Developer: Neversoft Entertainment
Release Date: November 8, 2005
First thing's first: GUN is my clear-cut winner for Rental Game of the Year. It brought me back to the jaw-droppingly wonderful 10 hours I spent playing Devil May Cry and the gameus interruptus shock to my system when I realized that I had beaten it. I usually wait until the end of my reviews to "go negative," but the shortness of this title overshadows its many, many fine points. If GUN were about twice as long, or if it had any type of multiplayer mode whatsoever, it could be a hearty contender for Game of the Year. I had to say that up front. And now for something completely different ….
Let's call a spade a spade. GUN is, in essence, Grand Theft Equine: Deadwood. If you have watched HBO's profanity-laced horse opera, you will feel right at home in the world of GUN. If there had been a few utterances of the word which is roughly the equivalent of rooster vacuumer, this could be an episode of "Deadwood." Hookers, opium dealers, grandiose themes, cattle drives, corrupt local government, political intrigue, renegade soldiers – you name it, GUN's got it. You are welcome to shoot, stab, and blow people up to your heart's content. If you want to ride for the Pony Express, saddle on up; if wearing a badge is your thing, go get 'em deputy; and if gambling is more your style, there are more than a few Texas Hold 'em games around.
GUN tells the story of Colton White, son of a hunter who supplies the riverboats with fresh meat. In a very nicely executed "tutorial" session, daddy Ned teaches our hero the finer points of gunplay, how to stalk prey, and how to be a good man. I'm sure you all know what happens to "good men" in western movies. Fast forward a bit (no real spoilers), all hell breaks loose, Colton's dad is killed, and his mission is now the oldest motive in the book: vengeance.
Starting with only a token to a brothel in Dodge City and cryptic last words from his father, Colton begins his quest to find out who had his father murdered, and why a hooker is his only link to his own rather fuzzy past. Pretty standard Sergio Leone fare, but it feels so right. There is a warm feeling of nostalgia for the westerns of the '30s and '40s, but with a preponderance of profanity that would have never been allowed in Howard Hawks' day.
If, as I said earlier, GUN had been longer, I could tell you a little bit more about the story. As it is, anything I tell you beyond this point would lessen the game's impact. Suffice to say that the tale of Colton White is very entertaining, has a few nicely plotted twists, and is quite bloody and therefore not for the squeamish.
Just prior to arriving in Dodge City, Colton is befriended, taught to ride, and gets his first horse. Horsemanship is essential in the completion of GUN, as well as imperative if one wishes to beat all of the side missions. By the way, my complaint of shortness included my handling over 88% of the game's side missions. 'Nuff said.
GUN succeeds in the equine arena better than any Western game before it. In the very entertaining (but non-violent) rancher side missions, you learn to herd cattle into their pens using nothing more than skillful positioning of your trusty steed. In combat, your horse can kill villains who are on foot with a neat trampling attack; during chases, your horse can jump over obstacles, and when needed, it can turn on a dime, allowing you to get a better shot on the sucker who was closing in on you. The ol' nag can even break down fences and some doors with a kicking move. You must also watch how hard you push the old glue factory. The last thing you need is to spur your horse to death in the middle of a gunfight.
Unfortunately, the horses' behavior when you are not in the saddle is a little sketchy at best. The "generic" horses in the towns stand stock-still most all of the time, but if you dismount and enter a building, it's pretty much a crapshoot as to whether your horse will still be there when you leave the aforementioned building. Fortunately, you can take any horse you see, and no one notices. This really bothered me on one side mission, though. I risked my hide to take down a horse thief and return the prize mare to her owner, only to find the horse abandoned after the "Mission Completed" screen. If you care enough about a horse to pay me to get it back, why leave it there?
There are a number of side missions to aid Colton's education. Wanted posters are slathered all over the map, and each desperado is wanted "Dead or Alive." In most cases, "alive" gets you more cash as a bounty, but some guys are just better off dead. The poker tournament is pretty boring. Six different tables of No-Limit Texas Hold 'em, each with no entry fee, are at your disposal, but the AI is no better than playing Go Fish with your grandkids. At least make us risk some of our own money to enter.
Each of the game's two towns (yes, only two) has a lawman, and you may sign on with him to keep the town clean of riff raff. These side missions are comprised of halting bank robberies, rescuing hostages, and arresting wanted felons.
The Pony Express missions are simple "get from point A to point B as fast as you can" affairs. I never once had to stop and fight the ambushes set in my path; I just rode hell-bent for leather.
On the technical end, I was happier than a bus load of fat women on their way to see Ricky Martin. (Thanks, Larry the Cable Guy!) The colors, textures, clothing, and lighting all screamed "Classic Western" to the point where you can almost smell the tang of the rivers and feel the dust cloying around your nostrils. I'm a sucker for sunlight effects, and GUN does not disappoint here, either.
Musically, the score could not be better if it were written by Aaron Copeland. If you don't know who he is, look him up sometime. There aren't many composers who sound as unabashedly American: bold brass, a driving but underscored rhythm, and a sense of both grandeur and serenity.
Now we come to the most notable and under-advertised part of GUN: the voice-overs! Not since GTA: Vice City has such a stellar cast been assembled for a "mere" video game. Here is the dramatis personae of GUN: Thomas "The Punisher" Jane as Colton; Kris Kristofferson as his dad, Ned; Tom Skerrit as a good friend Colton meets during his travels; and Lance Henriksen, Brad Dourif and Ron Perlman as the major villains. Wow! Even the minor characters are voiced convincingly. My only complaints here are the pregnant pauses between sentences that make the cut scenes longer than they need to be. Perhaps this was a ploy to artificially lengthen playing time. Hmmm ….
Where gameplay itself is concerned, the control scheme couldn't be better. Left stick move, right stick aim, triggers either fire the selected weapon or throw the selected missile. Of course, when I say missile, I mean dynamite or Molotov cocktails, which are referred to as "Whiskey Bombs" in a nod to historical accuracy. It is very easy to control Colton no matter what venue he is in. Running in one direction while firing in another is no big deal, and I didn't encounter a single place where the camera angle was hindering either my movement or aim.
"Quickdraw Mode" is GUN's version of bullet time, or whatever term the Wachowski Brothers haven't trademarked for slow-mo during gunplay. It's pretty much the same as in Max Payne, ya know?
This is the place in my reviews that I reserve for my opinions of the multiplayer modes of the game in question. Um … well, there are none. End of paragraph.
To my editors (and to you, faithful readers) I say this: If the game had been longer, my review would have been longer.
The recommended difficulty level for experienced action gamers is "Hard," but when I review a title, I always play it at the default difficulty because I believe that it represents what the average player will encounter. While I freely admit to playing GUN on the "Normal" level, I still managed to finish most of the side missions and had sufficiently raised my character to "Gunslinger Level" before reaching the subsequent endgame. I believe that most gamers (casual or otherwise) will start most new titles at the default/normal level. Real novices will start off at the "Easy" mode, and who blames them?
At no point in the documentation or on the screen was there an implication of grading on a curve. I can understand Neversoft's point of view, but I can only shudder at how fast I would have finished the game at the "Easy" level. After replaying GUN for roughly two hours at the "Hard" level, I agree that some of the more uneven fights are more challenging, but that doesn't change my overall opinion.
In the final analysis, GUN is a fantastic-looking, smooth-playing, slickly-developed, adult-themed Wild, Wild West action game, which succeeds in most every area it enters. The characters are interesting, the world is believable and richly populated, and the side missions are entertaining and necessary to build Colton's skills. Unfortunately, the length of the game makes me very glad I didn't plunk down my hard-earned $50 for it. Trust me folks, it'll be the best rental game you have had all year, and when it's over, you too will be left with the feeling of "… is that it?"
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