The National Rifle Association already has several apps in Apple’s App Store, most of which are focused on news, events, or gun information. Like America’s Army, the game fronted by the U.S. Army, NRA: Practice Range seeks to gain attention by bundling an actual game along with organizational doctrine. However, such a low-quality offering is unlikely to impress anyone.
Let me just say that the irony of the NRA releasing a shooting gallery app after trotting out the tired argument that violent video games are more dangerous than firearms is not lost on me. Let me further say that I believe it to be doubly ironic that said NRA game is actually designed to make you better at shooting a gun then, say, Call of Duty. That said, I did my best to review it on its own merits. Thankfully, it still sucks.
Out of My Cold, Dead Hands
Firing up the Practice Range app presents users with a menu of basic options. At the top are the actual games, consisting of an indoor range, an outdoor range, and skeet shooting. There are also settings, a leaderboard, and a portal for NRA news. This last option is unsurprising as the app describes itself as a “mobile nerve center” for NRA information.
While the game has few user defined settings, the most important is input control. The game has two modes: analog and gyroscopic. This latter option is the default and the better of the two options. In this mode, players hold the phone at eye-level, perpendicular to the ground. Moving the phone (or, if you want a workout or possibly hit someone in the face, your whole body) moves the on-screen reticle and tapping the screen fires the weapon.
While more accurate, it is a tiring way to play the game. After a few rounds of gyroscopic control, my arms started to ache. It might behoove the developers to have the gyroscopic controls re-orient themselves to the phone’s resting position, so that game could be played in different orientations.
The second input method is “analog,” which puts an on-screen control stick on the left of the screen, a trigger on the right, and allows players to sit still. While this might be better for, say, playing in a crowded subway, it’s frustratingly sluggish and hard to play. However, it is less exhausting than holding the phone at eye level.
As a series of range shooting games, the app has little to offer. Players can fire off pistols in an indoor range (a dank, poorly lit chamber made of painted cinderblock resembling the underground lair of a low-grade super villain), an outdoor range (a bizarre outdoor scene where target balls bounce merrily from sunken pits), and skeet shooting (flying discs tossed by an unseen hand that vanish just above ground level).
Each range has three difficulties, un-intuitively named “shakey” (easy), “hot shot” (medium), and “dead eye” (hard). Surprisingly, the game offers truly challenging gameplay. Even the easiest level is difficult, and higher two are downright hard. To my surprise, I did feel compelled to keep playing and could sense an actual improvement curve.
Strangely, the game has little to offer in the way of weapons. Users have one unlocked weapon for each range, and four other weapons which can be purchased for $.99 each. This means that a full 75 percent of the game’s content is behind a paywall. (Stranger still, the app’s page on iTunes says it only contains nine firearms. It actually has 12). None of the information about each firearm is made available, so I was disinclined to purchase any as they might add little more than skin to the game.
It should also be mentioned that the game clearly makes an effort to educate the player. While each level loads (yes, there is loading time), a factoid about the NRA appears. Most of these manage to sound somewhat ominous, and only tip number one even came close to discussing the dangers of firearms: “Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.”
Blown Out of the Water
In creating the game, it’s clear that developers wanted to convey a sense of realism. Each firearm, for instance, doesn’t have the typical dramatic sound effect when fired. Instead, the sounds are very real—perhaps even pre-recorded—which is surprising because I can think of few sounds more unpleasant than firearm report.
Also, photographic images instead of 3D renderings appear to be used throughout the game. In all the outdoor ranges, for example, trees are merely cut-and-pasted bunches of leaves atop brown spikes. Similarly, the firearm selection menu appears to contain a mix of photographed weapons and CG renderings. While my eyes might deceive me, it looks bad regardless of the actual origin of the images.
Taken all together, the app feels very cheap. It certainly works, but it lacks polish and any real depth. The game crashes pretty often (three times in my brief testing period), and its lackluster aesthetics hurt my eyes. Furthermore, it definitely has a target audience and I can’t find any other way to describe my time with it than “unwelcoming.”
For someone who needs to collect poorly made CG firearms and needs a news portal with some slapdash shooting games thrown on top, then the NRA: Practice Range app cannot be beat. For everyone else, it’s a poorly timed, oddly hypocritical mess. At least it’s free.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc