“But what is the life of one Race, compared to the vast stretches of cosmic time? We knew one day we would be gone, that nothing of us would survive. So, we left you…” – Ancient Hologram, Star Trek TNG
- Developer: Image & Form Games
- Released: 29th April 2022
- Price: $24.99
- Very good art direction and visuals deliver a solid rendition of an alien world.
- Passable soundtrack that emphasizes some moments well enough.
- Decent gameplay that stays enjoyable until the end, despite its unevolving nature.
- Forgettable characters paired with a clichèd story.
- Very low challenge makes both exploration and combat generally trivial.
- Character progression feels redundant and not really a big change at any point.
Bugs & Issues
- Elevators may become invisible on rare occasions.
- Huge performance drops in a specific location.
- Distortion effects like Aberration, Distance Blur and more can’t be toggled.
- 32GB RAM
Content & Replay Value
It took me about 6 hours to finish The Gunk, taking extra time to explore, scan objects and unlock most upgrades. Given its linear content, replayability is very low: there’s no reason to do another run once completed.
Is It Worth Buying?
Yeah, but not at the full price of 25$/€. The content offered is rather limited compared to the price and its quality: while decent, it doesn’t really warrant a purchase without discount. I recommend waiting for at least 25% off.
Competently-made and enjoyable as it may be, The Gunk often also feels generic and insipid both gameplay and story-wise. Not a bad game by any means, not great either: such middle ground may be passable for some, perhaps not good enough for the more demanding players.
The Gunk – In-Depth Analysis
Premise, Setting & Writing
A duo of space-faring adventurers, Rani and her friend Tara (?) (forgot her name already, that’s how unremarkable she was…), happened upon a seemingly untouched planet, ripe for exploration and all kinds of novel discoveries. Soon enough Rani, in charge of on-site operations, finds out about a strange substance quickly dubbed The Gunk, which seems to be siphoning energy from the planet’s ecosystem. With a half-wrecked ship in need of repairs and a mystery to solve, the duo, alongside the ship’s robotic cook, delves deeper into a planet that may not be so uninhabited… after all.
Despite verdant landscapes that contrast well with the poisoned, grey-scaled areas infested by the Gunk and competent art direction, this title falls flat on both narrative and character development. On one side you have a run-of-the-mill, stereotyped sci-fi trope recycled a million times before, one the other a main duo that never really stands out for neither personality nor charisma. The other characters found along the adventure are sideshows at best, even more unremarkable, with forgettable and uninspired dialogues. The story events, despite involving planet-wide consequences, never feel grandiose or epic at any point due to boring narration – it does the job, but nothing more than that.
Even if it’s a game that tries hard on story focus, that proves to be one of its weakest components: so much more could’ve been accomplished with the setting at hand.
Playing as Rani, you’ll be tasked with exploring the planet to find out more about The Gunk’s origin, while also studying the ecology and properties of various locations. Mainly, you’ll be going through platforming sections that feature fixed or moving obstacles, simple jumping puzzles and of course, Gunk infestations that need clearing out, harmful to the touch and sometimes featuring hostile creatures (more on that later). For that purpose the Vacuum Glove is paramount, enabling you to absorb the foul substance, restoring each self-contained area’s ecology once all of the waste is gone.
This enables plants to regrow, unlocking both resources to acquire, that translate into upgrades for your hardware using the ship’s workbench, and research material that is used to unlock the upgrades themselves; the more new stuff you scan, the more craftable modules you’ll unlock. These range from utilities such as better vacuum range, to all-new tools like the Decoy used to distract enemies, or various upgrades to make your life easier in combat.
While each area contains some small side-areas with extra crafting materials or the odd “out of the beaten path” research article, the game’s level design is largely linear, subdivided in zones you can return to at any time via a convenient fast-travel system unlocked not too far into the story. There are no major secrets, side areas, worthwhile backtracking or anything else to discover: exploration proves limited in scope. From time to time you’ll be able to return to the ship, and engage in brief dialogues with the NPCs present there, that however provide nothing more than listless exchanges.
The main issue of the general gameplay loop, is that it never really evolves significantly from start to end: some variations happen and are welcome, however, they never feel critical turning points. Also in this case, The Gunk feels unambitious, premature, not elaborated enough upon.
The Gunk itself is an enemy on its own, at first stationary, then floating around and even actively trying to inglobate Rani and kill her. In addition, the mysterious phlegm also generates creatures hostile to you, ranging from small but still dangerous spawns, to massive, charging hulks that require a bit more strategy to defeat. Also here, the glove will be your primary weapon, enabling you to throw enemies into one another, eradicate fixed turrets and use environmental opportunities like explosive melons (yep, that’s a thing) to obliterate foes.
Enemy variety proves rather low, with just three foes, in addition to the Gunk itself, throughout the game – exceptions made for the final boss. Generally combat difficulty is on the lower side, same goes for exploration mishaps: death is inconsequential, respawning Rani near where she fell or at worst, at a close checkpoint from either a manual or auto-save. Later on the Glove may be upgraded with more tools like a distracting Decoy or a lethal plasma cannon that stuns and kills, however, these don’t really feel needed: you’re already powerful enough as it is, nevermind with most upgrades done. Those seeking even a moderate amount of challenge won’t find it in this game.
Mostly entail using environmental elements to unlock pathways. For instance, seeds can be thrown in special “energy pools” to make plants grow, then acting as platforms, or explosive plants thrown onto debris to clear a path. Some machinery like elevators, rotating platforms and energy conduits will also be present later on, but generally nothing complex, following an “activate once or twice” pattern at most. Even if you’re new to puzzles, you’ll find the proposed enigmas simple enough – challenge and this game aren’t concepts that go along.