Gangs of Boomtown is an edgier Wild West take on the familiar FrontierVille formula

Your family is dead, and the buildings in your once-peaceful town have been reduced to smoking piles of rubble. The townsfolk are looking to you to help rebuild, yet all that’s on your mind is revenge. That may sound like the set-up for any number of old Western movies, but it’s also the starting point for your character in Gangs of Boomtown, the action/town-building hybrid by Digital Chocolate.

Boomtown is where your nameless cowboy or cowgirl was once happy to call home, until a gang of bad eggs called the Assassins burned down everything and left you a loner. As the tutorial explains, your dual goals are to rebuild Boomtown into a habitable state while filling the local cemetery with the bodies of gang members. Think of it like The Punisher crossed with FrontierVille.

Speaking of Zynga’s Western game, anyone who has played it should be familiar with the town-building mechanics of Gangs of Boomtown. The remains of the old buildings need to be clicked on and cleaned up, granting you both experience points and coins. New structures that can be built on clear land include houses that periodically give you coins as rent, as well as producing other items to help construct other buildings.

The obligatory farming element is present too, though this is no cutesy FarmVille – the first “crop” you unlock is actually Moonshine. Crops are harvested for Goods, which restart the rent timers on your houses. Other buildings you’d expect to find in an Old West town, like a gun shop, a saloon and a telegraph office, raise the population cap for Boomtown, allowing more houses to be built.

Buildings can be upgraded using a combination of items you’ll find by collecting rent, defeating bad guys, and spending the requisite amount of coins. And since this is a social game, after all, you’ll also need to “hire” friends or spend Gold, the game’s premium currency, to finish off some of your projects.

Gangs of Boomtown

Meanwhile there’s the issue of the Assassins, a group of killers with their own gimmicks that brings to mind the Gung-Ho Guns from the Trigun anime series. Helpful NPCs like the sheriff give you missions that take you out of Boomtown to hunt down the Assassins on their own turf, while other bad guys continue to show up from time to time in your hometown and also need to be taken out.

Combat is a very simple affair, requiring nothing more from you than clicking on your target. Every enemy has a specific number of hit points, and your vigilante really must be the best, because you always shoot first and always hit. If the target doesn’t get killed by your first attack, it gets a chance to attack in return.

Energy, which is also the resource that limits how many actions you can do before waiting for it to refill, doubles as your pool of hit points. Except for the occasional head shot that does extra damage from your attacks, that’s about all there is to combat. Your weapon can also be upgraded to do more damage and increase you head shot percentage, but that’s a largely linear exercise.

Gangs of Boomtown

While waiting for your Energy to refill you can always head to a nearby Ghost Town to duel with other players. This sounds more exciting than it actually is, since each duel consists of a single shot determined randomly and affected by each player’s stats and weapon. Winning a duel gets you XP, coins and items, while losing only costs you Ammo – a resource that refills very slowly, to the tune of one point an hour.

If this all sounds like a lot to keep track of, it is. Gangs of Boomtown suffers from the current trend of increasing numbers of resources and stats in social games; a case of more not always being better. At the same time, it skimps on some of the things that could have been its calling cards, like the combat system. You won’t find anything here approaching the tactical aspects of battles in games like Marvel: Avengers Alliance.

That’s not to say that a visit to Boomtown is entirely without merit. The flavor text and NPCs are entertaining – be warned, though, about some rough language – and the tone isn’t as grim as the premise might suggest. The rudimentary RPG aspect, which allows you to pick a specific bonus for your character every time you level up, is also a nice feature.

If you’re pressed for social gaming time and want to get your town-building and villain-hunting fix in one place, Gangs of Boomtown might do the trick. For everyone else, its status as a jack of all trades but master of none is likely to come off a little sparse, kind of like the streets of Boomtown itself.