With the lukewarm 2011 flick Cowboys & Aliens tying up the concept of wild west heroes and extra-terrestrials, the developers behind this strategic battler fall back on undead adversaries. A single quote from Toy Story’s Woody describes the backstory: “Somebody’s poisoned the water hole!”
Gunslingers & Zombies sees cowboys and daring damsels square off in various wild west settings, being a turn-based affair set on a grid.
Each of our heroes has two action points that are used to move, shoot, reload, heal, and defend. Most commonly though, you’ll be moving into zombie-firing range and taking a shot. At the end of your turn, the zombies commence their attack – lashing out at close range, and occasionally throwing…stuff. New enemies are gradually introduced, with the first being – somewhat amusingly – a zombie that splits into two smaller zombies.
If the above sounded like a straightforward explanation of the genre, you’re right – this is a game you’ve played dozens of times before. Each of the ten stages – spread across two chapters – tries to implement something new, such as explosive barrels or loot runs, but repetition soon settles due to the plodding pace and the lack of variety within the locations. It doesn’t help that the zombie grunts and groans have seemingly come from the BBC Radio sound effects library – circa 1977.
The presentation isn’t too hot elsewhere, with text that’s a tad too small when playing on a Switch Lite. For its visual style, it uses flat-shaded polygons, making it resemble a mid-’90s PC game, albeit far crisper.
There is some scope for tactical play though, and this turns out to be the game’s saving grace. This is mostly down to the variety of weapons available, with each having different ranges and damage ratios. Cowpokes with rifles can shoot from afar, while shotgun welders are best positioned up close and personal. Revolvers pack a punch, too.
Every hero also carries a knife, which not only conserves ammo – replenished at seldom found chests – but comes with a caveat: if an enemy isn’t at death’s door when striking with a knife, they’ll instantly retaliate. So, it isn’t entirely tactless.
Gunslingers & Zombies isn’t a poor game in the sense that it’s broken or unplayable. It’s mechanically fine, effort has gone into illustrated cut-scenes, and there are a few tactical advantages to learn. The problems come from the lack of ingenuity, which makes for a bland experience. Every time I picked the Switch up to play a little bit more, the less enthused I became. Less gung-ho and more ho-hum, if you’re a fan of the genre you’ll likely already own a dozen better games.
Gunslingers & Zombies is out now on Switch, published by Ultimate Games.