Despite being the first handheld with dual analogue sticks, the PS Vita’s opening forays into first-person shooters haven’t impressed. Resistance: Burning Skies was competent but unspectacular, and the less said about Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified the better. But can the budget priced and old school Playstation Mobile title Gun Commando help to buck this disappointing trend?
I have a personal confession to make: I quite liked playing first-person shooters on the Game Boy Advance. Yes, those rubbish ones that were often so blurry and pixellated that you occasionally had to squint to make anything out. For some reason, I always admired how they tried in vain to scale down the FPS experience onto a tiny screen.
So it’s odd playing Gun Commando, a game that is very much like some of those GBA shooters in terms of its ambitions, but is trying it on a handheld with significantly more power, a much larger screen, and dual analogue sticks.
In terms of the game’s set-up, it’s as simple as it gets. You’re a grizzly voiced anti-hero, tasked with fighting an alien invasion and you have to wander through largely linear stages blasting various baddies in confined areas. This is not a budget title for nothing.
What impresses about Gun Commando, though, is that it turns what might have been considered weaknesses into strengths. The basic plot is told with relish through some hand drawn cutscenes, enlivened no end by the Duke Nukem-esque protagonist. The simple enemy and level design are wonderful to look at, boasting an appealing old school pixel-art aesthetic. Stages are also short and conducive for short bursts of play, meaning their linear nature never becomes overwhelmingly tiresome.
The ’90s called. They want their FPS back
Make no mistake though, this is a title that is happy to revel in the old fashioned – and you should know instinctively whether this is something that will appeal to you. Health is replenished through medi-packs scattered throughout levels, there’s no vertical aiming, and enemies stick to set patterns, only attacking when you get within a certain range. Even your weapon is simplified; you have just one gun that steadily gets upgraded as you hit enemies, whereas missing a foe drains it.
So, with this bare bones approach it’s probably no surprise to reveal that Gun Commando does end up feeling a little tired before it reaches its conclusion. Despite four different locations and some fun bosses, there’s no getting away from the fact that you’re doing the same thing over and over just with more enemies thrown at you. It’s very easy to get stuck in a hypnotic trance as you open the door to a new room, pick off the enemies as they charge towards you, then move onto the next area and do the exact same thing.
In this way Gun Commando is very similar to popping bubble wrap: it’s joyous during the act, but it’s ultimately a short-lived and somewhat empty experience. Making things more complex would not have been a solution to these issues of course – the labyrinthine final levels introduce keycards and just end up being too easy to get lost in as every room looks similar – so Gun Commando was always going to a concept stretched to breaking point.
It would still be easy enough to let it off all its flaws due to its small price tag, but that is perhaps far too generous. There is a nagging feeling while playing Gun Commando that the developers are capable of creating a meatier and fleshed out tribute to the classic first-person shooters it references, rather than being the simple slice of knockabout fun it turned out to be. With a sequel hinted at near the end of the game, though, there’s hopefully still a chance to put that right.
Gun Commando, from Ripstone and Green Hill, is out now for the PS Vita and Playstation Mobile.