Ahh, the NRA. A wonderful organization based in the United States that helps gun manufacturers with guns and trying to advocate gun safety… while blaming things like Mortal Kombat and American Psycho (?!) for causing violent shootings instead of guns themselves. Color me surprised when I found out they made a video game. Well, rather, they gave endorsement for a video game.
This is NRA Gun Club. A first-person shooter published by Crave (RIP) and developed by our good friends at Jarhead Games. I’ve covered Jarhead’s stuff in the past, with such thrilling hits as CTU Marine Sharpshooter. (I wrote about that before, check it out here.) As far as I know, this game would be their swan song, not living long enough to make it to the 360 generation. This would also be the sole game they made on the PlayStation 2, and it shows.
After being introduced to the bland title screen, I am asked to make a profile name. Since this is based on the NRA, I’d thought it’d be nice to name my profile after Wayne LaPierre, the NRA president and mirror-universe-Stephen-King.
The only mode with any sort of progression is Certification Mode. Here, there are four courses, each one unlocked after completing the previous one, with certain requirements needed to pass. There’s Plinking, Bullseye, Trap/Skeet and “Practical Shooting.” I’ll get into each one the best that I can.
The “Plinking” challenge involves rapid-fire scoring for points. It’s damn simple: Choose a weapon, shoot at targets, score points, repeat until time runs out. Most targets give 5 points, but some such as the cans give 10. Each of these are done in “Strings,” where the board is reset each time, and then the final score is averaged out of the best runs. If the average meets the minimum number, it’s considered a passing grade.
Once you qualify in each of the pistol, long-range rifle, and shotgun challenges, you do the “Multi” course which makes you go through all three. Qualify that and you’re certified in the Plinking challenge.
Next is the Bullseye challenge. Same rules apply: Choose a gun, shoot at a target, aim more for the center for maximum points. Complete all of them to be certified. The only interesting thing here is this:
Yeah, for some reason the developers loved that slow-motion bullet cam that was popularized by Max Payne and put it in here. It only shows up when you make a bullseye and get 10 points, and they mercifully can be skipped.
Now, here’s the hair-pulling challenge that made me hate this game more so than the mediocre graphics and sound design could: The Trap/Skeet challenges. Both of these are based on clay shooting targets. Like before: grab a shotgun, aim at clay pigeon, shoot for points. Hit a certain number to qualify, then win the tournament to be certified.
This is where the game’s mechanics show how busted the game is. By default, R1 is fire, L2 “zooms” in (this was before Call of Duty got big, so no iron-sights unless it’s got a scope), and holding the right stick holds breath. Problem is the right stick also moves the crosshair, which means hitting any moving targets are a nightmare. Thankfully the controls can be changed to more sensible means, but it’s still frustrating to shoot, especially when in Trap shooting, the requirement to pass is something like 43/50 targets with minimal margin for error.
There isn’t even a big difference between Trap and Skeet. Both of them require shooting clay pigeons, except one will shoot from the center, the other from a High/Low House (or both). Even then, you only get 1-2 shots depending on the number of clay pigeons pulled, which is weird cause every single shotgun available in this mode holds 3-4 rounds. Freakin’ Duck Hunt from 22 years before this was fairer than this!
Speaking of guns, NRA Gun Club loves touting that it has “over 100 firearms,” which I find dubious. Each weapon class and game type has at most 5-6 weapons, some of them are variants of other weapons. Don’t expect to fire any AK-47s, M16s, Desert Eagles, or 1911s here. The most notable guns you might know here are the Beretta 92FS, the CZ75, and the Uzi, with the rest being stuff from the back catalog of whatever firearm manufacturers they could get to license.
While it’s nice that they give stats for each gun, I never saw any difference in using anything but the gun with the fastest fire rate, fastest reload, and largest magazine size. Using a pump-action is a detriment in modes like Trap/Skeet and Practical, using anything but the large-magazine pistols like the 92FS and the P226 is bad for Plinking because of reload times, and certain things in Practical and Bullseye become worse if a low-magazine bolt-action rifle is used. An A for Effort, but there’s a reason a lot of FPSes try to pare down the weapon selection so there’s distinct benefits and downsides for each gun.
The last course is “Practical Shooting.” This is fixed targets with various guns, and plays similarly to the previous Plinking challenge but with actual movement. And by movement, I mean “being moved from area to area like a really bad light gun game.” Last verse, same as the first: Multiple strings, averaged based on how fast and how accurate the shooting was, with a minimum number to pass. This would be interesting if there was actual movement, but being set on a rail makes it extremely awkward to move unless you know where to shoot next.
After being certified in all these, all you get is to unlock certain weapon tiers to… go through these same challenges again. The best part? The game also has a practice mode where you go through the same courses but without having to qualify. Good for practice, but I was annoyed when I didn’t even get a plaque or a congratulations screen for my efforts by finishing all certifications. What a waste.
But there’s more than that, but not a lot. You can play Darts and Bowling with guns, there’s a common shooting gallery with lots of targets (the only fun thing on offer), and a competitive trap/skeet shooting that involves hitting a score limit. That’s it. Once I beat the Certification mode, I pretty much had nothing left to do unless I wanted to grind to be able to try the Mossberg 500 shotgun in game modes I didn’t enjoy playing in the first place. There’s no free-play shooting mode, there’s a dearth of certain companies’ weaponry shown here, and there isn’t much to do outside of the challenges and mini-games. All this sponsored by the National Rifle Association.
NRA Gun Club was released around 2006, towards the tail-end of the PS2’s life. It touted on the back of the box of “[Experiencing] the first-person shooter with no violence or blood,” finally giving young-ins a shooting game that they can play without hiding from their folks. Though let’s be honest, parents would still buy them Gears of War anyway. The irony? This game is rated E10+, so while there’s no violence or blood, it’s not kid-friendly.
Now I can understand why the NRA doesn’t remember their video game endorsement deal, it’s absolutely terrible. I paid $1, and I’d rather take this game to a gun range and use it for target practice than play it again. At least then I could shoot at it with a cool gun like an MP5 or a SPAS-12 or something, compared to this. That isn’t to say there can’t be fun target-range FPSes, but this is the worst shooter I’ve played in a long time. That’s saying something for anyone who’s a long-time reader of this site.
OTHER NOTES THAT I COULDN’T PUT ANYWHERE:
- This game runs on the Gamebryo engine. Gamebryo must be proud to know the same engine that powered Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion also ran this wonderful game.
- All screenshots taken from the PCSX2 emulator, version 1.4.0, using an actual physical copy of the game. Shout out to Robert “Bob” Naytor for the recommendation, check out his writings of stuff on Hardcore Gaming 101.
- The cover touts a Springfield Armory XD-9, which is not at all in the game’s arsenal.
- Speaking of “not in the game’s arsenal,” they went through the trouble to get licensing from IMI to get the Micro/Mini Uzi and the Galil SAR in, but not the weapon they’re most famous for, the freakin’ Desert Eagle.
- Highway 1 Productions assisted in development, which probably meant little more than licensing the guns and having their logo plastered everywhere.
- Doing some datamining on the CD has a bunch of sound files and a guitar-heavy theme that doesn’t play anywhere. Would’ve made the menu a little less boring.