LifeisXbox’s The Gunk review | Image & Form Games ain’t no stranger for most gamers, this Swedish developer is quite known for the highly-rated Steamworld series. In 2020 Microsoft announced The Gunk at the Xbox Series X Games Showcase. This is the studio’s first 3D game and fully exclusive for the Xbox platform. I think I can say that this is the most ambitious game that the studio has ever done.
In case you didn’t check the score yet, I’m giving The Gunk a 100%! That ambitious game is leaving one hell of an impression on me. I’m not the one who easily throws with maximum scores so this is very rare. No game is perfect, even The Gunk has things that could be better but it left me with such a fascinating feeling and I absolutely loved every single thing about it. After finishing it I immediately started replaying it for a second time, because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Rani.
If someone asks me the question, what is your game of the year for 2021? My answer would be The Gunk.
ℹ️ Reviewed on Xbox Series X | Review code provided by PR/publisher, this review is the personal opinion from the writer.
What we liked!
- Bringing the world back to life | Rani and Beck land on a planet hoping to find valuable resources. Rather quickly they discover mysterious black gunk that sucks the life out of the environment, resulting in depressing greyish visuals. When Rani removes all of that black sticky stuff the area comes back to life in a beautiful colourful way. The magical and gratifying feeling you get seeing plants and flowers get revitalised never grows old. There are so many alien biomes too, more than I hoped for. There’s also something emotional about the whole thing. Throughout the game, I regularly started to link the alien world without very own planet Earth. While The Gunk doesn’t bring this message on purpose I couldn’t help but feel connections with humanity’s way of destroying the planet and the blackish gunk. When you cleaned the environment from the gunk you often use plantlife to proceed in fun platforming puzzles. Throwing seeds to grow mushrooms so you can jump to unreachable places, The Gunk is a linear game but with enough secrets to encourage exploring.
- Refreshing gameplay | What makes the gameplay from The Gunk good? First, we need to understand the essentials of fun gameplay. What makes something fun? An important reason is having a rewarding feeling. Here is where The Gunk shines, it constantly rewards the player for cleaning up the black goo. A gameplay loop so addictive that I finished The Gunk in one sitting, twelve hours of pure joy. Sucking up the goo with Rani’s glove, discovering craft materials by bringing the world back to life and solving easy platforming puzzles and combat setpieces felt like they reinvented the platform genre. Carefully read my ‘felt like’ words though, as the gameplay is actually pretty basic but the unique mix of everything that The Gunk has to offer makes it so fascinating.
- Combat isn’t difficult so it doesn’t interfere with the relaxing gameplay | Eventually sucking up the goo becomes a bit harder as the Gunk blocks your view in narrow environments but it also spawns natural defences like cute little monsters, turret shooting flowers or even bigger surprises. Overcoming these dangers aren’t really challenging but they are fun enough to change things up a bit. They carefully balanced the limited combat so players don’t get a hard wake-up call, it was important that the relaxing gameplay stayed intact. There’s no melee fighting or anything, all enemies are defeated by using your sucking glove.
- Astonishing art style | We just had insane visual experiences on Xbox from Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite and now comes along a game from a developer with around twenty employees that nailed the art style so incredibly well. The textures might not be as crisp and the characters might lack a few facial details but damn, everything in The Gunk looks freaking outrageously good. Going from the lifeless goo environments to lush and colourful places is extremely well designed. Near the end, you get to see a part of the planet where the gunk really drained and took over and here you really see the developers talent to create a memorable visual experience.
- Ratvader’s soundtrack and atmosphere sound in The Gunk | The good visuals are accompanied by an even better atmosphere sound and a brilliant soundtrack from Ratvader. It’s like the music is Rani’s glove as it totally sucked me into the adventure. The Gunk’s audio is my personal highlight for 2021, from voice-acting, effect sounds, music and atmosphere. Everything hits perfect notes!
- Conversations with Beck | Radio chatter between Rani and Beck is a highlight in The Gunk. At first, it is a great way to learn more about the history between the two, often with a comical note. Along the way, it becomes clear that the two don’t see eye to eye with what is happening. Rani’s curiosity to discover more and more starts to annoy the more realistic Beck. Lots of things happen in this story-driven experience and the great dialogue between the characters help deliver it. Crucial with this dialogue is the excellent voice actors, Fiona Nova for Rani and Abigail Turner for Beck. They’re really the stars of the game, especially Fiona’s believable performance. There is this standout moment in the game where Rani loses hope and faces something very tough, that particular moment was so well done in terms of gameplay, atmosphere and from the voice actor that it still gives me goosebumps.
- Mysterious story and world continuously motivate the player to continue | What precisely is that gunk that leeches the planet? Where does it come from? What about the planet where Rani and Beck landed? Is that gunk sentient? Does the planet have other intelligent life? Developer Image & Form games have done some superb storytelling here. Told in a natural way with radio chatter and by experiencing it firsthand with Rani.
- Rough animations but they get the job done | One thing that could have been done a bit better are the animations. Sometimes Rani’s started to float when you jumped against walls and seeing some of the movements in cutscenes is a bit rough around the edges. I did like the visible personality while running with the protagonist. She has this cute way of running around that clearly fits the atmosphere of the game.
What we disliked
- Nothing | Can we please get more The Gunk content?
How long to beat the story | An average of 12 hours
How long to achieve 1000G | A few missable Achievements but you can earn everything in one playthrough.
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