Developer: Neversoft Entertainment
Release Date: November 8, 2005
When we first heard about GUN, it was rather difficult to know exactly what to think. The confidence Neversoft and Activision showed in GUN was unmistakable. Was it well-founded, or was GUN just going to be another flash-in-the-pan western video game that should have rolled away with the tumbleweeds?
In the earlier stages, it was hard to tell how the claim Neversoft staked would pay out, but our recent hands-on with this near-release game gave us plenty of insight on how the Wild West would be won – or lost.
GUN had some impressive credentials from the outset, and one of the best-known at this point is the voice acting. Top-quality assets were secured early, including The Punisher's Thomas Jane, Kris Kristofferson and Ron Perlman, to name a few from the cast. This made a strong case for the argument that GUN was destined for release as a cinematic shooter. Building off recent industry attempts to immerse the gamer into a movie-like experience, GUN not only received voices that could act, but it also got a workable storyline and a good enough graphics engine to make in-game cinematics possible.
As for the story, it all focuses around our everyday man, Colton White. He's a pretty plain-vanilla character when we meet him out in the wilderness with his dad, Ned, just trying to make ends meet by downing some big game for the steamboat heading their way. We find out in an ensuing firefight that Colton's past isn't so plain-vanilla, as Ned tells just enough for Colton to learn that Ned isn't daddy, and that there's some prostitute in Dodge City that can help him find out the rest of the story that Ned can't tell because he's too busy dying. Needless to say, this should be enough of a flag to parents that this isn't a game for kids, unless you've already taught them about the free-wheeling principles of our fledgling United States – a land where the concept of Eminent Domain made many disturbing activities acceptable.
With Ned joining the dearly departed, it's up to Colton to finally strike out on his own and pursue his new obsession of finding out where he actually came from. Here's where things could get rough for GUN. If the game focuses solely on his past, the game will essentially ride the rails of a fairly common and simple plot. After all, Colton's a young man, fresh out from under Ned's wing, and most people like that are subject to all kinds of distraction along the way.
Most recently, we've seen that GUN can indeed be non-linear. There are plenty of jobs in the Wild West for a man with a horse who is fast on the draw, so Colton finds plenty of options for distraction along the route of his quest for the answers of his origin. In fact, the gigs you pick up along the way are equivalent to side-quests in an adventure, allowing Colton to improve his marksmanship, hand-to-hand, and quickdraw skills.
Quickdraw, you say? What's that? Quickdraw is GUN's version of the newly popular method of slowing time to make impossible situations possible. Although many games have tried to use it recently, GUN seems to have made itself well-suited to the effect. A full quickdraw episode doesn't last too long, and it is something that needs managing, as your quickdraw abilities don't replenish that fast, unless you take on some of those side-quests.
Overall, the side missions should give the experience (and improvement in skills) that every young man needs to search out the truth of his past, and develop enough composure to handle himself well enough around working girls to show some respect. That said, GUN allows choice between the frantic pace of hard-driving ride straight through to the end in a Halo 2 fashion, or to take some time to stop and smell the dust in Dodge City.
The other trait we pointed out is the need for in-game cinematics, and GUN has plenty of them. Luckily for the PS2, GUN uses plenty of the colors and shapes that it can handle well, so it already looks pretty good, even when standing side-by-side with an Xbox. For our current-gen consoles, GUN takes full advantage and works very well for creating an environment in the Wild West. There are some advantages, of course, to the environment of GUN; after all, it's a sparse, undeveloped world with few buildings and not much natural clutter. This frees up a lot of resources for the other more important things in GUN, like character rendering.
On the Xbox 360, GUN looked good. Fine, so it's not spectacular, but it's a launch title, and there are tons of current-gen consoles out there, so it is rather nice that they spent their time optimizing it for those platforms instead of ignoring them altogether. That said, it's not as if they ignored the X360 either. GUN has received its share of criticism for graphics quality on the 360, but at the end of the month, we'll see how much of that criticism was actually warranted. It seems like many have been a little too harsh, and after all, if given a choice between excellent control and excellent graphics, most would choose the former.
GUN is good at first feel, as far as the controller goes. Beginning with the first training episode of hunting some big game, to fending off the wolves competing for your spoils, GUN takes you head-on into the action, but lets up before your fingers begin to cramp from holding the controller too tightly for too long.
Essentially, the game offers a good mix of intense shooting action, moderate intensity adventure action, and some nice relaxing rides atop your trusted steed. Combine that fair mix with a control scheme that really works – yes, even riding the horse isn't a chore to learn to manage – and you have a game that really lets you forget about how your hands are interfacing with the artificial world on the screen in front of you. The horsemanship comes quickly, and it seems that Neversoft took to heart all the good and bad in the mechanics of what had already hit the market to make theirs better than the pack. Ride it for yourself. You'll like it.
As far as the rest of the controls go, GUN leaves you in charge, and there are few times where the situations or the physics of the game control the situation. One key element in keeping the game from controlling you is quickdraw, which, as previously mentioned, slows down time so that you can make quick work of several pesky opponents in a very short period of time. At first, using quickdraw feels a bit unnatural in comparison to how well the rest of the game is mapped to the commands of the controller, but it is still quick and easy to be accustomed to how it works. It seems GUN should be a real hit for those who value console shooters that try to mitigate the awkwardness of the controller as much as possible.
There are two other shining qualities that give GUN the potential to break the mold of western video games that never should have been. Neversoft not only went out and secured great vocal talent for the characters, but they also found someone who knew what to do when building the soundtrack and effects for GUN. If you've ever heard a black-powder musket, the sound is far different from the precise crack of today's refined firearms. GUN not only took the time to match these sounds to the game, but the soundtrack remarkably lacks many of the cheesy tunes that you might expect it to take on when thinking of western-style films. For that, we say thank you! The sounds of GUN are present when needed, well-balanced, and atypical of the genre.
Finally, the single, and likely most important, factor which makes GUN have real potential for success is that development was obviously led by someone who understood not only the Wild West, but wilderness and nature, and how it should be in a game of this type. One thing the world of GUN's time was not is sterile and controlled. A game of this type could easily be cold and unnatural, simply through the leadership of a person accustomed to the digital, sterile life many of us lead in the information age. Whatever GUN lacks by having a fairly simple plot, it looks to make up in the vivid, virile recreation of the era.
GUN may be a hit on all three platforms, and the final code will shine through in the reviews to show the game's true nature, but one thing already seems certain. If you liked Deadwood on HBO, you will most surely like GUN.
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