Wednesday , 17 August 2022

The Gunk (PC, Xbox)

I never finish games. There, I said it. The reasons are many. Most of all I do not have the time any longer. At 51 with 2 kids and as tech lead at a company my time for gaming has to compete with lots of other stuff including coaching my kids in socker as well as other hobbies as 3D printing.

The problem for me is that a lot of game companies decided that their games need to be a service and be brimming with content (looking at you Ubisoft!). This means that even for a game I enjoy after a while I just loose interest or worse, come back 2-3 months later and realize I will never be able to get back into the game again and just leave it.

Why am I bringing this up when reviewing the new game The Gunk from the Swedish studio Thunderful? Well, I finished this game.

The Story

The story of The Gunk is quite simple. You follow two space haulers that are visiting a planet where they picked up a faint energy signal. They of course are down on their luck and really need to score to not risk loosing their ship. Things are of course not as they seem and they soon realise the planet is overrun by something they name The Gunk. I won’t spoil the story more except that in the end the game becomes a rescue mission for a whole alien civilization.

The Graphics and Sound

Before we go into the game play let’s focus a bit on the looks and sound of the game. The game is out for Windows, Xbox One and Xbox Series S|X . I played the game on a Windows Laptop (Asus Zephyrus G15 with Ryzen 5900HS and Nvidia RTX3080 Mobile GPU).

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The game is using Unreal Engine. I wouldn’t say it is the most beautiful game I played but it isn’t ugly either. The premise with the game is that the Gunk has suppressed all life which means it is grey and dull. When you get rid of the Gunk the colors flow back and you get treated with a colorful and beautiful vista. The game has a bunch of different areas, each with a pretty distinct look from jungle to abandoned mines and even a wasteland where everything is grey and dead.’

One thing I really like is that the game does not have any HUD at all. There is nothing in the screen that shows any extra information (map, compass, health etc). All you see is the character you are controlling, Rani, in a third person view. Every screenshot here is done in game.

It is obvious this game was made for consoles as there is basically no options at all to change anything except resolution and a quality setting which doesn’t tell you what it does. I played with 4K/ultra settings (even though my laptop is “just” 1440p) and the game ran perfect except for a a few hiccups in the last level when you travel up an elevator. Not sure why but that section always tripped everything up and basically slowed the game to a few fps for a few seconds.

In the sound department there is not much to say. The voice actors do a great job and the banter between them works pretty well. Other than that though I do not think the sound is special at all as the Gunk itself is completely silent and there are basically very few other animals in the game.

The Gameplay

The game play loop of The Gunk is actually pretty simple. You control one of the space haulers, Rani. She has one mechanical glove instead of a hand and this glove can be upgraded with different functionality. The base functionality is to suck up Gunk. Don’t ask me where it goes ….

The glove can be upgraded so that it can shoot energy bolts and some other functionality. You also can scan things, something I did not realize is very important because for each item you scan you earn some points towards new upgrades, both for your glove and more general stuff like run faster.

This is the biggest of the three monster types. It behaves like a bull and you have to go to their back-end and “suck” away from the yellow big thingy to kill them. 

The game has Rani running around trying to figure out where the signals comes from and then how to save the planet. In addition to the Gunk that needs to be cleaned away there are a bunch of different flowers that can be used. One flower seed, when planted in a shining pool, grows up to a fungus stair case. Another seed blows stuff up and so on. There is no real danger in the game and no urgency so you can take time exploring and finding all the different other flowers that you can hover up to get raw material for upgrades. The gunk can mutate into a few types of monsters when it feels threatened. Unfortunately as far as I could see there is only 3 types of monsters in the whole game which feels like a missed opportunity.

I do not think that any of the “puzzles” were difficult either. If you get stuck it is usually enough to just look around to find a seed or something to shoot at to open something. There are some clever puzzles in the end of the game where you have to think a bit more but not much. There is no help though in the game. I would have thought they would incorporate some kind of “hint” system via the radio calls from the character that stays at the ship, Becky, but if you are stuck you are stuck. Luckily I never got stuck once in the game so again, it is an easy game.

The battle system is not really a battle system. You cannot shoot any monsters, just suck them up and throw them away. It feels a bit weird that you have an energy canon but it cannot really hurt anyone, just stun them.

I played the game on my laptop and used the keyboard/mouse for about half the game. It is obvious  the game was made for consoles as it is a bit clunky to play with the keyboard/mouse-combo. For example, firing the energy weapon requires you to aim with the right mouse button and then press e. Sending out a monster lure requires you to use the c-key. I then switched to a Xbox-controller and things were a lot more natural.

Missed opportunities

While I actually enjoyed my time with the game there are a bunch of issues I have with the game and which I hope the developers will fix in a (hopefully greenlit) sequel.

To short

It took me less than a full day to finish the game. In fact, according to the game I spent about 5 hours in the game not counting when it was paused or in cut scenes. According to the Xbox App I played for about 9 hours when counting anything I did in the game (cut scenes, paused etc). I couldn’t help to feel that the team just ran out of story after a while. For a second I thought that the game would be much longer as you encounter the “final” boss first and get kicked out because he is way to strong. I thought this meant that the game now would go on while you either find a way to make him weaker or to get stronger. But it turned out the game only stretched out 30 minutes extra before you were back and fought the last time.

A bit generic story

The story also feels generic. I don’t know if the Gunk is supposed to represent something, maybe how we pollute our planet. But it never really felt like it was even trying to say something. The relationship between the two protagonists also feels a bit half baked. We get very little info about their past and while they talk a bit during the game it is quite shallow. There is a fight which ends that they do not talk for a while and then suddenly everything is ok again.

Where are the cool monsters?

The Gunk can mutate into monsters. This would be a perfect opportunity to create a wide variety of cool monsters. Instead we get ….. three? One tiny little monster, one fire-spitting static monster and that bull-thingy. That’s all. And in fact, you rarely encounter them.

To easy

I have no problems in games where you cannot really loose as long as the story is interesting. But I still want to have some challenge. The Gunk unfortunately have no difficulty settings and is way to easy. I can count the times I “died” (reload from last checkpoint) on one hand. I did not really have to do any strategies on how to take on the gunk. Yes, the fire spitting monster was a bit annoying but I quickly figured out how to handle it. And the last Boss encounter was quite easy and I handled that in one try.

Some bugs

The game has some annoying game breaking bugs. I ran into two of those. In one case the game refused to trigger a “all Gunk-gone animation” even though all gunk was gone. I had to reload and try again and then it worked. Even worse is one of the earlier puzzles which turned out having a game breaking bug. You are tasked to turn three pieces of a bridge so that you can cross a river. To do that you need to pull three steel-balls. If you do it in the wrong order one of the pieces reset but cannot be turned again and you cannot continue. So you have to reload an earlier save (the right order is center, right, left).

Conclusion

Even with all my complaints I actually enjoyed the game a lot. Regardless how long it is I would not have continued play and finish it if I found it dull. It is a great looking game and there is a lot of things that Thunderful did right with the game. I am more frustrated that I can see what would have elevated the game from a decent game to a great game. That is why I still hope that Thunderful will be able to make a sequel for the game and learn from their mistakes.

One of the nice things with this game is that it is on Gamepass even though you also can buy it for 250 SEK/ 25$. This means that as long as you have an Gamepass subscription you can play the game without any extra cost. To be honest I might feel that 25$ is to much for such a short game but it fits perfectly in a service like Gamepass.

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