The Gunk Review – PC

Any time a developer ventures into a new genre there is some optimism mixed with a collective holding of breath. Breaking away from their 2D platforming roots, developer Image & Form has set out to make their mark in 3D platforming. The Gunk is a fun action-adventure platformer with some interesting story beats and characters, but overall it feels more like a proof of concept and less like a full game.

The Gunk follows the space-junking couple, Rani and Becks, as they descend upon an untouched planet in search of resources. They discover the world is overrun with a sludge-like substance called gunk and set out to discover the source of the pollution. Rani explores the planet solo, but Becks is always in her ear, chiming in about whatever is going on. The couple really is the heart of the story. Rani and Becks feel like a real couple, talking about real things, like the stress of working with a loved one, the pressures of sharing debt in a relationship, or how one partner’s defining trait could be the other partner’s burden. As I explored the planet, I found myself more drawn to the relationship than anything else going on.

Rani is equipped with a Power Glove that she uses to suck up the gunk, fight enemies, and collect resources. With an area clear of gunk and enemies, plant life returns to normal and opens a new path for you to explore. Toss in a few environmental puzzles and you have the basic gameplay loop of The Gunk. It’s fun sucking up the gunk and looking for ways to deal with enemies, but I found myself hoping for new challenges that never came as I got into the later parts of the game. Accessing some areas would require an upgrade to your Power Glove, but between an easy to use fast travel system and a large abundance of resources, you’ll never be wandering around wondering what you need to do next.

There are ten total Power Glove upgrades across the game. They unlock as you progress through the story, but beside a gadget that lures enemies to it, and a pulse beam that opens doors and stuns enemies, there didn’t seem to be much difference to the gameplay after most upgrades. One upgrade increases the field of your glove’s vacuum, another gives you a boost of speed after sucking up gunk, but I honestly could not tell if there were any tangible benefits in the case of either upgrade. I was hoping for a few more new gadgets as the game started to throw new blends of enemies at me later in the campaign but was left wanting more.

Another place lacking in variety are the enemies, of which there are only three. Things ramp up in later encounters with blends of enemies, but with so few to choose from there are only so many ways the game can throw them at you. Early chapters introduce some native wildlife and drones, which I thought would be corrupted by the gunk at some point, but nothing of the like ever unfolds.

That is the biggest issue with The Gunk, this world doesn’t feel alive. The few encounters with inhabitants are used to drive the plot forward and nothing more. You stumble upon ruins and cities, but they don’t really feel lived in. This is most apparent when compared to the dialogue exchanges between Rani and Becks. Each word has weight, and you feel like you’ve just stumbled upon a couple in the middle of an argument. The issues Becks brings up aren’t the first time these two are discussing these issues. The world offers nothing in comparison.

Don’t get me wrong, the world is beautiful and the mix of wilderness and ancient ruins will have you stopping to take in the view from time to time. There’s enough variety to keep your interest between the biomes with the mix of forests, caves, deserts, and industrial areas that we’ve come to expect in games like this. But all of that is surface level. Aside from monuments of worship, I never got a feel for the world or the individuals who call it home.

While it’s not readily available online at the moment, I want to shine a light on the amazing soundtrack. Numerous tracks give players a sense of wonder and exploration. A standout out from the OST lays out some smooth saxophone notes (eliciting the Halo 3: ODST hub music) as you search for a way through the gunk and across a river.

The big bad of the story is a visionary that the world’s population worships. Think like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. It’s a cautionary tale about hero worship and the chaos that follows after handing the keys of the world to the rich. As you’ve probably already guessed, The Gunk comments on a population’s strain on resources and the global effects of pollution. The issue with this is that the core gameplay undermines those story beats, with players sucking up every resource they come across to upgrade their Power Glove. Rani and Becks are there to mine the planet for resources, but even after they discover the source of the gunk and vow to stop it, the player can still collect resources.

At $25 I would recommend those with Game Pass check it out there. I was able to beat the campaign in less than four hours, all while exploring alternate routes and looking for collectibles. In replayability there isn’t much new to see for a second go around.

The Gunk is the start of Image & Form diversifying and getting their feet wet in a new genre, but the lack of variety across the board and the short completion time make it the truest definition of a “Game Pass game”. With its completion I am excited to see where the dev team goes next. I just hope they dive in head first, instead of just dipping a toe.

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