Image & Form International was a Swedish studio famous for giving birth to the series SteamWorld, composed of various titles including excellent adventure games SteamWorld Dig And SteamWorld Dig 2.
- PC, XONE, XSX
- Exit date:
- December 16, 2021
In 2020, the studio merged with another Swedish team, Zoink (Stick if to the Man !, Fe), to give life to Thunderful Development; the first project of the software house under this name was announced in the same year, The Gunk, and represented their first attempt to land in the world of three dimensions.
There was a lot of anticipation around this new work, especially to see if the developers would be comfortable with the transition to 3D. Today, finally, we have the opportunity to talk to you in detail about The Gunk, available on Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S And PC, available immediately for Xbox Game Pass subscribers. Small spoiler: if you are, run to start the download even before reading the review and forget the final vote. Trust me.
The story of The Gunk it is quite simple: le adventure (and work) companions Becks and Rani arrive on an alien planet with the aim of collecting local resources and plants. What should be a short stop gets longer when Rani begins to explore the planet: on it, in fact, Rani encounters a substance road, which he calls Gunk.
Gunk is a term that has no direct equivalent in Italian, but in English it indicates a slimy, sticky substance, with a markedly derogatory annotation. An appropriate name for the parasitic substance found by Rani, who seems to be sucking the lifeblood of the planet itself, depriving the local flora and fauna of its vitality.
Fortunately, Rani is equipped with a particular glove capable of sucking up what is in front of it, and it also appears to be effective in removing the so-called Gunk, returning the planet to its original state.
Rani takes to heart the situation of the planet and therefore decides to continue his exploration, but this gradually leads to one rift in his relationship with Becks, the mind of the duo – colder and more cynical, in some ways – whose main intent remains simply to get off the planet with the resources they were looking for.
The science fiction setting and space exploration, therefore, envelop the human drama that exists between the two protagonists, whose personalities are deepened during the journey. The Gunk manages to perfectly combine two types of storytelling: on the one hand the wonderful and fantastic of the journey, on the other the more intimate one of the protagonists’ emotions.
With the necessary differences, the game reminded us of the immortal chapters of Metroid Prime, for the way in which he was able to make a space journey something intimate, which managed to touch us deeply and make us feel the vicissitudes of our protagonist up close.
If the story, therefore, is enjoyable and interesting, even without reaching particular qualitative or original peaks, it is the adventurous atmosphere that in The Gunk is the master.
In creating this atmosphere, of course, a fundamental role is played by the technical sector. Given the budget of the game and the fact that this is the studio’s first experience with a 3D title, The Gunk he defends himself really well, thanks to one decidedly inspired art direction who knows how to offer numerous imaginative glimpses during the adventure.
We have tried to capture some of these moments in the screenshots we provide as an outline for this review but it’s really hard to do justice to aesthetic pleasantness of The Gunk. The game is also perfectly stable, and we never noticed any slowdowns whatsoever during our test, which took place on the Xbox Series X. As far as we could see, however, it also performs very well on the Xbox Series S.
The audio sector is also excellent, made up of atmospheric tracks capable of underlining and increasing the sense of adventure and exploration experienced during gaming sessions. Don’t take our word for it, retrieve the tracks and listen to them with headphones, with your eyes closed: the effect will be simply wonderful.
Healing the lost paradise
We now come to gameplay from The Gunk. Basically, we are faced with a third-person adventure, with some platforming and puzzle game touches. A genre that actually does not depopulate on Xbox, and which enriches the variety of the Ultimate Game Pass proposal. As Rani, we will have to explore the mysterious alien planet with the aim of freeing it from the parasitic Gunk, which, as mentioned, seems to suck the lifeblood from the flora and fauna of the place.
To do this, we will be able to count on Rani’s paraphernalia, which basically consists of two main objects: on the one hand, we have a scanner that will allow us to study all the plants and animals on the planet, collecting their data in a travel diary that we can consult at any time; on the other hand, we will have a peculiar glove capable of sucking anything into itself he happens to be within range, including Gunk, the muddy substance that permeates various areas of the planet.
The whole adventure revolves around these two mechanics: we will also find ourselves facing simple environmental puzzles and facing rather basic clashes, always resorting to the use of the glove, mostly. Despite the little variety of actions available, sucking in the Gunk and seeing the planet return to normal is still very satisfying, as is analyzing all forms of life on the planet.
As we said, however, the key element of the game is exploration. After a short prologue, we will finally have access to Rani and Becks’ spaceship, which will serve as the central hub for our adventure. We will have to return here often for both storyline events and to take advantage of the many upgrades available for Rani and her paraphernalia.
Also in this case, this role-playing breath is not excessively deepened, and the improvements are rather accessory in the general perspective of the adventure; nevertheless, they still manage to encourage exploration in search of materials (which can be sucked in thanks to Rani’s glove).
From the spaceship we can then move around the planet, following one actually linear progression: we will not be able to go where we want, because there will be only one path available at a time. Moving forward, however, we will gain access to more and more areas, which are obviously interconnected with each other.
The game mechanics, as you can see, are quite simple, and The Gunk does not hide particular tricks up its sleeve to show off in the advanced stages of the adventure. Adventure which, in fact, is also rather short: We are talking about about 4-5 hours of gameplay. This short duration allows you to not show the limits of The Gunk: The lack of in-depth mechanics and real variety in gameplay would have made itself felt by increasing the hours of play.
By doing so, instead, The Gunk manages to give a short but emotionally intense adventure, thanks to the sublime atmosphere we talked about in the first paragraph. On the gameplay profile, of course, much more could have been done: The Gunk “Is satisfied” to propose some rather basic mechanics, without making a mistake but without even trying to deepen them or propose something new.
In short, we are certainly not facing a Breath of the Wild. Nonetheless, our advice is to give at least a chance to The Gunk, because in its simplicity it has been able to captivate and bewitch us for this handful of hours of play. A small pearl, in our opinion, and above all an excellent starting point for the future of the Swedish studio, which has shown that it still has a lot to say.
Version reviewed: Xbox Series X
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