Way back in 2011, a small indie developer in France named Streum On Studio released a janky little shooter RPG called E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy. As with many cult hits, it received generally mixed reviews from an overly critical gaming press that tends to not take too kindly to unpolished yet ambitious games created by small teams with limited budgets.
Word got around however, and E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy gained a small but devoted fanbase due to its completely bonkers story, grimdark cyberpunk world, and fairly deep mechanics that supported a diverse range of playstyles. Given E.Y.E‘s uncanny resemblance to a certain other grimdark sci-fi setting, it only seemed natural to give Streum On Studio a crack at the 40k license.
They got their chance a few years back with Space Hulk: Deathwing, a cooperative shooter that can best be described as Vermintide or Left 4 Dead, but everyone is a Dark Angels Terminator blowing apart Genestealers with Storm Bolters and Thunder Hammers. The result wasn’t too great at launch, but it was gradually improved with updates and a free Enhanced Edition overhaul.
Now, Streum On Studio is back with Necromunda: Hired Gun, their second chance to make a shooter set in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium. Though it definitely won’t be for everyone, in many ways Hired Gun feels like the spiritual successor to E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy that fans have been waiting for.
Necromunda: Hired Gun
Developer: Streum On Studio
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Platforms: Windows PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Release Date: June 1st
Price: $39.99 USD
For the uninitiated, Necromunda is a spin-off of the greater Warhammer 40,000 IP. It originated as a specialist side game in the ’90s, and essentially was to 40k what Mordheim was to Warhammer Fantasy. Since the game was all about gang warfare on a hive planet, this also meant that Necromunda explored aspects of the 40k universe that you didn’t see in the main tabletop game.
There were no vast armies of Guardsmen desperately trying to hold out against a massive Ork Waaagh! on one of the Imperium’s countless worlds. Instead, it was all about the gritty criminal underworld of 40k‘s most infamous hive planet, a decrepit and dystopian place where billions of people are crammed into towering cities the size of continents.
Despite its cult following, the game was killed off in the early ’00s. Thanks to new Games Workshop management in the early 2010s, specialist games were being revived, and that eventually led to the reboot of Necromunda in 2017.
Much like Necromunda: Underhive Wars from last year, Hired Gun is based on the lore and aesthetics of this 2017 reboot of the tabletop franchise. Whereas Underhive Wars was a tactical XCOM-like experience more inline with the tabletop version of the game, Hired Gun is a fast-paced and brutal shooter with RPG elements designed to appeal to adrenaline junkies.
The game is set in the grimy depths of the hive world of Necromunda. Billions of Imperial citizens eek out a living in this massive city-planet, which contributes a significant number of weapons, supplies, and personnel to the Imperium’s perpetual war effort.
Most people live their entire lives in one of the hive’s countless levels; toiling away in oppressive and hopeless conditions to earn a meager existence. All while the hive world’s privileged elite govern the city from atop its tallest spires in safety and luxury.
As with all hive cities, gang warfare is a constant part of daily life for those living in the lower levels, and much like everything in 40k, this simple concept is cranked up to 11. Vat-grown muscle-headed hulks with piston-powered bionic arms regularly battle for territory and wealth.
A few of their rivals include all-female gangs of Amazonian-like warrior women with guns that fire darts laced with exotic neurotoxins. There are also militant cults of zealous fanatics wielding homemade flamethrowers, cackling maniacally as they burn perceived heretics that defy the Emperor’s teachings.
You play as a hired gun, a mercenary that will take contracts for any of Necromunda’s numerous gangs as long as the pay is good. A particularly lucrative assignment to track down the assassin of a guilder (one of the few unspoken rules of such a lawless place), goes south. As such, you find yourself being rescued by the infamous bounty hunter Kal Jericho.
It turns out that this murder is part of a far greater conspiracy within the depths of Necromunda, and you’ll reluctantly need to take on contracts from Jericho to get to the bottom of it all; and more importantly, earn a very hefty payday.
As with most 40k video games, the story of Hired Gun is mostly just a vehicle to drive you from set piece to set piece. The cutscenes are pretty disjointed and sloppy, though the voice acting is generally decent. The same can’t be said for the lip syncing and movements of characters during conversations though, which all look fairly bad.
Much like with Deathwing, Streum On Studio have a knack for crafting impressive and immersive environments that completely nail the 40k lore and aesthetics. You’ll find yourself crawling through massive ventilation systems, autonomous factories, vast cave-like waste facilities, and even a gigantic hover-train that dwarfs a skyscraper.
The maps all have a lot of verticality as well, further reinforcing the idea that you are in an unimaginably huge industrial city-factory with countless levels to it. There are quite a few textures that look a little blurry and low res if you get too close to them, but in general the environments all look suitably gothic and grimdark.
Hired Gun‘s central hub is a neutral zone called Martyr’s End; a place where gangers, citizens, and other assorted scum and villainy gather to get drinks and conduct business. It’s here where you can visit vendors, upgrade yourself and your Cyber-Mastiff companion with new bionics, and access a contracts board to advance the story missions or complete randomly generated side gigs.
The side missions come in three categories of progressively harder difficulty levels. They generally involve visiting short, remixed versions of previous levels to complete objectives. These involve wave-based defense missions, rescuing prisoners, sabotaging supply stockpiles, and so on.
The contracts are given out by a huge list of different gangs and groups within Necromunda, and some of them definitely stretch the limits of your suspension of disbelief. For example, you can accept a job on a publicly accessible terminal from the somewhat despised Genestealer Cults.
Sadly, the sheer number of factions far outstretched the dev’s resources. While you might have defense missions given out by the Enforcers or Corpse Grinders, your NPC allies will just be reused character models of the Eschers or Orlocks that you have already murdered in droves during the main missions.
One thing to note about Hired Gun is that it’s a pseudo-looter shooter. The game’s impressive array of iconic 40k weaponry come in the usual color-coded looter shooter hierarchy of trash tier commons, blue rares, purple epics, and sparkling golden legendaries.
You can buy weapons from vendors, but all the good stuff will be found in missions, which usually have several hidden loot chests and a few scattered secrets. This means you’ll want to explore every nook and cranny of Hired Gun‘s massive levels, many of which are packed full of places that can only be accessed via your handy arm-mounted grappling hook.
I say its a “pseudo” looter shooter, because there are no levels or anything like that. Rarer weapons have better base stats, but you can still murder people just fine with trashy common guns. You’ll never be in a situation where a specific thug that looks and fights exactly like every other ganger you’ve killed will be a bullet sponge, simply because he is level 27 and your gear is only level 15.
In this regard, the looter shooter element feels a bit half-baked and pointless. A shiny legendary plasma gun will be more powerful than a rare one, but the difference isn’t so overwhelming that you’ll feel handicapped for not having legendary items.
There are no fancy proc effects or special skills on your guns either. The rarity system gets even lazier when you get to other gear, like lucky charms or armor, which tend to give fairly small bonuses overall.
Despite having looter shooter elements, Hired Gun bizarrely doesn’t have a proper inventory system. You have a few slots for armor, weapons, and miscellaneous trinkets that act as a bank for stuff you don’t currently have equipped, but you can’t access it during missions.
You have to go to a computer terminal at Martyr’s End to customize your loadout and change up your inventory, and the general controls and UI for your bank are pretty clunky. The inventory is also quite limited, with the special and heavy weapon slots in particular not giving you enough space for all the shiny legendary weapons you’ll likely stumble across on missions.
One of the most egregious aspects of the loadout system is that you can’t ditch your starter stub gun, even though it will be quickly outclassed by new items. I’m pretty sure it’s because this starter gun is used in various scripted animations, and for some reason they just wanted the gun to always be in your inventory.
The dumb part is that you can’t even swap it out for a rarer and more powerful version of the stub gun; though you can customize it with different attachments. It just feels like a really lazy approach where the devs didn’t feel like doing these animations for other types of pistols.
You’ll start out with some pretty boring and basic stub pistols and autoguns, but it won’t take you long to start finding the more iconic 40k weapons, like lasguns, plasma pistols, and the holy and beloved Bolter.
The Bolter is always a hard gun to get right in a 40k video game, and often gets treated as just a fancy assault rifle when its actually more like an armor piercing automatic grenade launcher. Hired Gun gets closer to nailing it than most games, with pretty decent sound assets, a nice kick, and small explosion-like effects with each impact.
All of your guns are customizable with a large variety of attachments that can affect their performance. The more mundane of these include stocks or grips that can make the recoil and handling more manageable, but there are also rare archeotech items that can increase a weapon’s damage and alter its elemental effects.
Some weapons, like plasma guns, can be upgraded with an overcharge shot. Luckily, you don’t have to worry about these overcharged plasma bolts potentially melting your face off if you roll a 1 like in the tabletop game.
Others have compared the combat to Doom Eternal, and that’s a fairly decent description of the game. While you do have iron sights and scopes, you’ll generally be wall-running, dashing, and grappling around arenas to avoid damage, as you spray from the hip with high caliber weapons.
Hired Gun emphasizes mobility over anything else. You have a refractor field that can block some damage, and you can regenerate a bit of health by killing enemies and performing executions, but your foes can make pretty quick work of you if you aren’t on your toes.
You character moves fast, gains access to a double jump really early on, has a grappling hook that can be used to zip out of trouble in a pinch. On top of this, there is no fall damage unless you plunge into a bottomless pit. Your mobility options only expand as you purchase more bionics.
The guns all have fairly loud sound assets, and impacts are nice and meaty as bits of gangers and sprays of gore fill the air. All of this carnage is also accompanied by a pretty good soundtrack as well.
While all of Hired Gun‘s various weapons are fun and satisfying to shoot, they are hardly the only options in your toolbox. You can upgrade your character with various bionics at Martyr’s End, many of which grant you access to powerful cooldown-based abilities.
Some of these include an auto targeting system, and reflex enhancers that give you a brief burst of bullet time. You also have access to enhanced fists that can deliver a shockwave (stunning enemies and disabling refractor fields), a teleport that causes an explosion when you land, and more.
There is an execution like in the newer Doom games, where you get a canned melee kill animation and regenerate some health. However, this execution system is pretty janky, as you can just repeatedly spam it against everything except large enemies or gangers with refractor fields. The animations also bugs out a lot, which happens with animations in general at times.
A highly disappointing absence from the game’s arsenal of weapons and bionics are melee choices. Your only close quarters option, aside from the aforementioned executions, is a bionic ability where you pull out a knife and become stronger and faster for a brief period of time.
The 40k universe and over-the-top melee weapons go hand-in-hand, so it’s a puzzling exclusion from Hired Gun‘s arsenal. After all, 40k did that whole putting chainsaws on everything trick long before Gears of War was even an idea in Cliffy B’s brain. The developers had melee weapons in past shooters, and one of them was a 40k video game.
Rounding out your combat choices is your Cyber-Mastiff companion, and unfortunately is by far the must underwhelming part of your arsenal. Instead of being a proper pet, the Cyber-Mastiff is just a cooldown-based heat seeking missile ability that is functionally no different from your bionic powers.
You can summon him and direct him to attack specific enemies while he is out. Unfortunately, his pathfinding and AI are generally pretty awful. He will sometimes just not attack nearby enemies, and his lengthy cooldown means you won’t be using him much until you purchase a fair number of bionics for him.
If that wasn’t enough, he normally just teleports into existence next to you when you summon him, and there are lots of limitations on where he can go. Picking off enemies from a high ledge as your Cyber-Mastiff rampages through them sounds like a cool plan, but you can’t actually do that. You’ll just be greeted with error messages saying there is no path for your Cyber-Mastiff to get to that enemy.
Speaking of AI, the enemies aren’t much smarter. If you decide to take a sniping approach to a situation, you can usually pick off enemies from a distance and they won’t actively search for you, or will just forget you are there. On the other hand, sometimes they’ll just instantly always know where you are.
This means that stealth isn’t really a viable playstyle overall, and for the most part Hired Gun just wants you to get in there and blast people at close range with a shotgun or Heavy Bolter. This distant sniping playstyle is further hampered by some dodgy hit detection.
When looking down scopes, it’s not uncommon for your shots to hit above where you are aiming. This isn’t some sort of bullet drop mechanic obviously, as the shots are landing high instead of low; it’s just an example of some janky hit calculations.
Hired Gun has plenty of other issues that bring it down in places. One of the most annoying has to be the poor design of the side missions. The biggest problem with them is that a lot of them have infinitely respawning enemies. This extend to enemies frequently spawning in behind you, even if there is no other way in. This makes many of the side missions tedious and annoying instead of fun to grind.
The game’s performance is fairly decent. Even on an older machine you can still get pretty smooth framerates most of the time, with the occasional drop below 60 happening during really intense fights; lots of enemies and particle effects flying around. I did encounter a single crash, but this was in the pre-release build, so it could have just been an outlier before the obligatory day one patch.
Your enjoyment with Necromunda: Hired Gun will be based on how much you can tolerate clunky concepts, and the lack of polish you’d expect from a smaller studio on a limited budget. Anyone who has played a game by Streum On Studio will tell you that the company is renown for their ambitious euro-jank shooters, and Hired Gun is no different.
It has quite a few bugs, unconventional mechanics, sloppy UI choices, mediocre AI, and a fairly lackluster loot system that they probably could have just gone without. If you look past its faults and tolerate a lack of polish; you’ll find Necromunda: Hired Gun has some really satisfying gunplay, interesting bionic abilities, and an overall fairly authentic interpretation to usually unseen parts of the 40k universe.
It’s probably the most polished game Streum On Studio has made yet, even if it doesn’t quite have the same level of depth and complexity as E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy. It’s both a pretty solid shooter, and a fairly good Warhammer 40k game overall; so long as you go in expecting a somewhat buggy and unpolished experience.
Necromunda: Hired Gun was reviewed on Windows PC using a review code provided by Focus Home Interactive. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.