REVIEW: Necromunda: Hired Gun’s setting is its only real strength

I’m a sucker for the setting of Necromunda: Hired Gun. In the Warhammer 40,000 hive-world of Necromunda, gangs struggle for power, the rich wage war, and bounty hunters make names for themselves. Warhammer 40,000 has been a constant in my life since I was roughly fourteen years old. I first fell in love with Necromunda when I read Gordon Rennie and Will McDermott’s “Kal Jerico” novels as a teenager; I went even deeper when I got the box set for Necromunda: Underhive, a skirmish-based tabletop game about lawless, violent gang wars. It rules.

All of that is why I played to the end of Necromunda: Hired Gun, a fast-paced first-person shooter from Streum On Studio. Warhammer video games are often hit-or-miss. Necromunda: Hired Gun’s setting is a hit. Everything else is a miss.

The interior of a cavernous stone building in Necromunda: Hired Gun

Image: Streum On Studio/Focus Home Interactive via Polygon

Hired Gun’s opening two missions left a bad taste in my mouth. The guns my bounty hunter started with felt awful to use, and the hyper-fast, Doom-like gameplay just didn’t feel right. While the player can be swift, smart, and agile, the enemy AI is anything but. Then I got my hands on a Bolter, a fully automatic weapon that fires rocket-propelled rounds. Once I paired that with the grappling hook that Necromunda: Hired Gun waited a little too long to provide, the game finally started to get fun.

That said, the enemy AI never got any better, and the lack of enemy variety is a bummer. The setting of Necromunda is chock-full of interesting foes to face, but most of the time, the player is only pitted against Goliath, Escher, and Orlock gangers. (You face other enemies eventually, but I don’t want to spoil them.) While all three gangs are very different in what they’re good at and how they look, they all do the same three things: stand in place and wait to die; teleport and wait to die; or unload ammo in your direction, and wait to die. The player’s range of movement suggests the combat will be fast, brutal, and dynamic. It’s definitely fast and brutal, but it never becomes dynamic.

This sense of gameplay stagnation extends to the mission structure and narrative delivery as well. There’s little there, and it’s all bad. The central hub world is a good example. It’s a bounty hunters’ den where players take on main missions and side contracts, with vendors who supply weapons and augmetics (boosts). This area is where Necromunda: Hired Gun’s story gets delivered to the player, but that narrative entails little more than talking to the same three people between each mission. What they have to say is never interesting. Still, there are some cool encounters, especially with the characters and locations that tie directly into the tabletop game and its related fiction. Be prepared to meet a certain ponytailed bounty hunter, for example.

Denizens of Necromunda stand around a gritty bar

Image: Streum On Studio/Focus Home Interactive

Once a mission is accepted, players drop into a vast area where they must explore and engage in firefights and slight puzzles as they traverse point A to B and C. Maps can be explored and secrets can be found, but it is all so samey and never really amounts to much.

When the heat of battle is on, Necromunda: Hired Gun becomes a genuinely enjoyable cacophony of mayhem and cartoonish gore. The sound design is delightfully punchy, and player movement does feel pretty great, even though everything else surrounding it is kind of bad. Combat never changes unless you force it to change by trying new weapons, using your trusty cyber-dog more often (yes, you have a dog sidekick, and yes, you can pet and feed it), or cranking the difficulty up.

The game’s ambition can be seen at its margins. Every time it stretches beyond what it can reasonably do, it’s in service of presenting a compelling idea. The execution might be middling, but the design team’s obvious desire to properly showcase the setting of Necromunda and the battles within did work for me. While combat is never hard, it does make you feel like a bounty hunter—a lone hired gun whom everyone is out to get. Some of Necromunda: Hired Gun’s most interesting moments happen when you stumble into gang wars already in progress, and you must fight through both sides while they battle one another. It makes the setting feel alive — but it also shows where the narrative fails.

The game’s story never captures an ever-shifting gang war landscape of assassinations, ambushes, and back-stabbings. Instead, it leans into the worst aspects of Warhammer storytelling, throwing too many proper nouns at the player while also being too grim-dark for a setting that pretty much coined that term. You could skip most of the dialogue sections and the story could still be told with its visuals; in fact, that might even be more effective. Even though a lot of the levels look similar, there is still a history and sense of massive scale and character in each area you jump, shoot, and sprint through.

The player character of Necromunda: Hired Gun leaps down towards an armored enemy

Image: Streum On Studio/Focus Home Interactive

“One-note” is a pretty blasé term, but Necromunda: Hired Gun is exactly that. But the one note it strikes happens to be a setting I love, and that makes it good enough to keep me playing through its six-or-seven hour campaign. If you enjoyed Doom (2016) but wished that game was way buggier and that your enemies didn’t move around all that much, then this game is just what you’re looking for. (The bugs I encountered on Xbox Series X weren’t game-breaking, but Hired Gun is definitely rough around the edges.)

Necromunda: Hired Gun is profoundly average. It is stupendously okay and, thankfully, short. Still, I’m pretty satisfied with it. I never thought I’d see a first-person shooter where I’d run through the underhive of Necromunda, fighting my way across sunken Imperial chapels and shrine rooms of nebulous intent, while firing a Bolter into enemies I’ve battled over and over again on the tabletop. If you enjoy Warhammer 40,000 and Necromunda specifically, then you’re likely to put up with everything this game throws at you to make you not enjoy it.

There is a time and place for genuinely average games. In a world where it seems like every triple-A game has to either be “amazing” or “terrible,” it feels kind of nice to spend a weekend with a double-A game that is fun enough, interesting enough, and (again, thankfully) quite short. Necromunda: Hired Gun is a great average game.

Necromunda: Hired Gun released May 31 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on Xbox Series X using a download code provided by Focus Home Interactive. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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