The Gunk Review – Alien ambience

Reviewed December 19, 2021 on PC

Platforms:

Xbox One, PC, Xbox Series X

Released:

December 16, 2021

Publisher:

Thunderful Publishing

Developer:

Image & Form

With a name like The Gunk, I really didn’t know what to expect. Upon first hearing the name, my eyebrow cocked and my head turned; what on earth could this game be about? As a primarily PlayStation gamer, it is rare I keep super up-to-date with the happenings on Xbox and PC. However, with 2021 being an absolute banger of a year in the Microsoft space, I am glad I found time to spend with titles such as this. The Gunk is a comfy, cosy, weirdly whimsical little jaunt on an alien planet that takes cues from mid-2000s era platformers, modern survival games, and simple puzzlers, bundling it into a tidy package that’s a joy to experience.

The Gunk is bought to us by Image & Form Games, the studio behind the Steamworld series. It’s the studio’s first foray into a 3D-based title, and for the most part, they have done a bangin’ job of it. Competent platforming, a sense of discovery and wonder in each new environment, and giving in-engine cutscenes a red-hot go, the studio has proven that they are more than just a stellar 2D house.

“The fundamental joy of playing the game is in the easygoing quiet moments – checking out some whacky looking plants, scanning them with the Power Glove, and extracting materials…”

The Gunk operates on a simple loop: explore, loot, clean up the titular Gunk, and find a new thread to follow. It’s barebones, but it works; quaint, unassuming, and respects the player’s time. Indies and small budget games often swing between overlong and repetitive, or too short and forgettable. I feel that The Gunk comfortably sits in the middle alongside other wonderful titles like Journey, Oxenfree, and Gone Home. The fundamental joy of playing the game is in the easygoing quiet moments – checking out some whacky looking plants, scanning them with the Power Glove, and extracting materials to upgrade your gear. Basic stuff, but dialled in just right to make the seeming monotony enjoyable.

It helps that the small cast of The Gunk consists of two very likable crew members in Rani, the playable character, and Becks, your radio contact and other human companion on the journey. Also along for the journey is the hulking handy-in-any-situation robot Curt, who helps keep things in the campsite running and offers some light comic relief with his beeps and boops. The Gunk keeps things light, with story and plot playing second fiddle to the visually striking world the game is set in.

Indeed, the backstory to The Gunk is very simple and given to the player in bite-sized chunks of conversation between Rani and Becks. The duo is a pair of space junkers on the search for their big haul to finally pull themselves out of poverty and into the life of luxury they dream of. The planet they’ve landed on seems untouched by modern society, and as such provides the opportunity for Rani and Becks to get first dibs on the bounty and potential riches to be found. Adding to this sense of tranquillity and nature-in-preservation is the calm and soothing score, which dances gently through your ears as you wander about the world of The Gunk. The ambient sounds of the environments only add to the serenity, with trickling rivers and the gentle breezes brushing through the leaves decorating the sonic soundscape.

“…I couldn’t help but feel that The Gunk could exist as a narrative-based DLC for a big survival game like No Man’s Sky, or Ark: Survival Evolved”

Playing through the game, I couldn’t help but feel that The Gunk could exist as a narrative-based DLC for a big survival game like No Man’s Sky, or Ark: Survival Evolved. Rich, vibrant worlds with resources to collect, analyse, and utilise to craft gear and upgrades to aid in your journey. I think this frames expectations for the game nicely; I wouldn’t suggest coming to The Gunk expecting a sprawling campaign and branching tech-trees or upgrade paths. Complexity is lightly dripped in as you move through the game’s 9 chapters, with puzzles becoming slightly more difficult, and some light combat thrown in to keep things fresh.

Of course, nothing is perfect, and The Gunk has a couple of minor flaws that stood out enough for note. First and foremost, the cutscene animations are fairly low-standard; facial animations and movement of the character models is janky and unpolished, and in my opinion, should have been cut completely. Think Dark Souls and Bloodborne – plenty of character interactions, but the designers opted against facial animations and mouth movements and it is all the better for it. A similar approach in The Gunk would have been ideal.

Secondly, I encountered several instances of falling through the environment and platforms not loading in properly. This became especially frustrating when completing puzzles that require creating new platforms, but those platforms glitch out and are unable to be climbed. A hard reset of the game was the only solution I found to this particularly annoying issue.

7

Good

Positive:

  • Visually stunning world to play in
  • Small and likeable cast of characters
  • Soothing musical score

Negative:

  • Some frustating, progress-halting bugs
  • So relaxed and chill that some may find it boring
  • Poor facial animations and character model movement in cutscenes

I really, really enjoyed my time with The Gunk; a fleetingly brief experience that left me feeling tranquil and at peace. It is rare a game can have an effect like that on me – what with the smorgasbord of violent games and intensity on offer around every corner. Do not let the quirky name put you off, The Gunk is more than deserving of a play during a lazy summer (or winter for you northern hemisphere dwelling folk) afternoon. Bugs and minor flaws do prove to be an inconvenience, although Image & Form Games have still managed to deliver a solid 3D platformer that’s worth a look.