Reviewed: October 11, 2006
Released: October 10, 2006
Welcome to the Wild Wild West…welcome to the world of GUN Showdown, now compacted onto the PSP so you can take your gun slinging on the road. But don’t let the small size fool ya…there is a whole lotta game packed onto this UMD, including a new multiplayer component and a few new features that probably should have been included in the game all along.
If you have already played the original GUN on PC or any of the previously released consoles then you will already know what to expect, and quite honestly, you probably won’t want to bother with this handheld version. But if you haven’t saddled up for what is easily the best western game of all time, or if you just couldn’t get enough of the original and want to play it just one more time then prepare to ride.
GUN Showdown for the PSP includes all of the core gameplay elements from the console and PC, so you can partake of the same rich story crafted by Randall Jahnson, mine for gold, ride for the Pony Express, cheat at Texas Hold’em, and even moonlight as the town marshal.
Showdown manages to sneak in five new missions into the established storyline as well as adding some new weapons like mines and throwing knives. Catering to the impromptu play style of PSP owners, Showdown also features a Quick Play option so you can go hunting, play poker or play various mission challenges outside of the more demanding and time consuming Story Mode.
Before we explore this re-imagined PSP port, I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the story behind GUN. This isn’t some loosely strung plot to tie together an endless stream of missions. If anything the story might actually exceed the gameplay in scope, or at least in the way it drives the primary missions.
The game opens up with you, Colton White, out on a hunting expedition with your father, Ned, bagging big game for the local steamboat paddling up the river. This serves, both as a tutorial level and as a great introduction to your character and the driving force behind the rest of the game. Anything else I might say would ruin lots of surprises and amazing plot twists that keep you guessing right up until the end of the game.
GUN Showdown plays out much like any traditional action game, with third-person combat and movement mixed with first-person gunfights in a reworked “bullet-time” mode called Quickdraw. PSP controls have been reworked to compensate for the lack of the second analog stick. You now look around your 3D environment using the face buttons while firing with the right trigger and jumping with the left. For those coming off a previous version of GUN you might have a slight learning curve.
Targeting enemies can be a bit of a problem since moving with the analog pad and looking with the face buttons isn’t the most accurate way of doing things. With scatter weapons like the shotgun, you don’t have to be totally precise but getting a headshot in manual pistol mode is a rarity.
Thankfully, the designers have allowed for these control issues by giving you more Quickdraw time and allowing you to fill the meter a bit faster than before. Ultimately, you will find yourself using Quickdraw a lot more than you probably did before. Whereas, Quickdraw used to be a cool feature to help even the odds in outmatched battles, you will now use it as an aiming-assist feature, even if you only have three or four targets.
While you can carry all the weapons available in the game in your saddlebag you can only equip one of each of the four types, so if you want to use that new Calvary sword you’ll have to put away the knife or hatchet. Similarly, if you are hunting game you’ll want the regular bow rather than the one that shoots flaming arrows or arrows with dynamite tips.
There is a fairly elaborate stats system in place that allows Colton to grow in skill the more you play the game. You don’t have any real control over these stat increases; you just get them at the end of the various missions and odd jobs. Stats include Gunhand, Quickdraw, Melee, Horse and Health and bonuses are awarded by what you did in the previous mission. As these stats go up you’ll rise from the rank of Greenhorn to Legend status.
GUN delivers a massive world to explore. At first this world is limited to Dodge City, but once you help get that bridge built the rest of the Wild West is yours to explore including the Badlands, Canyons, Plains, Lakes, Pastures, Mines, Mountains, and Empire City. The world design is quite complex with multiple routes and shortcuts that interconnect many of the main areas.
With a big world comes big responsibility and GUN delivers the traditional core missions that further the story, but these are only a fraction of the overall content. There are numerous Hunting missions that you can only do after you get a bow and find the Indian who assigns you these quests. For those of you who enjoy galloping across the levels, there are several Pony Express missions that will test your knowledge of the land and your ability to control your horse.
If you are looking to make some spare change there are Bounty missions you can find scattered about the land as a series of Wanted Posters. Bounties are usually dead or alive with more money being awarded for the tougher “live” captures, but a few bounties require capture, and the later bounties will often include entire gangs and massive battles.
Those eager to wear that tin star can partake in Deputy missions in Dodge City and Federal Marshall missions in Empire City. And if you just want to build your horsemanship and earn an honest dollar there are several odd jobs you can do for the local Rancher.
And all of that gameplay is not even including the 20+ core missions that drive the main plot in GUN and dozens of side missions that are offered to you by the various characters you’ll encounter in the cities and the lands between them. And if you love “hidden secrets” you’ll have gold fever trying to find all of the pockets of gold ore hidden around the world of GUN.
GUN balances the gameplay quite well while giving you the freedom to pick and choose how and when you play these missions. While it would be possible to storm through the story mode you would not only be missing out on a majority of the content, but without those side missions and other diversions, Colton will be statistically ill-equipped to fight in the later battles, especially the boss fights.
Having already played the original GUN several times previous to this version, I was still surprised to find the gameplay still held my interest and managed to last upwards of 10-12 hours. Many of the core elements are identical to the previous games like the hidden gold, so if you already know the game world you will have a distinct advantage.
The final few hours were spent completing the story and polishing off all of the non-story content including winning the Texas Hold’em Poker Tournament. Yes, GUN even has a poker mini-game built-in, but don’t get excited. The game is quite basic, and unrealistically easy to win. It’s more of a diversion than a poker sim, but I did enjoy the ability to “cheat” during the first three rounds of the tournament by holding back a card from my previous hand. Nothing like an Ace up the sleeve.
Most of the game revolves around Colton riding from point A to B and shooting a lot of bad guys. You might escort a stagecoach or protect some settlers from a pack of hungry wolves or blow up a tunnel to stop a train, but it all plays out the same. If the gameplay weren’t so smooth and fun the game might have gotten repetitive, but there was always enough style to keep it fresh.
The big feature in gunplay is the quickdraw mode that basically works like bullet-time in those other games. You can tap UP on the D-pad and time will slow and your six-shooters come into play. You can aim and fire in an auto-locking targeting mode that will impress your friends and enemies alike. Just listen to the yelling going on as you take down six guys with headshots before they even draw their guns.
Interestingly enough, one of my only complaints with the original GUN was the lack of any relationship between Colton and his horse. You basically just traded off mounts as needed, which was certainly not the case with real cowboys of the time. Showdown addresses this issue by giving you a permanent mount named Rogue, and rather than riding him until he dies, Rogue will buck you off his back if you do too much damage. You’ll have to wait a bit before you can whistle and call him back. As trivial as this sounds, it really helps sell the cowboy atmosphere and relationship between a man and his horse.
GUN Showdown looks mighty impressive on the PSP, even if there are obvious reductions in model complexity and texture detail to make it work on the smaller system. The horses don’t look nearly as detailed and their manes are just painted on, but they animated flawlessly. That cool wallpaper in Jenny’s room during the bathtub scene has been replaced with bare wooden walls. If you haven’t played the game before you won’t even notice these minor sacrifices.
The various sections of the map all merge together seamlessly. The draw distance is impressive with minimal pop-up and smooth framerates. Some areas are obviously sectioned off by train tunnels or twisting mountain passes but you can explore the entire world with only a few minimal load screens.
There are only two cities, one very small and the other slightly larger and more complex with multiple buildings you can enter and even an elaborate underground tunnel system that connects a few of the key buildings. The cities make sense and feature all the shops, saloons, and other establishments made famous in pop-western culture.
The character models are more artistic than realistic. Despite some decent textures and subtle costume details, the facial expressions are just pasted on. The in-game animations and movement for the characters is outstanding and you’ll have plenty of time to appreciate it during those long quickdraw sequences while you’re lining up that headshot. The horse animation is by far the best I’ve seen in any game with a horse in it. The horses lean into turns and skid to stops or rear back and make daring leaps from ledges and across gaps. You’ll want to spin the camera and watch this lifelike animation in profile.
Other than the CG opening movie the rest of the cutscenes are all rendered with the game engine so there is a seamless blending of storytelling and gameplay. The only glitch in the system is when parts of the level are populated with people and objects for a specific mission and when that mission is over everything mysteriously vanishes.
GUN Showdown plays out much like your favorite western and Neversoft must have realized they were making an interactive film when they hired an all-star Hollywood cast to voice the main characters. Legendary actors including Thomas Jane as vengeful gunslinger Colton White; Kris Kristofferson as Colton’s mountain man father, Ned; Tom Skerritt as Resistance Fighter Clay Allison; Brad Dourif as evil preacher Josiah Reed; Ron Perlman as Mayor Hoodoo Brown of Empire, New Mexico; and Lance Henriksen as the obsessive tyrant Thomas MacGruder all turn in some of the best voice performances in gaming history. Frankly, I can’t think of a game with better voice acting ever, especially on the PSP. Some of the performances had me on the edge of my seat.
Sound effects are outstanding and feature all of the subtle environmental sounds of crickets, wolves, wind, water, and of course, a hailstorm of gunfire, explosions, and the endless drumming of hooves beating their path across the land. There was never a moment where I wasn’t totally convinced I was in the old west. You’ll definitely want some nice headphones to appreciate this lifelike mix.
To match the epic story and cast, videogame soundtrack veteran Christopher Lennertz produced and composed the score for GUN. The music was performed by the Northwest Sinfonia using an 80-piece orchestra, and I’d stack this soundtrack up against anything you’ll hear in the theater for a similar genre film.
GUN Showdown is relatively short for an action game, even with the additional padding of side missions and mining for hidden gold. Neversoft isn’t trying to steal you life with GUN, just your imagination, and this is the ride of a lifetime no matter how long it lasts. If you find yourself blazing through this game too fast for your liking you might want to try the Hard or Insane difficulty setting.
Even the most multi-tasking of gamers probably won’t finish all the side-quests and bonus objectives before the story is over. Once the closing credits are over you can go back and finish off those other items in the stats checklist.
New for the PSP is a multiplayer component available using local wireless gameplay. Pick you character then join in for a round of Deathmatch or Golden Cross (CTF), Last Man Standing, or just play some Texas Hold’em.
The western genre is still relatively unexplored in video games and there is certainly nothing like this for the PSP. GUN Showdown sets a new standard of wild west action gameplay that merges an epic, and oft-times emotional story with challenging gameplay and realistic horseback riding and mounted combat.
If you love a good western then GUN Showdown has all those clichéd moments with Indians, stagecoaches, trains, gunfights, jailbreaks, and everything else that has become a staple in western lore. And when you wrap up all those elements with a film-worthy cast of actors and soundtrack, you easily have one of the best genre titles available for the PSP and a must-own game for action and western lovers alike.