The Gunk, our review of the new game by Image & Form



We reviewed The Gunk: after the excellent SteamWorld series, the talented Image & Form throw themselves on a fully three-dimensional title. Will they have done well?

The independent developer ecosystem can seem pretty static at times, but it actually tends to change even faster than the triple-A industry. On the other hand, when you have a team of skilled creatives at your disposal, the path is always the “big leap,” usually with a shift from 2D to 3D or an exponential increase in resources dedicated to production.

Some software houses manage to evolve with an almost disarming naturalness, and yet there are those that fail miserably, even with a respectable pedigree behind them. Similar stumbling blocks usually derive from calculation errors, or from the simple inability to properly evaluate the efforts needed to change a large part of their internal philosophy, an eventuality that is not at all rare if up to that moment they have always chosen to face the work “in small” (or with a structure almost like an extended family).

Even with such difficulties to overcome, however, if a well-known team tries to embark on this tortuous path, expectations are predictably high, as it increases the probability of finding a real gem on their hands. When Image & Form presented The Gunk, therefore, more than one fan raised his antennae, convinced that he could see the talent of the team to which we owe the SteamWorld series explode thanks to an action adventure in three dimensions.

As mentioned above, however, sometimes you bet too much in other things, and a solid mine of talent at the base of a project may not be enough. After completing the game, in fact, we doubt it could be the title capable of making the name of this team of Swedish programmers take off. We explain why in our The Gunk review.

Narrative: in search of energy

The Gunk: the arrival on the planet

The differences between The Gunk and previous works of Image & Form are noticed almost immediately: it is, as mentioned, an action adventure linear and markedly narrative. The game puts you in the shoes of Rani, an expert in space excavations that reaches a mysterious planet with his partner Beck, in search of energy sources and / or riches. Armed with a powerful mechanical arm capable of sucking materials of various kinds, Rani starts to explore the newly discovered world, but waiting for her she finds a green landscape invaded by a strange dark substance – immediately christened Gunk by the girl – that once removed from the way gives way to promising energy explosions and the sudden rebirth of vegetation around. Obviously, the search for the source of all this leads the couple to face something quite different from a simple exploratory expedition.

The Gunk: the blob leaves behind only desolation

As you may have guessed, we are faced with a fairly malleable premise, which can be developed in many interesting ways. The Gunk, however, although very driven by its plot, does not particularly shine for dialogue or characterization of the characters and overall never manages to exalt. Throughout the campaign in fact, the story gives the impression of being more of a justification for advancing than a real support of the experience, and there is no shortage of heavy naivety in the writing. Nothing terrible, for heaven’s sake, however, the title would undoubtedly gain from a little ‘more effort in this area, since it is far from lacking in other aspects.

You can in fact easily pass over a narrative not excellent if the gameplay leaves you speechless, however, in The Gunk the choices made by the developers are not always the best.

Structure and gameplay: a lot of slime. Even too much.

The Gunk: the vegetation is colorful to say the least

If you go to analyze the structure of the game actually does not find anything particularly wrong: The Gunk is a sort of “mock exploratory title” in which three-dimensional maps have obvious forks put there mainly to solve some extra puzzles and get additional resources. The materials recovered by deviating from the recommended route are then used to upgrade Rani’s glove in various ways and make life easier in dangerous situations.

The problem lies in the ease of the puzzles and the even excessive linearity of the progression: the campaign has very simple puzzles and an all too obvious path for progression for at least three quarters of the duration; things get slightly complicated only in the final phase, and even in that specific case getting stuck for more than a dozen seconds in front of a puzzle is a rarity. Just to let you know how much of a challenge the game is: we were only really stuck a couple of times during the adventure; both were not due to abstruse puzzles, but to bugs that forced us to restart the last checkpoint to activate platforms that hadn’t started.

The Gunk: the fights are more of an annoyance than anything else

The battles against some monsters in the title do not change much the situation: they are enemies little varied by very simple patterns, which are mostly a nuisance while you resolve the various situations in which Rani is entangled (their general difficulty is lowered as soon as you get some specific upgrades). To further weaken the whole, then, we put just the Gunk: a slime scattered everywhere to be constantly cleaned up in order to reach the next areas.

The elimination of such a blob in itself is not bad: the effect of sucking the glove of Rani is visually very pleasant and clean up three-dimensional maps is almost relaxing most of the time. The overall pace, however, is even too slow, and the need to clear these dark clusters from the path all the time only lowers it further, leading to some stages (especially the initial ones, given the ease) boring.

Technical aspect and judgment: lemon soft

The Gunk: in an alien structure

Let’s be clear, even with all the criticisms just described this is not really a bad video game. The Gunk works, does not last very long and does its dirty work by offering some flashes of fun and intelligence here and there. The problem is its generally mediocre quality, which certainly are not enough a handful of successful moments to lift.

This general level “just enough”, however, is also found in the technical sector, where outside of the effects related to Gunk that we have previously described there is really little of note to speak of. The three-dimensional models of maps and characters are nice, but far from being superlative, the animations are woody and art direction is dull. In general, the most annoying thing were some bugs: some minor – such as platforms that become “solid” slightly late, or hiccups in the physics engine – others significantly more critical, such as those that forced us a few times to reset. Many of these bugs if anything seem known, so it is plausible that the team will eliminate them with the first patches.

The one element that stands out? The soundtrack. The sound design of the game is remarkable, and accompanies the events with absolutely apt sounds, moving from incredibly relaxing music during the quiet phases, to more tense moments clearly underlined by melodies more hostile and disturbing. From the team at the reins of this work, however, we really expected much more.

Comment

It would be unfair to call The Gunk a false step for Image & Form. Overall it is a sufficient title, marred by a pace too compassionate (although at times relaxing) and a progression too guided. From this team, however, we expected a significantly better starting point for a transition to a “second phase” more full of ambition. Too bad, but there is time to overcome and translate the talent demonstrated in the past in three dimensions.

PRO

  • Overall, it’s a fairly enjoyable title that doesn’t last longer than it should
  • Eliminating Gunk is relaxing at times
  • Excellent sound design
  • Mediocre or barely sufficient in far too many respects
  • Rhythm problems
  • A few too many annoying bugs
  • Have you noticed any errors?
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