Hands-on with BitMonster's on-rails zombie blaster Gunner Z
By Mark Brown 11 September 2013
Game Name: Gunner Z | Publisher: BitMonster Games | Format: iPhone, iPad | Genre: Shooter
BitMonster is a developer that just refuses to be typecast.
Its last big release was Lili, a combat-free romp around a serene tropical island.
Now, though, it's working on Gunner Z, a violent and gory game about killing zombies, which draws on these Epic alumni's contributions to Gears of War.
Here's how Gunner Z works: in each mission, you roll along a predetermined path in an armoured jeep that has a rocket launcher and machine gun strapped to the end of a big crane arm.
You see the world in fuzzy black-and-white night vision, with enemy zombies showing up like white hot phosphorous glows. It's eerily reminiscent of the unnerving AC-130 gunship footage out of Afghanistan, at times.
The game is basically one long turret section from a zombie FPS. At each intersection, you park your jeep and pound wave after wave of zombie with high-calibre rounds and heat-seeking missiles.
It's limiting, of course, but it does work well on a touchscreen. Since movement is taken care of, you can concentrate on aiming (wiggling your thumb around the right side of the screen) and shooting (tapping on the left side).
Like any turret section, though, it does get tedious. The thrill of effortlessly ripping through waves of enemies soon wears off, until it just becomes a very gory, very violent, very detailed game about shooting fish in a barrel.
BitMonster does try to mix things up, mind. There are different zombie types here, from fast-moving critters and packs of stumbling ramblers to giant brutish mini-bosses.
And there aren't just zombies to worry about. A militant band of so-called zombie sympathisers fights alongside the undead and attacks you with gun-toting Humvees and remotely operated drones.
Plus, you've got to swap between weapons; keep your ammo replenished; search for foes in all 360 directions; move your boom camera up and down; and deal with bumpy roads.
Between missions, you get to upgrade your fleet of trucks. You can tweak the car itself (including its armour and suspension); you can swap to a different weapon and upgrade elements like damage and accuracy; and you can tweak tools like a proximity sensor and recoil stabiliser.
Gunner Z has a three-currency economy. Upgrades cost Z currency, which you get from shooting zombies. The more uncommon BX cash, meanwhile, covers everything else, including speeding up wait timers, buying new trucks, unlocking special upgrades, and continuing after you fail a mission.
And some things just require cold hard cash. There's the £17.49 / $24.99 repair technician, for example, which yields you a free continue in every mission. And there's the rampage, which costs 69p / 99p a pop and turbocharges your vehicle for one run.
If this sounds like a free-to-play game to you, you'd be right: the game is available for nothing while in soft launch mode. However, BitMonster says it is "currently still undecided" on whether the game will be free when it goes live around the world.
Gunner Z is an interesting next step for an interesting developer.
And while the gameplay can get as repetitive and tiresome as the industry's obsession with zombies, it can still be a maniacal thrill to mow down the undead and take out drones - especially with a control scheme that works perfectly on touchscreen.
The only problem right now is the heavy-handed approach to different currencies, wait timers, and paid upgrades. If Gunner Z debuts as a F2P experience, then, well, fair enough. But the game will need some serious re-balancing if BitMonster wants to launch Gunner Z as a paid game.
Note: This hands-on preview is based on a game in 'soft launch', so any prices and mechanics are subject to change before the game's worldwide release.