If, like me, you get a kick out of watching Jet washing and blackhead removal videos on YouTube, then:
1. Get help.
2. Have I got just the game for you!
The Gunk is an action-adventure caper from the creators of the SteamWorld franchise, releasing as a day-one drop on Game Pass. Set on an untouched exotic planet, you take control of space-scrapper, Rani, as she and her partner Becks search for valuable resources to pay off their mounting debt. After landing your ship, the Dust Bunny, Becks speculates that the gunk might be a supercharged power source that could make you both a lot of dough. With your mind on your money, you set off to explore the planet and discover more about the peculiar ooze.
The Gunk Review
To get around, you’ll need to suck up the gunk with your power glove, which is basically like a portable Dyson on speed. Not only is this oddly therapeutic, but playing with an Xbox controller gives a satisfying rumble as you gobble up all the bad stuff. Once you cleanse each area, it bursts to live with greenery once again; exposing useful plants and materials that will help you solve the game’s environmental puzzles. It’s quite similar to clearing the Rot in Kena: Bridge of Spirits except you’ve got a hoover on your wrist.
Through a delightful back-and-forth between the duo over the radio, we learn that Rani lost her arm in a previous misadventure and now relies on her trusty power glove (affectionately nicknamed Pumpkin) to do all the heavy lifting. Literally. When you get your glove up close to certain plants, you can turn on the suction and pull the seed right off the stalk. You’ll then be able to carry it around or aim and launch it at things. When you pick up a certain seed and aim one into an energy pool, a giant, colourful plant will shoot up like a beanstalk, providing you with a handy set of stairs to further your exploration.
Puzzles are satisfying to solve, even if they’re not very challenging for the most part. In fact, it’ll take you until the near the end before you come across anything particularly tricky, which does make the game feel a little uneven. That being said, you’ll have a lot of fun exploring the luscious world, not least because the tightly written (if not somewhat predictable) story will hook you in for the duration.
Suck it up, buttercup
While it differs in many ways to the procedurally generated Universe of No Man’s Sky, The Gunk engenders a similar sense of joy through exploration, albeit on a much smaller scale. Aside from suction power, your glove also doubles as a handy scanner that you can use on the planet’s myriad of flora and fauna. Not only do you feel like a true space pioneer charting a brand-new world, but you’ll also learn about the material properties of each item and what you can do with them.
The crafting system is quite simplistic but offers decent upgrades for your glove that you can install at the ship’s workbench. From gaining the ability to run faster to adding a laser blaster to your arsenal, it’s worth spending time gathering materials to improve your load-out. That being said, combat is infrequent and not especially taxing (as I’ll discuss later) so you’re best off going for perks that’ll add a bit of spice to your gaming such as the turbo-charged suction upgrade.
At first, you’ll be all over resource collecting like a fly on
shit gunk, but you’ll soon realise there’s no real scarcity to materials in the world. In fact, it’s pretty easy to go through several upgrades within the first hour, providing you’re not rushing to the end. Saying that, a more complicated crafting system wouldn’t work for a game of this length. Instead, it takes a back-seat and serves to enhance your experience of the story.
As I touched upon earlier, combat in The Gunk isn’t particularly challenging. Gangs of alien minions pop out from time to time, which may seem overwhelming at first due to their numbers but you can dispatch them easily with a single blast. That’s not to say combat isn’t exciting – sucking the little buggers up and launching them into each other is as much fun as it sounds. Aside from suction, you can upgrade the glove with a laser that fires intermittent, neon pulses that temporarily stun your enemy. The comical gadgetry and critters it employs feels like a nod to the Ratchet and Clank series, serving to create a similar light-hearted tone with just enough peril to keep the stakes up.
Unfortunately, the couple of boss fights in the game are less enjoyable. Both lack a sense of jeopardy or tension, which isn’t helped by the lack of music in the first fight. The enemy AI also falls short – a lot of the time, the giant rhino-like creatures didn’t bother to attack me, despite getting very up close and personal with them. To be fair, this isn’t a game that’s meant to be all about the combat, but a bit more polish in these sequences could really raise the stakes.
Night and Day
Most of the time, The Gunk looks really good. It has a similar 70s sci-fi paperback vibe to No Man’s Sky, with stylised animation, bold, psychedelic colours and giant, exotic wildlife to boot. The dank, gloomy cave systems look great too, with nothing but a scattering of neon from the bio-luminescent plants to punctuate the dark. I did notice that some of the textures are a bit low-res, particularly the rocks, which look a little blurry up close, but again, this is hardly a game that’s striving for photorealism.
In some areas with extreme lighting, you might have to fiddle around with the gamma/brightness setting. Some daylight scenes look a little bleached and washed-out, which you can fix by stepping the brightness down, until you wander into a cave and you have to up it again. The developers did mention they were making some improvements to the lighting for release, so hopefully this will be addressed.
Playing on PC, the framerate appears capped at 60fps (with no apparent option to uncap) but it still plays smoothly for the most part. There were a couple of framerate drops, mainly at the beginning, but again, the developers have promised this will be patched by release.
The Gunk is a fun, well-written game with loveable characters and some excellent voice acting. The world it creates is a joy to explore, even if the difficulty is a little uneven. Despite the ending feeling a little rushed, the story offers a compelling tale of friendship wrapped in an ecological warning about the perils of exploiting your planet for profit. The Gunk might not blow you away, but it most definitely doesn’t suck.