A Fistful Of Gun Review: The Good, The Bad, And The Peyote

Imagine if Clint Eastwood walked into a Quentin Tarantino movie and they decided to make a video game built for an arcade cabinet in the 1980s together.

This is what Farmergnome’s “A Fistful Of Gun” on Steam encapsulates while being a fun multiplayer shoot-em-up at that. It’s full of all the charm of a spaghetti western that will draw you in, but it is the gameplay that makes you stick around. It also takes risks that make the experience playing quite unique leaving “A Fistful Of Gun” to be a fun and memorable play-through.

You’ll find all the traditional modes of a modern-retro arcade in this top-down shooter: Arcade Mode, Story Mode, Versus and Online. In Arcade Mode, you progress through a gauntlet of bad guys to reach the tops of the leaderboards, all while gaining nifty perks (such as an armor, agility or damage boost) in between rounds.

The Story Mode is like the Arcade Mode but you run into humorous encounters along with the obligatory drug reference (one level-type has the player consume peyote to go on a hallucinogenic rampage across the desert). It also has that vintage quarter-stealing difficulty that one would expect from an arcade-like and, if you suck like me, it’s probably going to take you about an hour to beat. Additionally, you could even go nuts with your friends in the game’s multiplayer which is enjoyable because the gunplay is actually well put together.

“A Fistful Of Gun” differentiates itself from other games by making practical use of almost every style of input while keeping the gunplay fresh and satisfying.

For example, if you’re playing as a character that uses a revolver pistol you’ll have to left-click to fire six times, then reload by right-clicking six additional times in succession. This may be unconventional, but it makes the moment-to-moment action palpable. Using a revolver in the middle of a gunfight feels satisfyingly natural without being realistically overbearing. This is true for most of the other characters and weapons as well.

With a repeater rifle, you can one-shot by left-clicking then refill the chamber by right-clicking. Whereas in most other shooters you can simply click once to reload and forget about it, the gun mechanics here are built to provoke a sense of care from the player into each round being loaded into the chamber. This creates a much more intimate experience holding a weapon. It all flows well together because the game’s performance never hinders.

Having spent a handful of hours in each mode, the game only stuttered once due to an overwhelming number of objects on the screen.

Note: This was reviewed on a 2012 mid-tier gaming laptop, meaning the game is in good shape, performance-wise. The stable performance is essential once you consider the number of people this game is meant to accommodate for local multiplayer.

The multiplayer in this game is unique; It allows multiple people to play via different inputs on the same PC to avoid over-crowding. Want to shoot your friends but you don’t want to share the keyboard? Have a buddy use the mouse. Got a spare Xbox 360 controller lying around? Plug it in to shoot your other friends for not inviting you. The brilliance here is that there are characters created for those specific inputs. At the character select screen, you can pick which character to choose based on which input you want to play on (the game displays the controls for the mouse, keyboard and Xbox 360 gamepad here, as well).

There are 11 characters to choose from, all of which can play differently from each other for the most part. For example, Two Feather shoots bow arrows based on which direction you’re facing. With Billy, you have to match a button press in the direction of the highlighted chamber on-screen. Dutch has a unique warping ability using the mouse’s scroll wheel. It goes on. What’s more is that each character is well-realized through charming pixel models and bios, aiding in the presentation.

It’s hard not to smile while playing “A Fistful Of Gun” because it is very well-presented. Upon starting up, the intro just makes you want to sit down for a couple of minutes and shoot some desperados. The game also knows how to get a laugh. Under the character of Virgil, for example, is a bio that reads, “Years of law enforcement experience have taught Virgil that the best way to keep the peace is by shooting people. His other interests include staring, shouting and taxidermy.” The 13th, a group of soldiers taking up one character slot, has a bio that states, “The fighting 13th were the hottest regimen in the confederacy and their original line-up holds the record for the most men on one horse. Now the war is over but they keep rocking like it’s 1862. Huzzah!” Even the weapons have funny descriptions. “A Fistful Of Gun” is as much about the player enjoying him/herself as it is about the player enjoying the game. That’s what makes it fun and funny.

Being fun and funny aren’t its only enjoyable traits, though; the visuals here also help in selling this gunslinging adventure. Though most of the environments in the game are largely the same, each area is still visually appealing and appropriate within the context of the theme. You’ve got your desert stages, river stages, railroad stages, etc. However, stages do differ in color scheme and layout.

“A Fistful Of Gun” also does right by sound and music. The music does a great job of making the game feel like it belongs in an alley arcade corner. It also pulls off western film score meets 1980s video game soundtrack in a way that feels innate. The sound effects are also on point. The title screen sounds exactly like what you expect to hear when you pop in that first quarter. In a fight, the sound that a startled horse makes when you slay its rider helps solidify the feeling that you’re playing an arcade-friendly game because you are.

As far as arcade-like experiences go, “A Fistful Of Gun” certainly captures that feeling of classic fun and challenging gameplay. If you want a nostalgic dose of difficult but fun arcadiness with a western theme, then you’ve found the game of your dreams. However, if difficulty isn’t your thing, then be aware of Story Mode’s challenge as it may be tough for newcomers. After beating Story Mode and taking a go at the Arcade Mode a couple of times, there really isn’t much else besides the multiplayer that can keep you coming back after you’ve finished, especially since one can see most of the game after just a few stages. The keywords here are: arcade game. And “A Fistful Of Gun” is a fun one, especially with friends.

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