Last year, developer Neversoft deviated from its busy schedule of cranking out nothing but Tony Hawk's skateboarding games for a refreshing change of pace in the gritty Old West action adventure game, Gun. Though Gun wound up being probably a little too short for its own good, it offered some exciting shooting action and a good story. Now, a version of the game is available to take with you on the go in Gun Showdown, which is more than just a straight port of the original thanks to some extra effort put in by developer Rebellion. Gun Showdown adds some new multiplayer modes, playable against computer-controlled bots and not just human players, as well as some fittingly named quickplay modes that can be fun for a few minutes at a time. As for the main story mode, it's improved in some ways but scaled back in others, and the game's controls take maybe too much getting used to for a game that ought to be simple to play. Nevertheless, you won't find a better portable Western-themed shooter currently available.
Those familiar with previous versions of the game will know that Gun Showdown is the story of Colton White, a soft-spoken young man who falls on hard times early on in the game soon after a fateful hunting trip with his mountain man of a father, voiced by Kris Kristofferson. Colton eventually gets a horse and rides off to Dodge City in search of answers and revenge. The game quickly introduces a solid cast of characters but moves from plot point to plot point quickly, making some of the story feel rushed. It'll still likely keep you interested, thanks to some high-quality cutscenes in between story missions, though these are rendered out as movies on the PSP and don't look quite as good as they do in other versions of the game. Some new missions are injected into the adventure, harmlessly padding out the story while giving you more gameplay that fits in well with the rest of the riding and shooting action you'll experience throughout.
Gun presents itself like a Wild West Grand Theft Auto, so you don't need to go straight from one story mission to the next; instead, you can explore the world and take on some side quests. However, the world of the game is small, and on the PSP it's rather devoid of life. The game's two main towns are practically deserted, and there's not a lot to see and do out in the wilderness, though there's a decent number of side quests anyway. You can seek out bounties for wanted criminals, undertake some delivery missions, keep the peace by helping local sheriffs and marshals, and even compete in some Texas hold 'em tournaments. Accomplishing these types of tasks often nets you money or stat increases for Colton's abilities, making them worth your while.
Learning to move Colton around is going to take some time. This is one of those games that must have forced the developers to improvise when trying to port a dual-joystick PlayStation 2 game onto a system with a different control scheme. By default, the PSP's analog stick makes Colton run around, while the four face buttons make him look and aim in different directions. Don't expect precise aiming with this setup, but since Gun provides a generous autoaim feature, you can get used to it. Alternatively, you may switch the scheme around to make the face buttons handle running in different directions while the analog stick controls your aim, which might feel much more natural to you. Other commands, for holstering and switching weapons and such, require pressing and holding directions on the D pad while pressing different face buttons--pretty complicated and not ideal, but after a while, it works. Unfortunately, riding around on horseback just doesn't feel the same in this version, due to the controls.
Once you get comfortable with the basics, the missions in Gun Showdown can be quite fun. The shooting is as visceral as in other versions, so you can use pistols, rifles, and shotguns to target different parts of your enemies' bodies and watch what happens when you squeeze the trigger. You'll almost always be heavily outnumbered, but you can switch to a quick-draw mode that makes everyone move in slow motion as you move from target to target, taking everybody out. While the shooting action holds up, those who have played other versions of Gun may find a few odd changes in Gun Showdown, such as an early cannon-shooting sequence that's been cut for some reason and the absence of a scalping knife that could be used to brutally execute enemies for no good reason (Gun Showdown still has plenty of gore and profanity, easily earning its M rating). You might also run into some noticeable bugs; we got ourselves stuck in the gameworld on more than one occasion. Thankfully, you can save your progress at any time.
If you'd like a change of pace from the story mode, you can always mess around with the quickplay modes. In addition to a basic version of Texas hold 'em, there are six quickplay games in all, though you'll only see the "quail hunt" minigame at first. Blast enough quail in five minutes, though, and you'll unlock the next game, which involves firing a cannon to blast apart suicidal goons running toward your fort. The other minigames similarly involve shooting waves of enemies in different contexts, a repetitive but reasonably fun way to kill a few minutes, if nothing else. These quickplay modes record your top score, and chances are you'll find one or two that will compel you to come back several times. The need to unlock each new mode might seem mildly annoying, but it helps create an incentive to give the different modes a good couple of tries.
Gun Showdown also features three ad hoc multiplayer modes for up to six players. One of them is that same old Texas hold 'em game, but you might as well bust out a real deck of cards if you've got four friends itching to play. The main modes are a standard deathmatch and "golden cross," a keep-away game whose winner is the player who can stay alive for the longest amount of time while holding onto a special item. The deathmatch mode may optionally be played with computer-controlled bots, which is nice. You can't use the quick-draw mode in multiplayer for fairly obvious reasons, but the game's variety of weapons still makes for some decent skirmishes, especially when it comes to blowing up your buddies with sticks of dynamite or lighting them up with whiskey bombs. A variety of maps and characters from the story mode are selectable for use with the multiplayer portion of the game.
Though some sacrifices were made in scaling Gun down to the PSP, this is still by all means a good-looking game, filled with some impressive-looking animations and the unmistakable sights and sounds of a Western. The PSP's widescreen display format is well suited to the game's panoramic views, and the audio in Gun Showdown is even better than the visuals, thanks especially to the excellent voice cast for the main characters of the story.
Gun Showdown is an interesting PSP game because while the underlying game is mostly similar to one that's been out for about a year, there are enough differences and additions to make this version potentially worthwhile for fans of the original. Gun Showdown makes a clear effort to address a few of the original game's minor shortcomings, such as how Colton now has his very own horse he can summon to his side, rather than be forced to steal horses as though they were cars from Vice City. But it's not like this is the hands-down best version of Gun yet, even despite the addition of the fairly solid new quickplay and multiplayer modes. Overall, Gun Showdown is a good way to get a Wild West fix anytime, anyplace.