Hired Gun is a scrappy game; it’s got big ambitions and a lot of rough edges. Taking inspiration from the recent DOOM games, the game aims for a relentlessly paced shooter with a focus on mobility and gibbing everything in sight.
If you’re not familiar with the setting, Necromunda is a sub-setting within Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe. First appearing in 1995, it was a tabletop skirmish game focussing on gang warfare underneath the Hive City of Necromunda. More recently rebooted for the tabletop as Necromunda: Underhive in 2017, GW have returned to their spin on the cyberpunk genre releasing a new line of models and box sets as well as licensing out the setting for video games, beginning with the extremely underwhelming tactics game Necromunda: Underhive Wars last year.
In Hired Gun you take on the role of a Bounty Hunter caught between the endlessly warring gangs of the Underhive as you try to…. To be honest I lost track of the plot fairly quickly. There’s another mysterious bounty hunter who you cross paths with. Someone killed a guild member? Kal Jericho (One of only named characters from the tabletop game) pops up to tell you to go places and kill people. While his inclusion was a pleasant suprise, his role in the story has been rather lacklustre. At this point I’m about 7 hours in and I think I can say this is not a game worth playing for the plot or interesting cast.
What about the Warhammer feel? Does this rare first person look into the underhive capture that essence de grimdark? It’s hit and miss. Perhaps most disappointing are the bolters. If you were excited to get up close and personal with one of the most iconic fictional weapons then I’m sorry to say they’re inaccurate and unsatisfying. Mass-reactive rocket propelled shells plink off the rock solid abs of goliath gangers causing little more than mild inconvienience. Plasma weapons feel similarly rubbish combining oddly slow and floaty projectiles with underwhelming damage. Of the weapons iconic to the Warhammer universe, the Las Rifle tuned into a charge up sniper is probably the most fun to use but impractical as your main weapon given the style of combat. In general the weapon art style is just bizarre. For some reason they have shifted the design of weapons to look very modern with things like picatinny rails apparently surviving 40,000 years into the future.
Despite failing to do the iconic weapons justice, there are a handful of fun moments that make the underhive setting shine. In several levels I was surprised by the sense of scale they were able to achieve. Giant ore trains to vast scrap towers convey the industrial decrepitude perfectly. What’s more in several cases you’ll stumble into the middle of an ongoing gang battle, helping give the sense of the world going on around you. The only gangs you’ll fight are Escher, Goliath and Orlock as the other myriad factions of the underhive are relegated to background mentions. Weirdly Genestealer Cults are just name dropped as someone you can do odd jobs for which is particularly baffling if you know anything about the setting. Personally I think there’s a humor that runs through the Necromunda rule books that just felt absent from this game. It’s not pronounced but the small ironies or absurdities are what helped the tabletop game feel special. For instance, you can buy Lho-Sticks for one of your miniatures. These have the game effect of increasing the ‘Cool’ stat of any nearby friendly gangers with a lower intelligence stat than the smoker. In general though there are a ton of small details that make exploring enviroment rewarding for fans.
So with the who’s who of who’s telling you to go places and kill people, how is the going places and killing people? Well, when you’re chewing your way through hoards of weak gangers with a shotgun things feel pretty satisfying. However, fighting the special enemy varieties is pretty dull, they sponge up bullets and break up the speedy pace of firefights. The easiest way to deal with them is to upgrade your takedown ability and just run up to them. Either you’ll down their shields or kill them outright with a particularly janky animation. This just feels odd as even the largest enemies like Ambots or Ogryns are most easily dealt with by running up to and mashing the E key. Disappointingly, as the game is progressing the fun chaff enemies are becoming fewer and fewer making combat more and more of a chore.
Between sidestep, wallrun, combat slide, double jump, air dash and a rapidly recharging grappling hook, you’ll bounce around the underhive like a bullet. At its best the game is just a blur of giblets and particle effects as the need to keep moving and killing doestn’t allow you to stop for long once the action gets going. However bullet spongy elites enemies break up the pace of combat and expose more of the game’s rough edges. I found ambots sometime just got stuck in the geometry and the AI of enemies in general isn’t great.
There is fun to be had here, but Hired Gun tries to do a lot and doesn’t excel at anything. Between gun customisation, the looter shooter elements and the character upgrades, none of the systems feel particularly meaningful. While there are a lot of character upgrades it doesn’t feel like there’s much point in aiming for a specialised build, instead you just slowly acquire them all.
Hired Gun fails to escape the black hole of mediocrity that pulls in the majority of of Warhammer games. For all its ambition, it just doesn’t do enough to recommend itself to anyone not invested in the setting and even then it’s far from a must play adaptation. There are kernels of fun here but they’re drowned in unecessary upgrade systems, wonky animations and tedious elite enemies. It’s a shame as shooters are an oddly rare breed when it comes to 40k games and after Space Marine whet the appetite of fans for action games we’ve been left wanting.
Thanks for reading. If you want more Warhammer 40,000 games, then why not check out our articles on Space Hulk: Tactics, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada or Nevi’s revisit of the 40k GOAT Dawn of War. Alternatively, for some excellent stories check our review of A Thousand Sons or Requiem Infernal.