More like Gunner $
A far cry from their previous outing in the wonderfully bright and sunny adventure world of Lili, BitMonster Games has returned with a horrific zombie shooter called Gunner Z, whose blend of fast-paced gunplay and night vision imagery work wonders towards making you pray that such a world never comes into existence for everyone reading this article one day. But despite its unique and engrossing atmosphere, not to mention its exhilarating and pitch-perfect gameplay, there are too many other aspects of the game (particularly the shameless microtransactions) that will leave players feeling a bit too lifeless themselves afterwards.
Now let’s talk first about the good in Gunner Z: the graphics and the gameplay. The actual action in the game plays out predominately in a zombie-overrun city through a night vision lens. Everything in the world is embodied through black and gray hues, with your enemies lighting up in a glowing and ghastly white light. It’s a wonderful idea, and polished to perfect in its actual execution: the dark atmosphere is both frightening and frantic, and it makes you feel claustrophobic in the best possible way.
The touchscreen controls are an absolute breeze to pick up and get used to, with your right thumb panning the screen to reposition your crosshairs, and your left thumb tapping on the fire button in the opposite corner. You can simply hold down the fire button to spray a wide range of bullets at a clustered pack of zombies, although it’s recommended to lift your thumb up and switch to singular tapping for more one-on-one encounters. You’ll also have two different weapons to choose from with the simple tap of a button, which lets you mix things up with alternating machinegun and rocket artillery fire; this especially comes in handy once the game starts introducing bonus red enemy types and environmental hazards like roadblocks and landmines.
In many ways, Gunner Z could be described as an on-rails shooter of sorts, with your vehicle constantly trudging along the desolate streets, and then stopping at regular intervals for you to clear the way of zombies, estranged militia groups, and other creepy-crawlies in the night before moving on to the next predetermined intersection or stop zone. But my favorite thing about the gameplay in Gunner Z is the ability to raise or lower the position of your gunner by dragging a slider on the side of a screen: sort of like a cherry picker arm attachment on the end of your vehicle. Even though the game is always in the first-person perspective, when you move up this cable and see the frenzied streets and your own truck looming down below you, it’s a really cool, albeit chilling feeling, and an exceptionally nice touch for getting the drop-down on your glowing, undead foes.
Unfortunately, there’s something else in Gunner Z that’s always lurking around the corners of the dark city streets, and to some, this might be more terrifying than hungry zombies and eerie night vision combined: the dreaded microtransaction. Everything outside of the actual missions themselves is entirely crafted around the notion of microtransactions, and the number of items, abilities, and advantages you’ll constantly be asked to buy not only take away from the haunting experience of the actual gameplay, but make it feel like the entire game itself is a prisoner to its free-to-play conventions, with the constant nudges towards your wallet and the periodic little tastes of what the game could be like if you decide you want to pay.
For instance, one of the biggest draws in Gunner Z is upgrading your vehicles in between missions to build them into fortified war machines. And there are a lot of different options to effectively pimp your apocalyptic ride, from reinforcing your vehicle’s body armor and suspension (each of which has multiple tiers of upgrades), to buying new mounted weapons like mortars and mini-guns and further improving the ammo cap, damage, and damage radius of each. However, not only does each purchase or upgrade set you back a pretty soft-currency penny, but they’ll also force you to endure some pretty hefty wait times, unless you want that instant gratification that comes from parting ways with your premium currency, called BX in the game. The first time I purchased something, I had to wait a whopping 21 minutes for the upgrade to take its effect; the second purchase was well over an hour.
Now these wait times aren’t exactly game-ruining on their own merits, and truth be told, you’ll still be able to get through a good amount of missions without having to buy all the latest zombie-killing hardware that’s being offered to you at every turn; but they’re made all the worse when coupled with the constant vehicle repairs you’ll be forced to purchase with BX after every mission or two (unless you want to wait some more), depending on how well you do in the action portions of the game. It’s a similar concept that we’ve seen in many free-to-play racing games these days, and I’ll admit that it makes more sense in a zombie apocalypse environment, but that’s certainly not to say the inclusion is even in the least bit commendable.
Even though you’ll earn a few spare BXs through the regular gameplay, these will all be eaten up solely from the constant need to repair your vehicles in order to keep playing. To make matters worse, the game store even encourages you to buy a “Mobile Repair Technician” for $24.99, which grants you one free repair every time you head out on a mission. That’s right, even an absurdly steep IAP like that doesn’t fully do away with always needing to make repairs. You can also pay $0.99 for an in-mission rampage mode of sorts that makes things incredibly easier, or shell out a few more BXs to continue onward in a mission where you left off if you happen to die.
Now you may have noticed that I spent an awfully long time in this review discussing things like microtransactions and the ins and outs of the various game stores, but I promise you there’s a very good reason for that: because outside of the night vision levels that all start to feel more or less the same after a while, that’s really everything else that Gunner Z has to offer. A bit polarizing to say the least, the game starts off incredibly strong, with a delightfully spooky atmosphere and slick gameplay mechanics that just make it feel so good every time you pick off an enemy down the scope of your rifle. But once that first mission ends and the apocalyptic paywalls begin to set in, you’re going to start covering your eyes and hiding from this game for entirely different reasons.