Really good retro games usually work a bit like distorted memories, I sometimes think. They convince us on glorious but false premises that it was better in the past by hiding modern day elements behind masks of nostalgia. Just look at clearly retro-influenced, fantastic games like Huntdown, The Messenger, Doom (2016), Hotline Miami and so on. These titles make me feel like I travelled back to my childhood and that everything is as simple and good as I imagine it was then. No strangeness and no intricacies, just the pure joy of playing.
But of course, that is not true. The greater proportion of games from the early and mid-90s are hopelessly outdated today, and the above-mentioned retro games all might be masterpieces, but they are a false representation of what games of that era were like.
Really bad retro-inspired games, on the other hand, are those that seem to have misunderstood what the whole concept really means. It's not about purely repeating the past, but about delivering new and initiative takes on older concepts. Serious Sam is an excellent example of this, Necromunda: Hired Gun another. Let me explain why.
After a fat, steam-punk intro sequence, I am placed in the role of mercenary, get a weapon in my hands and shoot myself through the training ground. It immediately oozes old-school shooters like Quake, Unreal and Doom (2016) and it also has a feel of recent' "looter shooters." It contains fast-paced action, arena-like maps, loads of enemies, brutal melee executions with a simple keystroke and ... loot. Still, something feels wrong. Somewhat chafing, but I have a hard time putting my finger on what it's about.
Within the game's hub world there are opportunities to talk to characters, take on new missions, buy and upgrade my weapons, armour and abilities between missions. Funnily enough, it is not in the actual main elements of the game - the battles - that I understand where the fault lies, but it is here in the hub world that the insight comes creeping.
First, I push myself through a couple of conversations - because the story completely lacks interesting finesse. Then I try to choose a mission but the button does not respond, and then I notice that the dog that comes with me has several upgrade options for his armour: one for the legs and one for the body. The upgrade system here is awfully clunky and I wish the developers spent a lot more time on making it more accessible and streamlined.
But enough about that, even a thoughtless game can be fun. I finally manage to choose missions and I am then transported to a linear area where I simply have to push myself through hordes of enemies. If you played first-person shooters twenty years ago, you know, for better or worse, what awaits. Graphically, the environments themselves actually look quite good sometimes, with elements of steampunk and classic Warhammer 40k aesthetics, but it varies extremely. Above all, the more open areas look empty and deserted, and the colour scheme here is pretty limited. The performance isn't great too with the framerate sometimes dropping as low as 40FPS.
The battles themselves are first and foremost a straight copy of how Doom (2016) works. I have a grappling hook to move around with, I have a weapon wheel to choose my seven available weapons on, I jump like a feather and move at the speed of light whilst my finger never leaves the trigger (more on that further down). It sounds good, but unfortunately there are lots and lots of problems and aspects that feel just downright old.
The enemies here run around completely aimlessly and they always stay together in groups. When I shoot them, they also do not react and my shots therefore feel - despite the fairly good weight in the weapons - mostly like rubber bullets. One unfortunate thing I also noticed was that the sight seemed miscalibrated; If I aim with a weapon equipped with both a laser sight and a crosshair, I can clearly see how they do not correlate. This seems strange, and unfinished.
Necromunda simply does not reach the new standard that Doom (2016) set five years ago. It must be possible to measure a retro game with the possibilities of its time, regardless of which era it takes its inspiration from. Necromunda: Hired Gun thus does exactly the opposite of what a retro game should do: it shows all that was actually bad with older games, whilst being disguised as new and fresh. We'd advise you to give this one a miss.