GUN Showdown
| GUN Showdown

Skateboarding and sand don't mix too well. Perhaps it's this reason – the physical incompatibility of rubber wheels and grip tape with ten million grains of purchase-less crushed rock – that has ensured the world of professional skateboarding and that of the poncho-clad, revolver-toting, rotten-toothed cowboys are yet to meaningfully converge.

Nevertheless last year, undeterred by this tradition of thematic segregation, developer Neversoft took a break from its relentless output of Tony Hawk skateboarding games to work on a Wild West themed shooter. And quite the success story it turned out to be, too, boasting a surprisingly good story, a well-crafted and believable world of 1800s yee-haw America, and some impressively realised good, bad and ugly, stubbly men shooting each other to win the affections of beautiful hitch-high skirted women.

The transition from console to handheld has been handled by Rebellion, who has seen fit to not just transport the desert grain pixel by pixel on to the small screen, but to also add in a fair few impressive tricks and flips of its own.

The game follows the story of gravel-throated Colton White, a desperado-in-training who hits hard times after a series of unfortunate events on a hunting trip lead to the death of his 'father'. Colton immediately gets himself a horse and heads off into the sunset in search of answers, revenge and, as is usually the case with these things, himself. Typically, this involves collecting bounties on outlaws, holding up banks, derailing trains and, of course, copious amounts of shooting.

The story spurs along at a gallop as a large and exciting cast are introduced cut-scene by cut-scene. These cinematics are extremely impressive (if often very gory – earning the game's 18 certificate) for a PSP title and the bombastic orchestral score and exquisite detail of the full motion video inspires and maintains keen interest throughout the story. For players already familiar with the game on console there is even a fistful of PSP-exclusive plot elements and missions threaded into the narrative to lengthen what was already a generous tapestry.

This expanse is made clear after the introductory sequences and first tutorial-style missions when the gameplay opens itself up, enabling the player to decide when to advance the story and when to explore the numerous side-quests (see PG Tips below) – this is a free-roaming action-adventure, after all.

Meanwhile, the mainline missions, almost without exception, involve getting to grips with the titular weapon (more guns unlock, along with upgrades, as you continue your ride towards the sunset).

The analogue stick controls Colton's movement, while the four face buttons handle the aiming. It's an approach most of the PSP first/third-person action adventure games requiring gunplay have adopted and, just like in all the others, it's an undeniably cumbersome and awkward system that is simply the lesser of possible schematic evils. The developer here compensates for the unavoidable lack of precision the system affords with a generous auto-aim function.

Various other functions are mapped to the D-pad, such as weapon switching, drinking from your hip flask to restore health or entering the game's slow-motion gun mode. The latter triggers a temporary and depleting gauge that grinds the world to a bullet-time slouch (dubbed here 'Quick-draw' mode). During its activation, you can spend more time lining up headshots and less time getting mad at the imprecise and hand-breaking control scheme. The mechanism works particularly well when you're vastly outnumbered by bad guys, and its implementation is very welcome. Handily, it also helps fulfil any Wild West fantasies you may still carry from watching spaghetti westerns as a youth.

Six quickplay modes have been squeezed into the package, from Quail Hunt through to even a basic Texas Hold 'Em simulation (which is also available in multiplayer ad-hoc mode). A standard deathmatch mode and a 'capture the flag' (well, golden cross) hiding game join the poker as ad hoc multiplayer options and, despite losing functions such as the 'quick-draw' mode, these elements are as fun as you might expect.

Indeed, such unlockable bonuses help provide the necessary incentive to play the game thoroughly, and add definition to an already confident and well-formed package involving a decent mix of play styles, ranging from strategic gun-slinging and stealth elements to daring horseriding.

By virtue of the open-world approach of its genre, GUN Showdown inevitably shows up some of the inherent problems of bringing such large scale ambition to the handheld format. Nevertheless, it's a good-looking and technically impressive game.

GUN Showdown

If you're prepared to come to terms with the sizeable control issues and accept the occasional technical gremlin, there's gold to be found in them there pixels
Simon Parkin
Simon Parkin
Simon Parkin is an author and journalist on video games. A core contributor to Eurogamer and Edge, he is also a critic and columnist on games for The Guardian. He is probably better at Street Fighter than you, but almost certainly worse at FIFA.