Ripstone Ltd. would like to sell you a time machine. For only a buck, you can download Gun Commando [$0.99] and travel way back to 1993, a year when Bill Clinton was president, Sega and Nintendo went 15 rounds in the 16-bit console prize fight, and first-person shooters didn't bother with radical ideas like aiming up and down.
id Software also released a game called Doom in 1993--maybe you've heard of it--but Gun Commando has more in common with Doom's pappy, Wolfenstein 3D. The Macintosh version of Wolf3D, specifically, since character sprites only have one side. That means no sneaking up on alien goobers and capping them in the back. Levels are made up of rooms cut at 90-degree angles, the graphics are good and pixelated, and the plot, told through beautiful comic-book-style cutscenes, gets no more complex than "aliens are bad so shoot all the aliens."
You might notice that your 99-cent, Gun Commando-themed time machine affords access to a few tricks that B.J. Blazkowicz didn't have on hand when he went up against Robo-Hitler in id's seminal shooter. When you shoot an enemy, you add a few bars to the experience bar at the top of the screen. Fill it up and your one and only peashooter evolves, changing color and packing a mightier punch with each upgrade. Enemies that took four shots to put down soon only require three, then two, and before you know it, you're a one-shot hotshot.
Careful, though. Miss your target and you lose experience points. Empty your XP bar completely and your gun downgrades one level. It's a clever upgrade system that encourages steady aiming instead of button mashing, and makes you feel like a badass every time you topple a previously hearty bad guy in one or two shots instead of a handful or more.
Not that your enemies are sturdy to begin with. Once again evoking the zeitgeist of the 2D era, enemies pack more bite than brains. The base enemy, a grunt who swings a shield as his only form of attack, marches resolutely toward you, giving you plenty of time to take him down before he gets close enough to attack. Gun-packing aliens only fire when you step within a few feet of their position, which means you can round a corner, spot them looking right at you, and pop them off at your leisure.
Other enemies move and fire at the same time, but won't open fire unless you're in a certain range. I cleared most rooms by running in to wake up the aliens, retreating a safe distance down a clear hallway, and knocking them off one by one without taking a lick of damage. Throw in the fact that your health jumps back to 100 between levels and you can stroll right up to the final boss, no sweat.
If you do die, you just head back to the beginning of the current stage with full health and your upgraded weapon intact. Why not dock players a gun level to add tension? Not that most enemy mobs inspire much fear even with a low-level weapon. You'll meet pockets of worthy resistance on the game's twilight stages, but your gun should pack enough oomph to topple them in a few shots or less. The only real threat to Gun Commando's beefcake hero is the control scheme. Invisible sticks move and strafe, but movement fluctuates between choppy and floaty, like sliding across an icy pond.
How much you'll enjoy Gun Commando will depend on how nostalgic you are for a shooter that recalls the bygone days of boot disks and Sound Blaster 16 cards. I grew up on a healthy diet of old-school shooters where the goal was to mow down legions of mouth-breathing monsters, so I enjoyed my brief jaunt through my formative years, and appreciated how the upgrade system added some tactical consideration to the experience. Those interested in more sophisticated shooting galleries should pass.
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