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Freeware Friday: Smokin' Guns

Welcome to Freeware Friday, a weekly column showcasing excellent games that you can play free of charge!

Gamers have been clamoring for a genuinely great western-themed game since Lucasarts' seminal Outlaws. While some have come close, none have quite reached that level of excellent gameplay merged with an engaging and believable story. While Smokin' Guns has no story, it's certainly one of the best western shooters around, and is a good contender to steal that title from Outlaws. It's rippin', roaring', take no prisoners western multiplayer action for absolutely no cost. Well, except for maybe your life. This game is addicting like only the best multiplayer shooters are!

First, like any good western, we've got to have some history! Seeking a good western first-person shooter, a team of people created a mod called Western Quake 3 for Quake 3. Skip ahead a few years later, and the team handed it over to a new team called Smokin' Gun Productions that continued to update the mod. Finally, id software released the Quake 3 code as open source, allowing the modders to turn their game into a free, open-source standalone game by integrating the open-source code with their materials. They did exactly that, and the result is Smokin' Guns.

Smokin' Guns is, as has been mentioned many times already, a western-themed multiplayer shooter. Because it is based on Quake 3, the models and textures behind it might not be up to snuff to modern standards. However, the art style stays consistent throughout and the level design is spot on. While it may not be the highest detail game out there, it manages to convey the theme in the midst of the raw kinetic energy of combat, and that is all that matters. Maps range from a railroad yard to a small town and are very wide open, forcing players to stay on their toes. The models are also well designed, bringing to mind the heroes and villains of all the classic spaghetti westerns. The sound is equally good, with some great sound effects. An extra kudos is deserved for the excellent revolver firing and reloading sounds, which are some of the best I have ever heard.

The basis of Smokin' Guns is the same behind any first-person shooter. Track down your opponent and shoot them until their corpse hits the ground. However, it distinguishes itself with some interesting gameplay modes as well as weapons. The only real shame is that there is no single-player beyond playing against the bots. Sacrifices must be made to make a game great, though, and Smokin' Guns is definitely great.

There is a buy system in place that is divided into categories where players can buy items from cash found either on the map or on enemy corpses. Items are divided into 5 categories, and each weapon has their own pros and cons, with no particular weapon being a overpowered. The categories are relatively simple to understand, but if you don't want to deal with them, you can still be effective using only the default pistol. Sometimes, those are the most satisfying kills! The categories are:
  • Pistols are your bread and butter. They can be fired faster than anything except the gatling gun, and can also be dual-wielded for extra firepower. An interesting element is that you must reload each of your pistols separately, forcing you to switch to the pistol you want to reload and reloading it. One pistol even reloads slower as you put the bullets in one at a time. They are good at a medium range and will most likely be the weapons you use most.
  • Rifles are your long-range denial weapons. If you can take up position on a roof, you can use a rifle to pick off approaching players with ease. High damage and high accuracy are only offset by the slow fire rate and reload, which makes them near useless in close-range combat.
  • Shotguns are your close-range weapons, obviously. They fire relatively slowly, reload slowly, and are incredibly inaccurate. However, in close-range combat no weapon is as effective as the shotguns for killing off baddies quickly.
  • The fourth and final regular weapons category is machineguns, which consist entirely of an old-style crank Gatling Gun. It's one of the most powerful weapons in the game, with good damage, accuracy, range, fire rate, and clip size. However, it is both prohibitively expensive, and, worst of all, makes you stationary while you use it.
  • The Misc category is comprised of extra items. These are things such as boiler plate armor, throwing knives, a scope for your rifles, an ammunition belt, molotovs, or dynamite. Dynamite is the most interesting, as it will only explode when shot, allowing a player to turn it into a grenade (by shooting it in mid-air, given they have good aim) or into a pseudo-mine that they trigger by shooting.

Any game type allows you to purchase from these categories as well as ammo for your weapons. Pistols are always primary weapons, and everything else is secondary. Keep in mind that you can only carry one secondary weapon at a time, so choose wisely.

Speaking of game types, there's the standard smattering of deathmatch, team deathmatch, last man standing, and team last man standing. However, the most interesting gametypes by far are the duel and bank robbery game types. Duel pits groups of 2 players against each other in arenas for 1v1 combat. Players can buy weapons before dueling, although weapons are lost between duels and cash is reset as well. The standard seems to be three duels at any one time. Bank robbery is the other major new gametype, and it plays much like a western-themed Counter-Strike. The outlaws must make it to the bank, rob it, and flee to the trainyard before the lawmen kill all of them. Since players have only one life, it can become pretty intense, especially on alrger servers.

Smokin' Guns is a worthy successor to the Outlaws tradition, even if it doesn't follow the gameplay laid down in Lucasarts' classic. With some refined gameplay modes, the best weapon balance I've seen in a shooter in a long time, and a theme that most players adore to death, Smokin' Guns is an absolute must play. You can download the game for PC and Linux right here on Big Download or through the official site, which also contains mapping tools and other extras. Happy hunting!

For another look at freeware games, take a peek at Joystiq's Free Game Club weekly feature!

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