Necromunda: Hired Gun Is An Eastern European Game From France

Eastern European video games are so famous for producing brilliant but unpolished gems that the term “Eurojank” was invented to refer to them. Pathologic is a Eurojank survival horror game, STALKER is a Eurojank shooter, Gothic is a Eurojank RPG, and so on. The Witcher series was never Eurojank, but it’s got a lot of the hallmarks of one, and especially its third entry did the impossible – delivered on Eurojank ambition without the actual jank. Clearly this was some kind of Faustian bargain, because Cyberpunk 2077 failed to deliver the ambition but had all of the jank.

As that first paragraph hints, the core of Eurojank is manic ambition married to janky execution. Eurojank games are carving out a whole new sub-genre for themselves, one which usually never gets any entries outside of that one game or series, and they have the bugs and lack of polish that you’d expect from a mid-size company trying to invent an entire genre with one video game. Each Eurojank game is an experience that no other video game will give you, something new and visionary, but also they have a bunch of jank you have to get used to.

The “Euro” in Eurojank stereotypically refers to eastern Europe specifically, although that stereotype doesn’t quite hold even with the three Ur-Eurojank examples I gave in the first paragraph: Gothic was developed in central European Germany (not even on the east side of the old border). Necromunda: Hired Gun continues that trend of being technically in Europe, albeit far to the west of the stereotypical Eurojank game.

Necromunda is a loving recreation of the grim darkness of the 41st millennium’s most infamous underhive. The maps are half-functional steel plants built with the pointless enormity of the Imperium of Man, deep trenches carved into Wall-E style mountains of trash cubes that lead upwards to bunkers to storm, and mineshafts dug miles deep for raw materials. There are side missions to retrieve human corpses because that’s a valuable food supply, to destroy the ventillation fans in an enemy gang’s hideout so they’ll asphyxiate on the industrial fumes that permeate the hive, and to both rescue, kidnap, and execute unregistered psykers. It’s a game that understands what a 40k video game is supposed to be: A playable death metal album that takes place in a galaxy ruled by an evil empire that’s just past the height of its power and entered into decline, crushing its hapless subjects between its merciless, failing machinery, but still too powerful to be meaningfully opposed from within (logically speaking, there must be certain frontier sectors where Imperial power has receded to the point where local powers could successfully break away and create democracy or whatever, but if you want democratic rebels breaking away from a fascistic empire, why are you not playing a Star Wars game?).

But dear god, the jank. The game has an atrocious reverse-difficulty curve. By the time you’ve finished the second level (maybe even the first, I was still getting to grips with the game and wasn’t great at distinguishing enemy types yet), it’s already throwing ogryns and enemy lieutenants with powerful refractor fields at you. Psykers and ambots get introduced in the third level, but while they have different powers than other enemies, they’re actually much easier to fight than the lieutenants with the refractor fields. Genestealers show up in level 7, but they’re some of the easiest enemies in the game, melee-only foes who you can just kite while unloading a heavy bolter at them. If there’s been any new enemies in levels 4-6, I didn’t notice them. There’s only 13 levels in this game, and while I definitely expect there to be some new mini-bosses, boss fights, and maybe a new elite enemy type like the psyker and genestealer, it’s pretty clear at this point that the basic mooks you clear through are the same at the end as they were in the beginning. The Escher, Orlocks, and Goliaths are all visually distinct and fantastically well-represented, but none of them are meaningfully harder than the others.

This would be a flat difficulty curve, but you also have upgrades. Buying new bionics and a better arsenal of weapons makes the game noticeably easier as you progress. Bionics give you new powers like slowing down time or a pulse that both stuns enemies and deactivates refractor fields within a certain radius (when fully upgraded, a very wide radius), and while I find that the autogun you get in the first five minutes remains a pretty reliable all-rounder weapon even after I’ve unlocked the entire arsenal, the heavy bolter’s insane damage reduces even the tankiest of (non-boss) enemies to red mist in just a few shots, often chewing through a refractor field before I even notice the golden glow intercepting my shots, and while the bolter’s recoil is too intense to be used at anything but very close range, the plasma gun is great for sniping because of its even higher damage-per-shot. It’s not extremely accurate by default, but the right upgrades can give it fantastic range in exchange for a terrible reload speed, which is perfect for sniping.

Between the enemies having variety but not escalation and the bionics and weapons becoming steadily more versatile and in some ways even directly more powerful, the game gets easier as you go. I was seriously considering tossing this game on the Regrets pile early on because its difficulty was so intense even when taking B-ranked side missions (supposed to be the easiest type) on the lowest difficulty option and it was still really difficult, but once I managed to scrape some credits together and buy some upgrades, easy difficulty started living up to its name and I switched back to normal. Now only S-ranked side missions give me trouble, and even then, it depends on the exact objective (objectives that require killing mini-bosses or capturing territory are much harder than objectives that require destroying stockpiles of ammo or drugs or stealing food – the latter feature infinitely spawning enemies, so ignoring them to hit the objectives is not just viable, but to some degree required). I’m sure this is partly because I got better at the game as I played, but also I have way better gear.

Some basic quality of life features are absent as well. This is a looter shooter, except the advantage of a +2 bolter over the standard are tiny enough that you can ignore them, and the process of getting loot is clunky enough that you probably will. You can’t open your inventory screen in regular gameplay, instead exclusively opening it when at the weapon upgrade shop or when choosing your mission loadout, so you never do the looter shooter thing where you swap out new weapons mid-mission because you found something better, and once you’ve found your first heavy bolter, you’ll probably never find one that’s better by enough to be worth the trouble of customizing it to max out whatever features you’re using heavy bolters for (probably close range damage, but maybe there’s other uses for that gun that just aren’t obvious to me).

There’s no mini-map and the objective markers aren’t nearly sufficient to tell you where to go. Since you’re in an underhive, knowing which direction your target is in doesn’t always help because the door leading to the other side of the wall between you and the target might be far to the side or maybe even in the opposite direction. There are occasional wide, open spaces when you’re out on the ash wastes or in a particularly cavernous storage chamber or whatever, but these are the exception, which means a lot of missions, especially side missions, are spent screaming “where the fuck do I go next?!”

Side missions take place in the same maps as the main missions, but in small, cordoned off chunks of them, repurposed for the sake of the side mission. That’s a great way to recycle content (like all games, Necromunda would be better if it was a Metroidvania where all maps connected to one another in a massive interconnected hive, but that would require significant time and money and it’s not super insightful to say “this game would’ve been better with an extra six months and $2,000,000 poured into it”), but it means that you’re often going backwards from the direction the main mission took you, which means all the level design that drew your eye and made the way forward intuitive in the main missions is now useless or sometimes counterproductive. An elevator in the third stage, for example, is very obvious at the bottom but gets lost in the clutter a bit on the top. No problem if you’re starting on the bottom, but if you’re in a side mission that starts you on top, it can take a bit to find. If it’s a side mission that’s constantly spawning enemies, that makes things much worse, because you can’t just carefully sweep the area for the way forward (the elevator’s not hard to notice if you walk right past it), but instead bounce around the arena trying to dodge gunfire while looking for a way out while not even sure if what you’re looking for is a door or a ladder or an elevator or what.

This does lead to a cool thing where over time you build up familiarity with the hive and eventually memorize the connectors between different rooms, but that would’ve happened with a map, too, and with a map the progression would’ve been from a tourist checking the map every two minutes to a native who’s got the routes memorized. In the map-less game that we have, the progression is from a frustrating experience where you can’t find where the fuck to go next while being chased by infinitely respawning Orlocks to actually being able to navigate the level and complete missions.

I do recommend Necromunda: Hired Gun to anyone who likes 40k, but I have to give the massive caveat that you should start out on the lowest difficulty even if you’re very experienced with shooters, and that you should grind some side missions to improve your bionics and customize your weapons as soon as that option is available. You’ll usually profit from even a failed side mission because of loot you picked up along the way canceling out consumables spent (there’s a low cap on how many medkits you can buy going into a mission, and they’re cheap), so expect to make money getting shot to pieces at least four or five times before you build up enough wealth to fight on a level playing field. Tweak the difficulty back upwards once you feel your upgrades are surpassing the level of challenge the game can throw at you (or don’t – I could probably manage hard difficulty at this point, but I’m not gonna).

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