by Samuel Corey
reviewed on PC
The current state of Warhammer 40K video games is abysmal. Most new releases are either disappointing follow-ups to beloved classics like Dawn of War III, janky messes like Space Hulk: Deathwing, and free-to-play garbage like Warhammer Combat Cards. The last 40K game that could be described as "good" without any reservations was Space Marine, and that was a decade ago. At this point, seeing a game set in the grim darkness of the far future all but guarantees that it will be worthless shovelware. So, when I tell you that Necromunda: Hired Gun is probably the best Warhammer 40K game in the past decade, understand just how damningly faint that praise is.
The game is set in the lower depths of a Hive City on the infamous planet Necromunda. For those unfamiliar with the lore of Warhammer 40K, a Hive City is a massive, mountain-sized tower that resembles 100 Manhattans (The Spires) perched on top of 1000 Detroits (The Hive City), all sitting on a foundation of 500 Mogadishus (The Underhive). Life in the spires is civilized and even downright luxurious but as you go deeper and deeper into the depths of the city all law and order quickly evaporates. The lowest regions are locked in a perpetual civil war as various criminal gangs vie for domination.
Life in the Underhive
Still, even this anarchy has some regulations, and the chief rule in the Underhive is: Don’t f@#k with anyone from The Spires. So, when a member of the inviolate merchant guild is killed by some Underhive scum, the powers that be are quick to respond by sending in a hardened mercenary, the player character, to crack some underprivileged heads and find out who’s behind the ruckus.
Your protagonist is, for no discernible reason, customizable. Keep in mind, this is an FPS, where almost all the cutscenes are locked in first-person perspective so there’s no chance to see what you look like. Hell, there’s not even any reflective puddles or mirrors that I came across. As if to further underscore the purposelessness of this customization, your character is equipped with bionic arms, so in the rare cases where you can see part of your body, it will be the same regardless of which design you picked.
A Clean Slate
The player character may be a blank slate but that’s fine, because the environment is the real star of the show. The developers have gone to great lengths to make the Underhive of Necromunda not just visually striking, but wholly in keeping with 40K lore and visual flair. It’s loaded with tons of little details that add to the authenticity, like little shrines to the omnissiah dotting the factories, to massive gothic sculptures adorning train engines, to the insane nun that sells you guns with her mouth sewn shut and communicating via speaker. Nothing feels like a generic sci-fi setting, instead, every area exudes that pseudo-medieval dystopian atmosphere that makes 40K so appealing.
Despite the remarkable effort spent recreating the atmosphere of 40K’s environments, very little attention has been paid to 40K’s iconic weaponry. I have given up hope of a Warhammer 40K shooter ever getting the guns right. Invariably, the bolter is treated as a basic assault rifle rather than the fully automatic mini-RPG launcher it really is. Necromunda: Hired Gun does better than most because at least each bolter hit is accompanied by a small explosion and if you hit an unarmored target they are promptly gibbed. Still, if you shoot it at someone with a bit of corrugated steel to use as a shield you’ll probably have to unload half a clip into him, never mind that your gun should be able to punch through full power armor with ease.
At least we get a bolter, much of the traditional 40K arsenal is missing entirely. There are no las-cannons, melta guns, needle pistols, flamers, or volkite weaponry. You don’t even get to use the humble lasgun (though a sniper variant is available) which seems absurd when it is probably the most numerous weapon model in the entire setting (there are supposed to be trillions of these guns in circulation). To be fair, the odd special weapon, like the gravity gun, is a nice change of pace but for the most part, you’re going to be stuck using kinetic firearms that look like real-world weapons with grimdark bits glued to them.
Putting the (limited) arsenal to use
Still, as disappointed as I am in the guns themselves, actually using them against swarms of Underhive scum is pretty fun. Each level is a sequence of huge arenas and you’re outfitted with a suite of movement abilities that allow you to double-jump, air dash, power slide, wall run, and grapple hook around. Enemies attack in huge waves with heavies and psykers regularly interspersed throughout the various mooks. Enemy variety and freedom of movement keep the combat from getting stale, even when pitched battles start to drag on.
To keep the player alive through lengthy firefights, the game has added a mechanic where the player regenerates health whenever they kill an enemy. This has the unintended effect of trivializing many early encounters as there are almost always swarms of weak, unarmored enemies to annihilate for a quick health boost. Indeed, playing on normal difficulty I cleared the first four levels only dying once (and that was because I misjudged a jump and fell down a bottomless pit).
As long as Necromunda is ripping off Doom Eternal it manages to be consistently fun and engaging. Things start to fall apart when the game decides that it also wants to be a looter shooter as well. There’s nothing wrong with mixing fast-paced action with inventory management per se, but unfortunately, this game has some of the worst menu interfaces I’ve ever seen, and you’ll be required to slog through them at the start and end of every level. They’re confusing, slow to navigate, and kill any sense of pacing. It’s like pausing Die Hard every fifteen minutes to file your taxes. If you’re going to knock off Doom just let me hold every gun at once, you’ve already given me a walking speed of 50 MPH and a double jump, so realism clearly isn’t a concern.
At $40 Necromunda: Hired Gun is a bit of the pricey side. In a world where Doom Eternal is regularly on sale for $20, I can’t recommend paying twice that to play an inferior knock-off, even if it is fun with great environmental design. It might be worth picking up right away if you’re a Warhammer 40K fanatic or desperate for more Doom Eternal style action, otherwise wait for a sale, a bundle, or a price cut.
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Much of the Warhammer arsenal is missing