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The Player 

by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Gun Showdown & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & K & lt;/span & illing a man is quick. I stand still and relaxed. My arm drops to my side. My hand hangs open. Then my fingers move, sliding my pistol into my palm. The trigger curls its way beneath my finger. The butt hits the heel of my hand. I raise my arm. The big black drooping moustache of a cowboy-hatted head wavers near my crosshairs.





Perhaps the cowboy I'm about to kill has the same radar that I have -- the one in the lower right hand corner of the screen that shows me where my enemies are. Or perhaps someone in the game sent him a smoke signal. In any case, he was waiting for me. Now killing him involves being shot by him. A stoic "ugh" is all that escapes my lips as his bullet embeds itself in me.





If I were in the mood to toy with him, I'd roll out of the way of his next shot then run for my horse. He'd be wearing Rogue's horseshoe tracks for a hatband before he could flex his trigger finger again. Or I would light a bottle of whiskey on fire and lob it at him, dodging his erratic gunshots and taking swigs from another bottle until he burned to a cinder. But nothing's as quick as a pistol.





For the cowboy and his moustache, his head gets shot while he's raising his arm to fire at me. But in that same split second, I feel as though I have an eternity. Thanks to the herbs and medicine I bought from an Indian trader in the north hinterlands (I spent days wandering the canyons there), the moment of a quickdraw gunfight becomes a smeared-out slow-motion bloodbath. From my perspective, I have plenty of time to skewer the moustache in the center of my PSP's crosshairs, which turn red in anticipation. Then I fire. The cowboy's head spews blood, he collapses and dies. That quick.





THE GOOD: A precise and clever multiplayer shooter, finally, for the PSP, as armed as an Old West shoot 'em up can be: Pistols and shotguns join tomahawks and the occasional cannon in windy canyons and dusty streets. The writing is over the top -- who really says "confabulation" outside of Deadwood? -- but it's voiced by actors who know how to handle outlandishness, including Deadwood's Brad Dourif. The story would be laughably thin and the side quests awkwardly paced when played in the living room for hours at a time. But on the PSP, where playing time comes in short sittings, the fractured pacing and story of Gun Showdown isn't apparent.





THE BAD: One of the pleasures of an Old West setting is the chance to wreak havoc cowboy style. But Gun Showdown's world is usually a wasteland devoid of men and cows. Any life is either a vendor or an errant citizen with a mission for me. These side adventures (stop rustlers, herd cattle) bring flavor to Gun Showdown, but they only appear as the game's main storyline progresses. There is no chance for me to flake out and become a drunken horse-thieving Texas Hold 'em champ like a real cowboy.





THE BOTTOM LINE: Gun Showdown shoots straight while leading a lame oat opera.

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