Xbox Exclusives Spotlight: The Gunk

By Heidi Nicholas,
The Gunk was announced as an Xbox exclusive back in 2020, and immediately captured our interest with its sci-fi look and its intriguing premise. Everything we've seen about The Gunk has only increased this interest, so we thought we'd reach out for more information, with developer Ulf Hartelius having been kind enough to answer our questions.

What is The Gunk?

A third-person sci-fi action-adventure game in which you fight to save a dying planet from the corrupting substance known as The Gunk.

When does The Gunk launch?

We now have an official launch date of December 16th!

Will The Gunk join Xbox Game Pass?

Yes! The Gunk will join Xbox Game Pass on day one when it launches in December.

the gunk gameplay

What’s it about?

The Gunk features a pair of friends who work as scavengers, combing planets for valuable resources. The planet of The Gunk seems ideal at first; lush and vibrant and full of life. Then they discover The Gunk itself — a parasite that corrupts everything it touches. When the game was announced, Thunderful Group CEO Brjann Sigurgeirsson said that “it’s clear that they must fight this gunk to understand what’s happened and to save the dying planet. But this also creates a rift between them.” The game’s site expands on this a little, adding that “as they start uncovering the dormant secrets of a shattered civilization, they realize that they must save the planet from the curse of a corruptive gunk parasite – while desperately keeping themselves from getting caught in a spiral of festering mistrust.” Hartelius elaborates, explaining that the team has “worked really hard on creating a compelling narrative that’s interwoven with the game’s exploration, especially via the two main characters, who keep in tight radio contact throughout and add a ton of personality.”

Intriguingly, Sigurgeirsson said that "the game has frightened [him] many times,” and that The Gunk is “a game about really scary stuff, slimy things and real conflict.” It’s an interesting shift, considering that Sigurgeirsson describes their previous indie hits as “cartoonish and harmless.” Hartelius expands on this for us, saying, “While the SteamWorld series’ charm and sense of humour lies close to our hearts, we’ve also been wanting to make something a bit different for a long time. Not so much “scary” as “grown-up” I think; something that’s closer to reality. One with more life-like characters and conflicts grounded in what’s actually happening in the world around us, while still being an exciting adventure in a totally alien world. Of course we’re still the same folks so I hope a lot of the charm has remained, just with some more serious undertones this time.”

the gunk gameplay

How does The Gunk play?

Gameplay in The Gunk looks to be a mixture of exploration, crafting, and gathering. “You’ll of course be interacting a lot with the titular gunk; the vicious dark fluid that’s taking over the world. While the gunk starts out fairly passive, it doesn’t take long until you encounter it in a significantly more ‘alive’ form,” explains Hartelius. “There are also lots of puzzles, both big and small, that are tightly integrated with exploration and manipulating the gunk.”

The trailers we’ve seen for The Gunk show the main duo harvesting the corruptive substance. “An absolutely core feature is how you remove the gunk and return the world to its natural order,” continues Hartelius. “And that’s not just a visual thing; it actually morphs the level around you as things grow back! This loops back to the central exploration mechanics, as this regrowth allows you to interact with new things and to reach cool new places.”

the gunk gameplay

According to Hartelius, “the initial concept and prototype” of The Gunk “only had one thing you could do: absorb gunk in a juicy manner and thereby reveal a ‘second layer’ of gameplay underneath. That’s the core that we’ve been expanding upon up until this day. However, the game was planned as a smaller production originally, with a static top-down camera, a less “next-gen” art style, and so on. But eventually we felt that this experience would be so much better if we could let players explore this incredibly lush world in much more depth,” continues Hartelius, “so we moved to a more traditional third-person perspective and ramped everything up A LOT.”

What’s the world like?

The alien world those scavengers find themselves on looks lush and vibrant — even more so as the Gunk is harvested. “I really want to make a game where it’s exciting to explore,” begins Hartelius. “Both the gunk itself and the player’s tools are designed to promote that aspect. Ensuring that the alien world we’ve created is rewarding for players to spend time getting to know is an important part of that too, so we’ve worked really hard both in terms of our art and narrative to make a place where it feels like there’s always going to be something interesting around the next corner.” When asked if we would see a use of procedural generation like with the Steamworld games, Hartelius told us that “The Gunk is fully tailored. Coming from a background of mixing procedural generation with hand-built stuff, we discussed doing that here too, but eventually opted not to. Since it’s a 3D game with an emphasis on exploring its world, we wanted to ensure that every nook and cranny was interesting, so it made more sense for this project to handcraft the experience.”

the gunk gameplay

Any news on The Gunk’s achievements?

We don’t yet have the achievement list for The Gunk, but Hartelius gave us a few hints about the team’s process for coming up with and implementing achievements. “Achievements are always fun to do because they’re a great way to let the whole team cooperate with coming up with the most interesting and fun ones,” explains Hartelius. “We brainstorm a big list of ideas from everyone and then one of our game designers (our lead game designer Robert Olsén in this case) picks a good mix, so we get some that a standard playthrough will earn you, some that require you to take on bigger challenges or reward completionists, and finally a few where you need to be a bit more creative.” The achievement lists for the Steamworld games, for instance, offered a great mix of challenging goals and creative tasks, and we wondered whether the team utilised achievements as a way of complimenting the action of the games themselves. “Absolutely,” agrees Hartelius. “I think the best example is an achievement we had in both SteamWorld Dig games for sequence breaking it — in other words, for skipping past a chunk of the game. This was a way for us to hint to players that it was not just doable, but a pretty interesting challenge to play since it meant you had to make do without the usual upgrades. I personally think achievements like these are by far the best ones — when they encourage players to think beyond the beaten path without telling them exactly how.”

the gunk gameplay

The Gunk is definitely on our radar, and we'll be sure to keep an eye out for a release date. What about you? Will you be playing The Gunk on day one? Let us know in the comments!
Heidi Nicholas
Written by Heidi Nicholas
Heidi graduated with an MA in English Literature, and now enjoys writing news, reviews, and features across TrueAchievements and TrueTrophies. When she’s not writing, Heidi is usually either looking for her next RPG, or trying to convince the rest of the team to hear about yet another delightfully wholesome game she has found.