Game

Review: Charming The Gunk Could Have Been Better

 

Screenshot: The Gunk

A few years ago, I was afraid that single player games were dying—especially games with more AA or AAA type gameplay and graphics. While those things aren’t necessary, it’s just a fact that a large studio can (usually) bring more to a game than a smaller studio with limited time and budget. Fortunately, there has been a bunch of really great solo adventure titles this year, like Kena: Bridge of Spirits, Sable, Psychonauts 2 –as just a few examples. In other words, The Gunk has some seriously good contemporaries that I can’t help compare it to.

The Gunk is a third person adventure game. In it, you play as Rani, one part of a two part Scavenging crew including your partner, Beck. Rani is the more reckless of the two, having lost her arm in an accident sometime prior, but it was replaced with a mechanical arm called Pumpkin.  Rani and Beck think they hit it bit when they find an uninhabited planet that is full of resources. It turns out, there are plenty of resources, but also a black corrosive ooze that is spreading and destroying the planet. This gunk is one of the main antagonists of the game, and must be vacuumed up or otherwise disposed of to bring back the planet’s naturally healthy ecosystem. To do this, you must make prodigious use of Pumpkin to suck up massive amounts of this ooze, which turns out to be the game’s main feature. And while sucking up gunk in The Gunk is actually a bit satisfying, it’s not enough to compel you through an entire game.

Screenshot: The Gunk

While it is narrative driven, that means The Gunk follows a mostly linear path. Navigate Rani as she goes from point A to point B, activating switches, solving simple puzzles, and vacuuming up lots and lots of gunk. Eventually, the gunk starts spawning enemies that you can dispatch by using your vacuum to dispatch them.

The Gunk is one of those games that gives you a beautiful world you want to explore, and then gives you ledges marked in paint showing you the only location you can lift yourself up—it’s a bit of a bummer.  There is very little going off of the beaten path in The Gunk. But for a game that’s so linear, I found that it had a huge problem with signposting. There were often times I would feel lost, either not knowing which direction to travel, or what I was even supposed to be doing next. Walking down any path in a single direction was enough to unstick me, however, there were a few times were I was running against a dead end convinced it was the way to go—but that was all because of poor guidance.

Screenshot: The Gunk

While there are item upgrades in The Gunk, you come by them with little effort—and they don’t really feel like they upgrade much. Scanning plants in the world nets you more “experience” (for lack of a better word) which eventually allows you to purchase upgrades with materials you collect. These materials are sucked into Rani’s arm, just like the gunk is, making The Gunk feel like even more of a one trick pony.

As such a narratively driven game, The Gunk had a serious chance at redemption with its story. Sadly, the narrative is compelling for its overarching mystery, but falls apart in the third act, once the curtain starts to get pulled back. My favorite part of the story was the relationship between Becks and Rani, but even that couldn’t save The Gunk from being a letdown. Strangely, The Gunk’s epilogue is shown in a series of still images that look a lot like a storyboard for an epilogue that never went into animation.

Screenshot: The Gunk

The Gunk is a charming game with pretty visuals, however, it just doesn’t have a story or mechanics enough to make it anything special. It’s the ultimate sort of disappointment when a game comes extremely close to being good, and The Gunk falls short of that mark. If you want a quick, linear story game, The Gunk might scratch that itch—but there are so many other single player, narratively driven adventure games that came out this year, it’s hard to recommend The Gunk over any of those.

 

The Gunk is available now for PC via Windows and for Xbox Series X|S.

 

 

 

A Windows/Xbox key was provided to us for this review.

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