The National Rifle Association, better known as 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 the guns themselves.
I don’t get super-political on this blog, but you can probably tell my absolute disgust for the NRA. Gun regulation is a big problem here in the United States, what with lots of gun homicides and mass shootings happening almost regularly. The NRA often use scapegoats to distract from the real issues about guns in this country. Lots of countries in the world have already figured out gun laws, and yet we sit here with them blaming everything but the product itself.
It doesn’t surprise me that they would be absolute hypocrites when they blame video games, yet made their own game. Well, rather, they gave endorsement for a video game.
This is NRA Gun Club. A first-person shooter published by Crave 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, which I wrote about here, as well as Navy SEALs: Weapons of Mass Destruction. 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.
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.
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 executive vice president and mirror-universe Stephen King. He’s probably the most notable personality of the organization next to like, Charlton Heston.
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 describe each one the best that I can.
The “Plinking” challenge involves rapid-fire scoring for points. Choose a weapon, shoot at targets, score points, repeat until time runs out. Most of the targets award 5 points, but some target like the cans award 10. Each of these are done in “Strings,” where the range is reset each time, with the final score averaged out of the best runs. If the average meets the minimum required score, it’s considered a passing grade.
The challenges are split between pistols, long range rifles and shotguns. Once you qualify in each challenge, it ends with a “Multi” course that combines all three weapons. Successfully pass that, and the Plinking challenge is complete.
Next is the Bullseye challenge. Same rules apply: Choose a gun, shoot at a target, aim for the bullseye to get 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 challenge that made me hate this game more so than the mediocre graphics and sound design could: The Trap and Skeet challenges. Both of these are based on clay shooting targets. Equip a shotgun, aim at the clay pigeons, nail them for points. Like before, you must hit a certain amount of pigeons to qualify, then you do it one more time as a tournament to be certified.
This is what drove me nuts, and the controls exacerbated the experience. By default, R1 is fire and L2 “zooms” in (no iron sighting unless it’s a scoped weapon), and holding the right stick holds your breath. The problem is that the right stick also moves the crosshair, which means it’s harder to make precision shots, thus making holding breath a detriment, making it difficult to hit any moving targets.
Thankfully the controls can be changed to be more in line with modern shooters, but it’s still frustrating to beat. For example, in one Trap shooting challenge, the requirement to pass is 43/50 targets, which gives minimal margin for error.
There isn’t even a big difference between the Trap and Skeet modes. Both of them require shooting clay pigeons, except one will shoot from the center each time, the other will shoot 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 more fair than this!
Speaking of guns, NRA Gun Club loves touting that it has “over 100 firearms,” which I find a rather dubious claim. 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 famous guns in this game, like AK-47s, M16s, Desert Eagles, or 1911s. 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.
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. Hell, even the game’s cover features a Springfield Armory XD-9, also not in this game.
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 shotgun is a detriment in modes like Trap/Skeet and Practical, using anything but the large-magazine pistols is bad for Plinking because of lengthy reload times that can’t be sped up, and certain parts of the Practical and Bullseye challenges make choosing a low-magazine bolt-action rifle a terrible idea. 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 weapon.
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 your shooting is, with a minimum score needed to pass.
This would be at least somewhat fun if there was actual movement like a traditional FPS, but having it do all the moving for you makes it extremely awkward to play unless you exactly know where to shoot next. Your first run might as well be practice mode.
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 for this at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, 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 read my writings about really bad shooter games.
All screenshots taken from the PCSX2 emulator, version 1.4.0, using an actual copy of the game. Shout out to friend of the site Bobinator from Hardcore Gaming 101 for some assistance on helping me get screenshots for this.