Digital Chocolate’s Old West-themed social game Gangs of Boomtown is now available on Facebook following a 30-day exclusivity period on Google+. The game casts players in the role of a mysterious wanderer who has been targeted by a gang of assassins. Throughout their adventures, the player must achieve two main goals: take down the assassins and help rebuild the ruined settlement of Boomtown.
Gameplay unfolds in a very familiar manner, combining elements of role-playing games and citybuilders. Players are introduced to basic game concepts through a brief tutorial and are then guided through the game’s story via a series of quests. These tasks will lead the player from location to location in the Boomtown world in order to fight enemies, collect items and make a name for themselves. Upon returning to Boomtown, the player is able to clear the burned-out debris of the original settlement, construct buildings, plant crops and make use of various special buildings in order to upgrade their weapons or increase their population limit. All actions in this “PvE” part of the game cost energy to perform — this replenishes over time and at every level up. Constructing certain buildings requires specific resources which can be acquired by expending hard currency or asking friends, and the construction of some special buildings (typically those which allow the player to expand their population) is also friend-gated — though as usual, this may also be bypassed with hard currency.
Players may also travel to a special “Ghost Town” location which is populated by avatars of other players. Here, the player is able to “duel” opponents in order to gain money, experience and special items often used for construction. Dueling has its own independent energy bar, allowing players to indulge in some PvP while they wait for their PvE energy to regenerate. The PvP energy bar is much smaller, however, meaning it runs out relatively quickly — it’s also considerably slower to recharge. The odds of victory against each opponent are clearly displayed above their heads, allowing players to pick their targets carefully — though taking a more risky gamble potentially offers greater rewards. Unlike some other PvP-based social games, there is no means of notifying an opponent of when they have been defeated, nor is there any way to communicate with them beyond manually searching for their Facebook profile.
Gangs of Boomtown is a perfectly competent, well-presented game — its visuals are attractive and well-animated, while its high quality sound includes multiple background music loops depending on the situation. The game does, however, suffer from the same problem which most other Facebook-based role-playing titles encounter — a total lack of any sense of “tension” in combat. Battling enemies is accomplished in almost exactly the same way as clearing debris and harvesting crops, with the only differences being the fact that it’s possible to save a little energy by using more powerful weapons, and that the enemies fire back, occasionally costing the player an extra energy point. There’s no means for the player to die or fail in any way — running out of energy is simply an inconvenience that requires the purchasing of refill packs or waiting for it to regenerate. When the player isn’t clicking on them, enemies simply stand in place waiting to be shot or wander aimlessly. Boss fights are distinguished by the fact they must be clicked on a few more times than usual — no special tactics are required.
Conversely, the player character can die in a rather gory animated sequence when battling other online cowboys and cowgirls, but simply gets back up again a moment later as if nothing happened. For all the game’s attempts to provide a fast-paced Old West narrative with a sense of urgency, these aspects make it feel like one might as well be playing a non-violent farming or citybuilding game.
This problem isn’t unique to Gangs of Boomtown by any means, but therein lies part of the problem with this game — it’s almost completely unoriginal and thus suffers from the same problems all its competitors do. We’ve seen this combination of game elements many times before, and very few titles which follow this formula step out of the comfort zone of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Gangs of Boomtown does at least do something interesting with its leveling system — players are able to unlock various skills which improve item drop rates, ability to dodge enemy shots and income from buildings — but otherwise it’s business as usual behind an Old West skin.
There’s nothing inherently “wrong” with Gangs of Boomtown — it’s a solid game that does what it does well. It would simply be nice to see a little more innovation, creativity and risk-taking in the genre, otherwise there’s little reason for players to try this instead of, say, CastleVille. Without offering something innovative or interesting, the initial spurt of users for a new game is likely to quickly decline as they return to more well-established titles into which they have already invested time and perhaps money. It’s worth waiting to see if Digital Chocolate adds any innovative new features in an attempt to retain users, or whether it remains complacent and happy to keep the game as it is — solid, but unremarkable.
Gangs of Boomtown is currently showing up as the 16th fastest-growing Facebook game by MAU this week, with 200,000 monthly active users and 60,000 daily active users. To follow its progress, check out AppData, our traffic tracking service for social games and developers.
Competent and polished, but mostly unoriginal — one to watch, perhaps, but nothing particularly new here.