than he’s letting on and you’re just a tool. However, your bounty hunter seems to care little for the situation – despite plenty of grumbling – and willingly goes through with any plan so long as the pay is good.

The problem with Necromunda: Hired Gun is that the narrative barely moves forward for 75% of the experience. You get a prologue and opening mission that set the scene, a creepy mid-game mission that only exists to spice up the combat, and the final two missions that feel suitably exciting and important. The rest of the game boils down to you hunting gang bosses, all in the hope of getting closer to a mysterious leader that is manipulating these gangs behind the scenes. In summary – don’t go into Necromunda: Hired Gun looking for a compelling narrative.

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There’s probably a lengthy argument to be had around who can actually wield a bolter, but at least each shot does what it should – rend limbs from bodies.

The good news is that the gunplay and traversal are far more rewarding. Battles play out at ridiculously high speeds, as you hurtle around the environment taking down foes. Player movement can feel too loose, and you’ll often find yourself wall-running or sliding well past your target, but it comes close to matching the incredible Titanfall 2 experience. Although the game often locks you into arenas for combat sequences, they’re huge and you have access to a double-jump, air-dash, wall-run, and grapple. It’s just a shame it takes several stages and upgrades to hit its stride.

When you’re not moving, you’re shooting. Linear, corridor-like platforming areas with a fixed number of foes open up into large combat arenas. It follows the Doom (2016) approach of locking you in, cranking up the music, and spawning hordes of enemies. You move, shoot, and kill until it is done, then move on. As for what you kill, Necromunda: Hired Gun draws on all the gangs from the tabletop game and literature, but this doesn’t result in a particularly diverse roster as you’ll encounter the same gangs repeatedly. Some gangs have goons with shields, some have Ogryns, some have mechs, and the all-female Escher gang has Psykers. However, it becomes a blur by the end, outside of a few boss fights against bullet-sponge mechs and gang leaders that have a massive HP pool.

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Unexpectedly, there is some light puzzling on offer. Unfortunately, most of it boils down to flicking switches or finding batteries for generators.

One of the reasons combat feels so good is the heavy-hitting, high-recoil guns that tear through basic enemies on any difficulty level (increasing the difficulty ups enemy damage output and the loot quality, not their health). I’m sure fans of the IP and purveyors of Warhammer 40K lore will be appalled at the thought of a human bounty hunter – even one with bionics – wielding a heavy bolter but the weapons look and feel appropriate for the Warhammer 40k universe. That said, combat is not without its share of bugs and balance issues. The Doom-inspired melee finisher has no cool-down and works on shield-bearing enemies (and, with a few upgrades, those with personal refractor shields). You can spam it to tear through basic enemies while taking minimal damage.

What you’re meant to be doing is staying mobile to minimise damage, relying on passive and active bionic upgrades that provide a degree of auto-aim while performing movement skills (think sliding and wall-running). Elite enemies with refractor shields or those with physical shields add a tactical component, but with the right weapon modifications, you can still brute force your way through. Spotting enemies in the midst of combat is tough, so you’ve got an upgradeable bionic-mastiff on a cooldown that highlights targets. With the right upgrades, they can also draw aggro and survive a lot of damage. When it comes to dealing damage, they only excel at dropping basic, unshielded enemies.

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Cyber-mastiff is a very good boy (girl?). With a few upgrades, the mastiff excels at drawing fire and buying you time to charge or flee.

To keep ahead of the difficulty curve – which is most pressing on hard difficulty and above – you need to collect loot, hunt for secret chests, and spend credits upgrading your bionics, mastiff, and weapons. These upgrades are a mix of active and passive skills, with subsequent upgrades increasing their effectiveness. The aforementioned auto-aim perks are a great choice, as are those that increase mobility, health, and your total refractor shield level (you collect shield cells, it does not recharge).

When it comes to your arsenal, several weapons fit into “pistol”, “basic”, and “heavy” categories. You can carry five at a time – one always being your crappy pistol – and these range from revolvers, to stubguns, autoguns, bolters, grenade launchers, lasguns, and plasma guns. There are rarity-tiers and several modifications slots that can tweak their stats (think damage, accuracy, shield penetration, clip size, etc.). Armour and charms also come with different tiers, offering buffs and environmental damage resistance. There’s a metagame that revolves around tackling higher difficulties and purchasing items that increase the rarity of loot chest drops, but Necromunda: Hired Gun feels too linear and fleeting to truly support the RPG upgrades and looter-shooter elements.

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Your gear, in addition to your arsenal, also comes with several rarity tiers, buffs, and resistances to consider.

To pad out the experience and provide a chance to get all the bionic upgrades or high-tier weapons, you can do repeatable contract missions for several factions. It’s a system that feels shoehorned in, and these contracts are not particularly engaging, with basic objectives and small environments pulled from the campaign maps. You’ll quickly discover the simple “destroy object” missions you can cruise through – without even engaging enemies – in just a few minutes should you be short of cash. Should you feel compelled to grind these out and raise a faction bar, you’ll eventually get gear as a reward, in addition to the credits.

Unfortunately, no matter what mission you tackle, you’ll soon discover the lack of player damage feedback. As you recover health by dealing damage or melee finishers, you’ll spend your time in the thick of battle, making sudden deaths due to a lack of feedback annoying and feel random. There are checkpoints and an item that can instantly revive you, but it feels like combat balance still needs refinement.

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It can feel distinctly dated, closer in design to the late ‘90s and early 2000s PC shooters, but I loved exploring the massive levels and discovering hidden chests.

When it comes to the presentation, Necromunda: Hired Gun is a mixed bag. A great art style that captures the ridiculous scale of the Warhammer 40K universe, solid performance (targeting 60fps on next-gen consoles), but also plenty of animation bugs and rough-looking scenes. A highlight is the sprawling levels that encourage you to explore. Most areas – assuming you’re not locked into an arena – offer multiple paths so you can duck in and out of combat with ease. The music was unexpectedly excellent, making for some moody moments of exploration and – once again – frenetic Doom-inspired arena battles with a pumping backing track. Even the voice acting is solid, despite boring back-and-forth conversations making up the bulk of the experience.

Unfortunately, animation bugs are not the only problem. While playing the Xbox version, I got stuck in surfaces, had loot drop out of bounds, got trapped behind a door that was meant to open, experienced looping sound effects, and had several crashes during contract missions. It’s hard to ignore these bugs but I still enjoyed my time with Necromunda: Hired Gun. It wants to be Doom (2016) in the Warhammer 40k universe, incorporates gameplay mechanics from other iconic FPS titles, and works – most of the time. I just wish it had better narrative pacing, less reliance on bland contract missions for upgrades, and several months of additional polish.

A review code for Necromunda: Hired Gun was provided to Gameblur by the publisher

Necromunda: Hired Gun (Xbox Series S) Review

Necromunda: Hired Gun (Xbox Series S) Review
7 10 0 1
There are times when the fluid movement, impactful gunplay, and sprawling level design all come together to provide epic shootouts that both look and feel great in motion. Unfortunately, the lack of narrative pacing, reliance on bland contract missions, and numerous bugs bring down the experience.
There are times when the fluid movement, impactful gunplay, and sprawling level design all come together to provide epic shootouts that both look and feel great in motion. Unfortunately, the lack of narrative pacing, reliance on bland contract missions, and numerous bugs bring down the experience.
7/10
Total Score
  • Story
    6/10 Normal
    Important events only happen in the opening and closing missions, and it feels like you're out of the loop the rest of the time.
  • Gameplay
    7/10 Good
    Fantastic traversal options and brutal gunplay are let down by bland contract missions and too many bugs.
  • Visuals
    7/10 Good
    They're not the most technically impressive but they do a great job of capturing the look and feel of the Warhammer 40K universe.
  • Audio
    8/10 Very Good
    Decent voice acting, great ambient audio, and an unexpectedly good soundtrack make this a highlight of the experience.

The Good

  • Insane traversal abilities mixed with brutal gunplay
  • Tons of bionic and gear upgrades to invest in
  • Massive levels with secrets and easter eggs to find
  • The art style and ambience captures the Warhammer 40K experience

The Bad

  • Numerous animation and gameplay bugs that break immersion
  • Lack of player-damage feedback can lead to sudden deaths
Total
1
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