Lately it seems like a lot of companies are devoting time and money to porting their big budget console games to Sony's PlayStation Portable. Games like The Godfather and From Russia With Love are released on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, and then months later they find their way to the PSP, generally with mixed results. When I popped Gun Showdown into my PSP I hoped for the best, but I had a strange feeling that this was going to be yet another port that shouldn't have been released on the portable platform. Gun proved me wrong; it's a surprisingly solid port that is no better or worse than its console brothers.
That's not to say that Gun Showdown is a great game, it's still a short adventure with its share of unfortunate problems. Just about every problem that plagued the console version is apparent here; only this time around it's easier to accept the game's limitations and the various additions actually make this a fairly enjoyable portable experience. Gun is still not the first action game you should pick up for your PSP (those honors should go to Syphon Filter, SOCOM or Grand Theft Auto), but if you've been waiting for a western-theme video game full of dirty cowpoke and beautiful vistas then you can't go wrong with Gun Showdown.
The game starts out with a lot of promise; you'll find yourself playing Colton White, a man out hunting with his grizzly old man. Before long you are whisked ahead to a tragic confrontation with an evil preacher who has no problem killing men, women, and even your father (voiced by Kris Kristofferson). As you can imagine this angers Colton White something fierce; and the rest of the game is set-up for you to track down and kill the people responsible for this heinous act. While on your quest you'll meet up with friendly prostitutes, crooked locals, a resistance party, and your fair share of Indian tribes, it's a traveling circus of interesting characters.
When the game was released on consoles last year some likened it to Rockstar Games' popular Grand Theft Auto series, suggesting that the game's open-ended world is comparable to that of San Andreas. Unfortunately it's not. Don't expect Gun to be a completely non-linear experience; the game always lets you know what you're supposed to be doing next in order to advance the plot and you can forget about taking things out of order. But the story itself is fairly interesting, full of exciting characters doing dangerous (and sometimes stupid) things. Your quest will take you all over Gun's world helping strangers, shooting enemies, and blow stuff up. Things do get a bit predictable in the game's second half, but all in all this is one story that will keep you going all the way to the end.
But you getting to the end may have less to do with your interest in the story than it does with the fact that Gun is unbearably short. Just when you start to feel confident about your gunslinging abilities the game is over, you've battled your last boss and the only thing left to do is play the lame mini-games. This is no exaggeration, Gun can easily be beaten in five – six hours, and getting 100% in the game is nothing more than an eight hour jog. This PSP version of the game actually adds a few new missions to the story mode, which does a nice job of increasing the game's length (and offers a bit more to the story). But even with the new levels this game is extremely short, especially when compared to other open-ended games on the PSP.
Another big problem comes in the form of the size of the environment. A lot of the GTA clones try to mask their imperfections by offering huge worlds to explore, but not Gun Showdown. On horseback you can ride from one side of the map to the other in just about three minutes, five minutes if it's a leisurely trot. Not only is the world small but it's also extremely boring, there are two small towns (Dodge and Empire), a couple of forts, a mountainous area, a river, and a whole bunch of flatland called the Badlands. That's it. Outside of those few dots on the map there isn't much else to see, so you may find yourself not wanting to explore the world quite like you would when going to Vice City or San Andreas for the first time. Worse yet, there aren't a lot of compelling reasons to search out all of the nooks and crannies in Gun's world, which means that won't be doing a log of sight seeing after you've played through the exceptionally short single-player campaign.
It's also worth mentioning that Gun's cities look a lot like ghost towns, with no civilians to be seen anywhere. The console version of Gun didn't have a lot of people in the cities either, but at least there were a few to make it look like it was a real city. In Gun Showdown you get the feeling like you're the only one there, everybody else must be hiding or something. This isn't a big deal since you can't interact with the people in the game, but it is a bit strange to ride into a town and not have anybody there to meet you.
Outside of the story missions you'll be given a few different mini-games to play in order to waste some time, earn some extra money, and increase your character's stats. Given the game's length I was really hoping that these bonus missions would flesh the experience out more, but unfortunately they really don't. Thankfully they come in a number of varieties, so at least you aren't stuck doing the same kind of thing over and over. For example, you can search out wanted posters that will tell you who to kill and it's your job to hunt them down and redeem your reward. In another game you become a member of the Pony Express, quickly rushing packages back and forth (and trying not to get killed on the way). You can also become a federal marshal, go mining, and even try your hand at ranching.
Perhaps the best mini-game I found was Gun Showdown's built in Texas Hold 'Em competition. The layout isn't very snazzy and it's a little too easy to win against these stupid computer poker players, but it's a fun diversion that is a lot more interested than trying to find gold in the extremely dull environment. Early on you are even able to cheat, something you don't see in most poker games. But like everything else in Gun, these poker games are over far too quickly and you can't go back and play them again once you've won.
Learning how to play Gun Showdown is going to take some time, but if you give it a chance you may find that the control scheme makes a lot of sense. On the console Gun used nearly every button and analog stick on the control, but without all of the buttons and the second analog stick Rebellion was forced to come up with back up plan. I'm not going to say that Gun Showdown's control scheme is ideal, but after awhile it starts to make sense. You control your character with the analog stick and aim with the PSP's four face buttons. You can cycle through your weapons by simply pushing the left button on the D-pad, but if you hold it you can select exactly the weapon you want. In fact, most of the buttons used in this game have different functions if you quickly push them or hold them down. With so many different functions mapped to so few buttons the control scheme is going to confuse most people at first, it took me a couple hours before I ended up getting the hang of it (and not accidentally drinking my life potion instead of selecting a different weapon).
I'm not a big fan of using the PSP's face buttons to aim my weapon; it doesn't feel natural and is hard when you need to be accurate. But the good news is that you rarely need to use those face buttons when your in battle. By pushing the up button on the D-pad you jump into a mode called Quickdraw, this is where time slows down and you go into a first-person perspective making it easier to aim at your enemies. What makes Quickdraw especially effective is that you don't even need to aim, just pushing left and right on the analog stick will automatically aim your guns at your foes and you never run out of bullets. You can only stay in this mode for a short while, but the more enemies you kill the longer you get to stay in this mode. If you're savvy you can take out nearly every bad guy in the game with this mode, which can really make aiming in this game a breeze. The Quickdraw mode doesn't nearly as cheap in this PSP version as it did on the console, but that may have more to do with my overwhelming hatred for using the face buttons to aim.
For what it's worth you can switch the controls around so that you walk with the face buttons and aim with the analog stick. This set up actually works better than the default settings, but make no mistake about it, this is in no way a perfect control scheme. It's better to just use the Quickdraw and fuss with the manual aiming only when it's vitally important.
Much like the console versions, Gun Showdown is a very easy game to play through. It's not just the fact that the game is short, it's also that none of the missions are that difficult. You may need to play through a couple of missions more than once, but generally that's because of the control and not the game's difficulty. The only way to get a real challenge out of this game is to put it on the hardest difficulty setting, but even then it doesn't make up for the game's short length and boring surroundings.
Gun Showdown is a good looking game, even if you can tell that Rebellion had to cut some corners to get this game on the PSP. The game works surprisingly well on the PSP's widescreen display, especially as you ride your horse through the beautiful terrain. Gun Showdown doesn't strive for new and unique graphical tricks, but what's there is good for the most part. This won't win any awards for best looking PSP game of the year, but it manages to get the look and feel just right.
The voice acting, on the other hand, is excellent all the way through, filled with a number of famous names. People like Lance Henriksen, Tom Skerritt, and Kris Kristofferson are all veterans of the western genre and manage to deliver their lines with the kind of delivery you would expect from this type of setting. If you're too young to remember any of those famous names, Gun also features Thomas Jane (the Punisher) and Ron Perlman (Hellboy, and just about every other game you've ever played) giving commanding performances. Some of the side characters get a little annoying, but they are no worse than what you get in your normal western movie or TV show. The same goes for the music, which sounds like it was lifted right out of all of the cheesy spaghetti westerns I saw as a kid … but in a good way.
Considering the console versions were released almost exactly a year ago some may wonder what Rebellion did to enhance your overall Gun experience. Gun Showdown actually offers a good set of cool extra modes to go along with the slightly longer story mode. One of the additions is Quick Play, a mode that allows you to jump right into six different mini-games for just a few minutes at a time. These mini-games include quail hunting, holding the fort, suppressing the outlaws, bear hunting fire fighting and a fun dynamite run. These various games are short and sweet, giving you some quick enjoyment if you don't have too much time but still want to play the game.
Another new addition is the multiplayer mode, which allows you take six players into a room and fight for your life. There's a standard Deathmatch which can be a lot of fun, but the real charmer in this game comes in the way of Golden Cross, a mode that rewards you for holding on to the special item as long as you can without being gunned down. For what it's worth there is a Texas Hold'em multiplayer mode in Gun Showdown, but it's somewhat limited and since it's Ad Hoc only you might as well just pull out the deck of cards and play the real thing.
While Gun Showdown has its share of problems, I can't help but feel satisfied by this port. Unlike some recent ports (such as EA's The Godfather: Mob Wars) this portable version of Gun doesn't feel like an abridged retelling of a larger game. Instead it actually feels like the full game you got on the consoles a year ago, plus offers you some cool new content that is actually worth your time. Gun Showdown still isn't the amazing western-themed game it should have been, but it's just as good as it ever was on the PS2 and Xbox. If you can get over some awkward controls you may find that this game is full of exciting situations … while it lasts.