Doom clone. Instead of thinking up a more original description, game critics in the 1990s called every first-person shooter a "Doom clone." While we can lay some of the blame on creatively challenged writers, the truth is that Doom was a big deal. I mean a real big deal. Suddenly every game developer had a 3D corridor shooter in the works. That condescending term was used all the way up until Half-Life and GoldenEye 007 hit the scene. The genre had finally graduated from Doom clone to first-person shooter.
Gun Commando is a Doom clone in every sense of the term. You can practically feel the heat from Hell on Mars while playing this corridor-heavy shooter. I don't use that term in a pejorative way. In fact, I suspect the developers would embrace the comparison. It's an homage to a type of shooter that simply isn't made anymore. And as a result, it shares many of the same problems that plagued Doom and the games it inspired.
Stop me if you've heard this one before: You play Jack Bennett, a smart-mouthed gun-for-hire who has been tasked with saving Earth from a race of alien lizards. What makes him the man for the job? It turns out that he has a thing for weapons and the proper amount of guts to take on the seemingly endless horde of baddies. It's a recipe for a fun, albeit flawed, shooter.
The graphics and gameplay come directly out of the 16-bit era. All of the characters are sprites and the mess of colorful pixels in front of you is supposed to be the wall. Beyond the old school look, our hero is limited in movement. You'll quickly discover that you aren't able to jump, and forget all about vertical aiming. Even the level designs are meant to evoke the spirit of the classic Doom clone.
Thankfully, Gun Commando differs from those classic games in a few interesting ways. The most obvious is the power-up mechanic, which rewards players who always hit their target. It all starts with a dinky pea shooter, but the power meter will increase with each direct hit. Fill up the meter and upgrade the weapon. But beware, because the inverse is true. Miss a bunch of shots and you'll be stripped of the powerful gun.
I also appreciated that the game's emphasis was more on shooting bad guys than solving complicated mazes. While fun, I often grew frustrated by the overly elaborate level designs in Doom. The levels in Gun Commando are straight forward and fun to play in short doses. The developers could have loaded the game up with colored keys and other nonsense, but they wisely leave until for the very end of the game.
The two dozen stages are split into five regular mazes and one wide-open boss battle. The four bosses are big, though poorly animated. Of the four, I found only two of them to be exhilarating experiences. The other two suffered from frustrating deaths and weird technical problems. The final battle feels like it is lifted directly out of Doom, which left a bad taste in my mouth.
The game controls much like you would expect. Players can use the PS Vita's analog sticks, the touch screen or any combination of the two. As you would imagine, controlling the game exclusively with the touch screen is a nightmare. The analog sticks make it easier, though I had a hard time dialing in the sensitivity speed. The target reticle is very small and it's often difficult to get a direct shot, even with the sensitivity turned all the way down. I eventually got used to the game's floaty feel, but always wished that somebody could tighten it up a bit.
I found that the control problems ended up leading me into a number of frustrating situations. It's far too common to accidentally turn a corner and be hit on all sides by unavoidable enemies. This isn't a big deal early on, but the later levels feel like they were designed to frustrate gamers. And much like Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified
, the levels lack any checkpoint so dying means starting the level over from the start.
Outside of the game's two dozen single-player stages, there isn't a whole lot to Gun Commando. The game tracks the score, suggesting that players might want to make a high score run after beating the final boss. But even that is far-fetched, as there is no online leaderboard or way to compare your score with friends. Also missing is multiplayer support. While not a deal breaker, it would have been fun to go into the later stages with a partner.
Gun Commando manages to hit most of the marks, but never quite overcomes the lingering mechanical problems. As first-person shooters on Vita go, you can certainly do a lot worse. Still, I found myself dwelling on the cheap deaths and control issues.