Video game review: Secret Ponchos' western theme soon wears out
It's all about the duel, those precious few minutes in any classic western when two gunslingers face off. Wide-open landscapes, hard-bitten characters and lawless tales obviously add to the overall package, but what keeps you coming back, is the knowledge that there's always a blood-soaked gunfight coming up.
Secret Ponchos does away with all the extras, focusing exclusively on Old West shoot-outs. It's a simple game, a multiplayer-only download release for the PC and PS4, and currently available for free for all PS Plus subscribers. Players are immediately thrown into the mix, choosing from various stereotypical movie characters before being tossed into a dusty town where the only goal is to gun down your online opponents.
On the surface, Ponchos is far from a complex game: it uses a traditional top-down view, but the gameplay builds on third-person-shooter aesthetics, for a best-of-both approach.
Beneath the game's simplistic surface, though, Ponchos soon reveals itself as a clever take on the multiplayer setting: after finding your character's footing and making it through the first few rounds, the game quickly becomes all about "the bounty". Consistently win a series of bloody shootouts, and your bounty builds, allowing you to upgrade such character stats as health, stamina and firing speed. Lose a bunch and they die down, hindering your team's progress.
It's strangely complex and somewhat addictive for the first few hours. Players end up building attachments to their chosen character, each preloaded with various strengths and limitations that offer numerous opportunities to test out fresh skills and reach new goals. But there's a ceiling to all this, and once you've mastered the initially exciting dynamics, the game's limitations reveal themselves. Ponchos' replayability is practically zilch, as long-term options are limited to say the least: just four stages are offered and only three possible modes - and even in that, two modes, team deathmatch and domination, are essentially the same thing.
Which is shame, really; Secret Ponchos takes the best of the western genre and infuses it with the kind of next-gen multiplayer complexities that are quickly becoming the norm for any successful modern game. It might fail overall, but as a cheap or possibly free purchase, gamers looking for a simple time-killer could do far worse.