Product: Gunfighter
Publisher: Atlantis
Compatibility: BBC/Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #66

Cowboy-featured games were popular on the Acorn Electron - and Buffalo Bill's Rodeo Games, Kane, Gunsmoke and Dead Or Alive all offer us some nice Wild West action - but here's something rather different from Atlantis. Gunfighter is a fast-paced Mode 5 jaunt with you as a Sheriff on the edge. Your mission, according to the inlay at least, is to reclaim the town for the good townsfolk. This you do by traversing the town itself, shooting any bandits you encounter and collecting any title deeds you find.

The layout of the game is nice, with a vertically centred 'wide screen' style playing area featuring the number of bullets left in the sheriff's gun top left (one sprite per individual bullet) and the number of lives he has remaining denoted by sheriff badges top right. Progress is tracked by means of an increasing score in dollars. Each bandit that enters the town has a price on his head, and shooting him will net your sheriff a nice little reward increasing that dollar score top centre. A panel on the left shows said bandit's mugshot, a panel on the right how much you'll earn for ridding the town of this menace. Across the whole bottom area is the message area, in the form of a telegram.

The majority of the screen shows a side-on view of the area of town in which your sheriff finds himself. You control him with the ZX*? keys and use RETURN to fire one of those precious bullets. You are completely unrestricted in how far you can 'wander' in any given direction left and right as the levels wraparound on each other. Going up and down, you can wend your way into back alleys, hotels, the jail and the casino. Your sheriff, a nice large animated sprite, responds well to keypresses and, for the most part, movement is generally paced about right. Regrettably, you do get fluxation when you and a bandit are on the screen together but, as you tend to need time to react to him, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Now, the premise cited by the inlay is that the outlaws have dispossessed the good townsfolk of their properties by stealing their title deeds. To me, that does not explain why these deeds are now scattered all over the town, or why gathering them all back up again is some miraculous cure for the urban instability in your midst. Be that as it may, one of these deeds at a time, a sort of rectangular yellow blob, is placed completely at random, somewhere in the playing area. The bandits, who may have different names, mugshots and even weapons (Some use a bow and arrow, others use a gun!) also appear completely at random.

This makes for quite an odd playability level. Sometimes you actually start on a screen which happens to contain the first deed and, after you pick it up, the second deed magically appears elsewhere on the same screen. You pick that one up, walk one screen to the right and find a third deed, and so on. Whereas, on your next go, you can't find that blasted deed anywhere and finally find it hiding in one of the rooms off, say, The Livery.

The bad guys' appearances are signalled by a mugshot appearing on the left, a reward appearing on the right and the telegram area warning you that, for example, "Clint Westwood is in town. Look out cowboy!". If after a few moments, the dude is still evading your exploration, you might be told something like "Clint Westwood Is In The Doc's". You can choose whether to go and fight it out by moving to that area, or if you want to save the town by collecting the deeds, you might just as easily choose to let Clint stay there while you explore every screen except the Doc's.

The trouble, especially with this second strategy, is that this results in a very boring interlude whilst you have to methodically search all rooms, even those you were just in a few seconds before snatching up the latest deed, all over again. Survival against any bandit also involves some measure of luck. Because they appear at random, and can travel around the playing area in exactly the same way you can, they can come in from the right of the screen just as you are attempting to exit the right of the screen. Immediately they see you they will shoot.

The most frustrating part of the whole game is that, when shot, you die one of the fastest deaths ever witnessed in any game ever. There is no funeral dirge, brief respite for 'Get Ready' or even jangle of notes. Your sheriff is instead, transformed into a square sprite which looks like a tuned-out television through to a headstone. Assuming you have any lives left, he is then reincarnated immediately on top of this headstone, to be shot again by the bandit. If you get the unlucky combination of meeting a baddie just as you are about to exit a screen, it can be "blamfizzblamfizzblamdead" about three times as quickly as it will take you to say that word.

Having said that, the game is not particularly hard. It has some nice touches - if you run away from a bandit you get fined $10 for running out on a duel; if you shoot a bandit in the back, you get a telegram berating your cowardly engagement; if you go to the Doc's with over $500 you get an extra life; and, if you go to the casino, you can gamble away some of that money you've collected from bounty-hunting. You'll also need to make frequent trips to the jailhouse (No singing "He's In The Jailhouse Now" please! - Ed) to stock up on bullets. However, because searching for those deeds necessitates looking in there regularly anyway, I found I didn't need to make special journeys.

Not that I want to spoil anybody's fun with Gunfighter either, but I did manage to collect all fifteen deeds and "save the town" on only my second attempt - and to say the game's response was 'unsatisfying' would be the understatement of the year.

The Verdict: The graphics are outstanding, the sound is adequate and the playability, despite the frustration factor, is there. It's not brilliant but it's enjoyable for a short jaunt. It was originally a cheap and cheerful budget game - which is to my mind, exactly the right label for it.