Since it was originally announced during the Xbox Series X Games Showcase in July 2020 there has been a lot of anticipation regarding the release of the Gunk. Although it was scheduled to launch in September of this year it is only now becoming available, just in time for the holiday season.
Not a lot has been known about the game itself apart from what could be gleaned from a few short trailers and that it will be available to Xbox Game Pass subscribers on day one of its release. Are you ready to strap on a Power Glove and suck up some pulsating parasitic black slime? I thought so, lets make like Freddie Mercury with a hoover and break free in the XboxEra review of The Gunk.
In the beginning we find a couple (in all senses of the word) of female scavengers arriving at an unknown planet looking for energy sources to exploit in order to pay off their considerable debts. Becks, the Crocs wearing Pilot of a ship known as ‘Bunny’ is the sensible one and Rani is a free spirited inquisitive individual.
We learn that Rani lost half of her arm in a mining accident and now wears what is known as a ‘Power Glove’ in its place. This piece of tech is affectionately known as ‘Pumpkin’ and has multiple practical uses. It functions as a scanner to identify the flora and fauna of the planet, has a hoover action to suck up useful resources, a light to see in the dark and can be adapted to include a pulse cannon. The third member of the crew is known as Curt. He is a robot with a very novel way of wearing a Trucker’s cap and a memorable catchphrase.
Once they have managed to land the ship, Rani sets off to explore and comes across an entity that is polluting the planet which she christens ‘The Gunk’. This looks like a giant bunch of black grapes that writhes, multiplies and sometimes floats around. Handily, sucking up the gunk with Pumpkin and clearing an area entirely, not only uncovers a source of energy that our heroes can exploit but also allows the local plant life to recover.
Working her way through various Biomes (and there are several, such as deep mines, canyons, desert wastelands and jungle) Rani comes across the ruins of an alien civilisation and eventually a pod containing a living member of this forgotten race. After rescuing him from his lengthy captivity she learns about a character known as the Gardener who is responsible for the current state of the planet. She then sets off to clean up the gunk and save the rest of the alien population, even if this course of action is directly against the wishes of her partner.
Described as a story driven action adventure this is primarily a third-person 3D platformer with puzzle elements. The main story is intertwined with the relationship between the main protagonists and allows them to learn as much about each other as they learn about their surroundings and the situation that they are in.
The art style has a slightly hazy, pastel shades look about it so things seem to be slightly rounded off and nothing is crystal clear to the eye. The musical soundtrack is described by the developer Thunderful Games as soothing and I have to agree with this. Sound design within the game is spot on and I have to mention how much I loved hoovering up metal resources. Not only do they look great, like cubes of metal in a giant blob of solder but when sucked up the sound they make is just about perfect for that situation. If you play the game, you will understand what I mean.
Exploring each biome, it is essential to scan everything new that you come across. If an item is identified it is added to a notebook for future reference. Successfully scanning different types of items unlocks various upgrades which can be applied on the ship back at the landing zone. Asset scavenging during the course of the story is generally necessary in order to apply these upgrades to Rani’s equipment and when I say this, I mostly mean power glove. If you do not have the required number of assets, Metal, Organic, fibre etc. when you attempt this you are unable to apply them. Having this continuous need to return to base, it is fortunate that fast travel markers can be placed between different biomes.
Now what have we here?
There are other reasons for scavenging local flora such as that certain seeds can be thrown into exposed energy pools to create giant fungi staircases allowing vertical navigation and a fruit known as a Mulligan Melon becomes explosive when picked and can be used to destroy patches of gunk from a distance or clear metal debris that is blocking an exit.
As well as running and jumping Rani is able to climb up and down certain types of vines and any climbable surface is signposted by yellow lichen in a style similar to the Tomb Raider series.
The bulk of the gameplay consists of navigating through each location cleaning up all of the Gunk that you come across and platforming in order to overcome environmental puzzles generally involving ancient alien technology. A lot of this technology (particularly doors) relies on massive energy bursts to operate it so it is handy having an energy cannon once that upgrade is available to you. The gunk itself impedes a lot of the control points for this tech so you have to work out how to cleanse and heal the area in order to access them.
Other hazards that require dealing with or avoiding are alien species corrupted by and protecting the gunk. ‘Gunk drippers’ are suspended from ceilings and drip acidic gunk on your head, while ‘Gunk spitters’ are like fixed cannons firing balls of hazardous gunk at you until you can sneak up and tear them out of the ground. There is also a ‘Gunk Bull’ that will continuously charge you until you have destroyed them or caused them to fall off the platform that they are defending.
Are there any exploding alien gunk beasts protecting the gunk? I hear you cry, let’s just say there might be….
What can we take from this?
The main message I took away from the Gunk is that humans are destroying the Earth by exploiting its resources as we see fit and creating by-products that cause great environmental damage. The Gardener himself references this, indicating that even alien races can see what we are doing to our home planet even if we cannot. The relationship between Rani and Becks fluctuates between good and very bad but maybe gives us hope that damaged things can be repaired by the end of the story. It is quite refreshing that messages of this type can now be found within Indie games and indicates just how important they are becoming as both an art form and a way of spreading knowledge.
In terms of accessibility the game does not offer anything above and beyond what you would normally expect from a typical game of this type.
At one point Rani states that the Gunk seems to be more aware of her presence without her mask on when she has broken it. This seemed a bit odd to me as I had noticed how little she actually wears the mask throughout the game even though she looks coolest when she is wearing it.
I found a couple of places where I got stuck were down to a glitch where a tiny amount of gunk had yet to be cleaned up but was not visible to me on the screen. After wandering back and forth in frustration I eventually randomly hoovered the area and suddenly everything around me was healed allowing me to see a way forward. This was frustrating as the puzzles themselves tend to be designed at a nice relaxing level of difficulty.
There also appear to be a few achievement glitches as I carried out thirteen upgrades during my playthrough but failed to get the achievement for applying five. These are fairly minor issues though and should hopefully be fixed by release day.
All Cleaned Up
The Gunk is a fun to play story based adventure platformer with puzzle elements. The voice acting is very good with performances that really expressed the emotion of the lead characters. It has an unusual graphical style that works well with the soothing music and chilled out difficulty of the puzzles. An interesting world has been created here by Thunderful Games and it is well worth checking out on day one via Xbox Game Pass.
I must admit though, after seven hours I had certainly had enough of hoovering up gunk and was very glad to have cleansed the planet of it.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC|
|Release Date||December 16th, 2021|
|Developer||Image & Form International AB|