This week, the massive open world Grand Theft Auto 5 launched on consoles. Sadly, Rockstar has yet to port any of its excellent mobile Grand Theft Auto titles to Windows Phone. But thanks to Gameloft, we do have one open world game on Windows Phone 8: Six-Guns. Of course, Six-Guns takes its inspiration from the Wild West-themed Read Dead Redemption, but it’s still the closest thing to GTA in the mobile Xbox lineup.

Six-Guns is a free to play game – a payment model that can be a blessing or a curse. Is this one of Gameloft’s free to play successes like UNO & Friends or a greedy failure like Real Soccer 2013? Read on for our verdict…

Wild Wild West

Six-Guns for Windows Phone 8

While Six-Guns is obviously based on Read Dead Redemption, it focuses far less on story. The handful of story missions it does have were originally added via updates to the original iOS version. The story scenes do come to life via digital comic-style animations and voice acting, at least.

What Six-Guns lacks in narrative, it makes up for in sheer abundance of missions. The game’s two large maps are dotted with glowing hotspots that trigger these missions. Missions come in several varieties, a sampling of which I’ll list now:

  • Defense: Guard a location against oncoming enemies either for a set time or a specific number of waves of enemies.
  • Offense: Take out all of the enemies in a location.
  • Racing: There are actually two types of horse races. The first, and most fun simply pits the player against three AI racers. These racers work well when you don’t feel like engaging in combat. The second requires players to shoot a certain number of targets while also passing through checkpoints within a time limit. Unfortunately, the aiming is so bad (which we’ll get to in a bit) that it makes hitting the targets under time pressure a complete chore.
  • Sniping: Requires a sniper rifle, of which there is only one non-premium option. Watch a spot and wait for a courier to deliver goods to the smuggler hiding behind a wall. Because of the bad aiming and super low windows of opportunity to hit the target(s), the sniping mission is ridiculously hard.
  • Crypt killing: For some reason, Six-Guns has a lot of supernatural enemies like werewolves, From Dusk Till Dawn-style monstrous vampires, and flying witches. In this mission type, you’ll navigate a maze-like crypt and defeat all of its unholy inhabitants along the way. I actually enjoy the mash-up of Wild West and monsters, but the witches have an obnoxious habit of getting stuck inside of walls, often making them unkillable and forcing a mission failure.
  • Rescue: These some in two varieties. In the more interesting one, players must locate and then escort one or more maidens safely out of a vampire’s crypt.
  • Shooting gallery: Fun but hard due to aiming issues.

Complete a mission to get gold and experience. When you choose to repeat a mission, not only do the rewards increase, but the round goes up and it gets harder as well. A mission can have up to fifty rounds, which would take hours to get through. That’s the brilliance of Six-Guns’ design – the multi-round missions give it tons and tons of replay value. Oh, and there are non-repeatable collectible missions too.

Controls and aiming

Six-Guns for Windows Phone 8

Six-Guns’ generally controls intuitively, just like any of Gameloft’s non-FPS tiles. You walk with a virtual stick, use a fire button to shoot, an aim button for fine aiming, and a roll button for dodging. Tapping the gun icon at the top of the screen reloads, while swiping it changes guns.

Being a western-themed game, the hero can also ride horses! Just press the horse button to whistle for your horse and instantly mount it. Riding gets you everywhere faster and you don’t even have to worry about being thrown to your death like in real life.

While the general controls all work well, aiming is problematic. Much of the time, you’ll get by with the lock-on assist. Once you’ve locked on to an enemy, you can just plug away at them unless the lock gets broken. But fine aiming is simply horrendous. The reticle just moves way too far no matter how lightly you slide your finger.

The jumpy aiming seems to stem from the game’s low frame rate. Like all of Gameloft’s 3D Windows Phone 8 titles, Six-Guns’ frame rate is somewhere around 15-20 frames per second. That’s playable, but 30 FPS is what we consider the low end of smooth. With so many frames skipped all the time, aiming at just the right target can be a real crapshoot.

Free to play foibles

Six-Guns for Windows Phone 8 horse racing

We’ve already detailed the game’s complete array of In-App Purchases and evaluated their usefulness. The question now is how much all those IAPs hurt the game.

IAPs aren’t limited to just vanity items and weapons. Enemies don’t drop ammo; you have to buy it with gold. And you can’t carry around limitless supplies of ammo, either. Each batch of bullets takes up a separate space in the player’s inventory. Additional slots cost gold. Neither of these elements really brings the game down too much. Missions and enemy kills provide more than enough gold for bullets. Bag slots will require some grinding for gold, but you’re never short for missions to grind.

Less forgivably, health refills cost premium currency. Player health recharges over time, but not during missions. To refill during a mission, you’ll need one of those costly health bottles. They can be won from the daily lottery, but unless you abuse the time changing trick you’ll seldom have any bottles on hand. Frankly, either health should recharge during missions or bottles should cost gold.

The game’s store also sells a variety of guns, clothing (armor), and horses for exorbitant quantities of premium currency. This doesn’t hurt the gameplay in and of itself (outside of multiplayer), but the prices fall pretty far on the greedy side. Gameloft has priced the best guns and outfit at $50 or higher in hopes that a few whales (big IAP spenders) will buy them. But it would be more reasonable to price those items closer to $10. Then non-insane players could justify the purchase, which would probably lead to more sales overall.


Six-Guns for Windows Phone 8 multiplayer

Six-Guns’ online multiplayer mode is also affected by those IAPs. See, whatever guns and clothing the player purchases in single-player (premium or not) can be used in multiplayer. Buy good equipment and you’ll tear through players with lesser stuff. Obviously the publisher’s hope is that players will spend money to gain a competitive advantage, but that’s bad game design.

Still, multiplayer is pretty fun as long as you don’t run across somebody with a crazy good weapon. Multiplayer only offers one game type - capture the flag, and only two maps, which feels anemic. But at least there are tons of people playing at all hours, owing to the game being free and running on 512 MB devices.

Two annoying multiplayer bugs: sometimes you’ll repeatedly fail to connect whenever you try to create or join a game. Closing the game by exiting from the title and relaunching seems to fix the connection issues for a while.

The less severe bug involves weapon selection. For some reason, you can only select between a couple of the guns in your inventory during multiplayer. To switch to any other weapon, you’ll need to open the store and equip the gun from there.


Six-Guns for Windows Phone 8

We’re running long here, so I’ll just touch on the game’s most challenging Achievement: ‘100% Completion.’ It requires players to not just beat every mission but also EVERY ROUND of every mission. That will pretty much take forever, which isn’t a bad thing if you enjoy the game. But it could be frustrating if you’re unable to complete certain missions like the sniping ones. Perhaps the Windows 8 version will help there…

Overall Impression

Six-Guns comes dangerously close to being unforgivably greedy thanks to the health bottles costing money and the sky-high prices of premium items. But you CAN get by without health bottles for the most part, and you don’t need those expensive weapons and clothing. Look past those things and you’ve got a vast game just overflowing with a variety of missions to complete. A player could spend nothing and get a hundred hours out of the game, easily.

If you really like the game and want to support Gameloft, I recommend buying a little gold or a permanent health upgrade since those are priced somewhat fairly. But the cool thing about free to play is that people who don’t like the game or its IAP prices don’t need to drop a cent on it.

I love Six-Guns (other than its erratic aiming) and can’t wait for the impending Windows 8 version. Thanks to cloud saving support, we should be able to hop back and forth between both platforms at our leisure.

  • Six-Guns – Windows Phone 8, including 512MB devices – 436 MB – Free – Store Link

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