For the past decade or so, we’ve gotten to know Swedish developer Image & Form through their excellent SteamWorld games, which have graced nearly every system out there. Now part of Thunderful along with Zoink (who released Lost in Random this year), they’re making the switch to 3D with The Gunk. It’s an Xbox and PC exclusive for now, so we tried it out on an Xbox Series X console.
Rani and Becks are the stars of The Gunk, a story about intergalactic scavengers looking to find previous resources on a new planet. Their mission, where you control Rani, quickly take a strange turn though, as the planet appears overgrown with a mysterious alien substance. Over the course of a relatively short adventure (clocking in at just under five hours) you find out more about what happened here, also stumbling upon traces of a seemingly lost civilization in the process.
The narrative has been well developed, and doesn’t just focus on what happens on the planet. Rani and Becks also regularly show that they have personalities, backgrounds and histories of their own that are just as much a part of the story. This makes their adventure a joy to play through and is part of why The Gunk feels like a short experience – but much in the same sense that a great three hour movie also feels much shorter than that.
The gameplay itself is a mix of platforming and puzzling – which often includes another major gameplay elements in cleaning up the weird alien substance, referred to (of course) as Gunk. You do this by vacuuming it up, and the end result is that the area you’re cleaning stops looking dark and drab and regains some of its former color and splendor. The audiovisual delivery matches the (fully voiced) narrative delivery here, with a high degree of polish and verticality that provides a sense of scale for a small explorer on a giant planet. And while this is the developer’s first foray into 3D, you still see echoes of their world in SteamWorld through the use of luminescent scenery that literally and figuratively shines in next gen.
Underneath that exterior, however, the gameplay – from the platforming to the puzzles and combat – is fairly generic in nature. It’s nicely polished, but at the end of the five hour narrative it’s the story that you’ll remember most – not the gameplay, which despite the intriguing setting mostly feels familiar and comfortable to breeze through within a single sitting or weekend.
The Gunk was released at a budget price point though, and is fully worth the asking price. It’s an enjoyable sci-fi romp with an impactful story, a polished audiovisual delivery and slightly generic but very easy to digest gameplay.