There’s a refreshing simplicity to being a bounty hunter. Forget motivations or backstory; in Bounty Hunter: Black Dawn you shoot dudes for money and that’s all you need to know.
You’re the new guy on Muspel, a post-apocalyptic planet somewhere on the far side of nowhere. After choosing one of four classes — soldier, sniper, engineer or medic — you’ll walk around a series of dusty towns getting missions from people standing outside buildings. The missions will take you through canyons and tunnels where you’ll shoot enemies and tap objects. Return to town, turn in your missions, and repeat.
There’s nothing wrong with this formula, and Bounty Hunter: Black Dawn does it well. The environments are interesting to look at, and the missions have enough variety that you’re not just doing the same thing over and over.
You also get an impressive assortment of weapons and armor. There are seven different kinds of guns to play with, and lots of variations within each type. This game is firmly in the Borderlands and Diablo tradition of dropping lots of loot and letting the player try out as many options as possible. It’s the game’s greatest strength.
The trouble with offering lots of options, though, is that you have to provide the controls to use them. This is where Bounty Hunter: Black Dawn runs into trouble.
There’s no virtual D-pad, but the left side of the screen controls movement and the right side controls the camera. You tap the big red button on your gun to fire, and there are smaller buttons on the bottom of the screen for melee fighting and your special class skill. (The class skills are kind of fun, especially the engineer’s turret gun, but they’re just a supplement to the main gameplay of shooting everything that moves.)
In theory, this control scheme should work. In practice, it’s clumsy. There’s the usual iPhone gaming problem of covering up large portions of the screen with your thumbs. And while it helps that you don’t have to keep your digits in a specific spot to work the controls, I found my movement thumb straying into the camera control area and vice versa, which meant a lot of looking and running the wrong way.
The buttons are also too small and too close together. Deploying a turret is fun, but not when you’re trying to hit the wolf creature with your knife before you get bitten to death.
The controls would be less of a problem if the game were a little easier. Unfortunately, Bounty Hunter: Black Dawn leans heavily toward requiring premium weapons bought with currency from in-app purchases. The game starts innocuously enough with enemies that have reasonable weapons and hit points, but the levels get much harder after about an hour of play. You’ll find yourself pouring bullets into enemies, doing little or no damage, and dying a lot.
That’s frustrating, but at least there are some other modes to play around with. Online co-op lets you tackle the maps with other players, and there’s a PvP mode for players who want to run around the maps shooting each other. Both modes are fun, though the control issues are even more annoying when you’re trying to keep up with friends or shoot rivals.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that this game is a bit of a money grab, though. Bounty Hunter: Black Dawn is entertaining at the start, but keeping the fun going shouldn’t depend on buying a bigger gun.