It’s been a good 20 years since DOOM blasted its way onto the scene and laid the foundations for the rise of the first-person shooter. Some people may look back on its arrival with dismay given how stagnant the genre has become, but its legacy cannot be denied. Developer Green Hill Studios hopes to capitalise on that with its latest PlayStation Mobile offering, Gun Commando – an old-school action game set in an intentionally blocky three-dimensional world.
The narrative is not particularly clear, but from what we could deduce from the admittedly great comic book cutscenes, you play as a character called Jack, who smells as though he’s been borrowing cologne from Max Payne and Duke Nukem. In short, you're a kick ass soldier and there are things to kill – what are you waiting for?
For the purposes of this review, we played on the PlayStation Vita with button controls, rather than the standard touch interface. The latter is an option, but we found it to be far more frustrating than it was worth. Here, your left and right thumbs linger in the corners of the screen, and act as virtual sticks. However, while manoeuvring forward and backward works well, turning is a bigger challenge, which is a problem during tense fire fights. Tapping the right side of the screen operates your trigger, while the left side allows you to slide. Like many old-school shooters, you can't look up and down, which is a noticeable omission when the enemies get more devious later in the game.
The campaign is comprised of just over 20 levels. Every few stages, you’ll confront a boss, although strafing and shooting is usually all that’s required to beat them. Upon completion, you’ll be presented with a score, although this has no bearing on your progress. The first few levels are extremely easy; they’re actually rather dull and can be completed in under a minute. However, once you reach level 15, there’s a huge difficulty spike. As is the fashion with these games, the strength of the enemies is indicated by the colour of their armour, so when the hideous green aliens arrive, you'll know that things are ramping up.
As you accurately hit an enemy, a bar in the corner of the screen fills up. Once filled, you’ll be rewarded with a new, more powerful weapon. Unfortunately, given the floaty controls, you’ll be far more likely to pray and spray, but with each miss, the meter decreases. This really can affect your likelihood of success in the later levels where you can find yourself outgunned.
To make matters worse, Gun Commando lacks a checkpoint system, which makes the longer stages extremely frustrating. There were several occasions where we nearly crushed our innocent Vita against the wall, which, while an element of retro gaming, is not a particularly pleasant feeling. For a game that inspires such mindless rampaging violence, you really have to play it smart and safe if you want to progress.
Gun Commando is a neat idea, but it falls apart in the final stages. The nostalgic presentation is a strong lure, but the sloppy controls and relentless difficulty let it down. It may be an accurate representation of the genre that it's attempting to celebrate, but times have changed.