Developer: Neversoft Entertainment
Release Date: November 15, 2005
When you hear Neversoft, you think of Tony Hawk, right? Well, think again. The long-standing extreme sports developer has turned its focus onto something wholly unexpected and different from what we're used to. Neversoft is going west, Wild West. In Gun, you play as Colton, a Midwestern trapper and frontiersman forging his way in the western territories after the American Civil War. The story begins alongside your father and a mysterious attack on a riverboat by these creepy outlaw types who look more like zombified cowboys than anything. From there, you descend into the brutality of the Wild West, where justice and revenge aren't always exclusive and where settling up means paying up with coin or blood. All in all, it is a pretty cool ride to take, and thankfully, it's one we haven't taken before.
Gun is played mostly from a third-person perspective, and Colton can wield all sorts of period weaponry, ranging from a muzzle-loading Ferguson rifle to a Winchester lever-action carbine to a wide range of revolvers. You can go double-fisted with your pistols, which in later stages you'll have to, and you can also keep a big old bowie knife or a nasty tomahawk in your back pocket if things get a little personal.
From the third-person view, you'll maneuver and shoot, whether it's on foot or horseback, but oftentimes you'll be overwhelmed by a whole lot of bad guys in which you can evoke Quick Draw. Quick Draw is Gun's take on Bullet Time; everything slows down, and you move from a third- to first-person perspective. You then flick the thumbstick in the direction of your target, and the nearest one is highlighted. You can finesse your aim to get a headshot, which earns you more Quick Draw time, and the quicker you rack up kills, the more Quick Draw time you earn back. This gets to be fun, but unless you're using pistols, it is not the most effective move. With a rifle and far-off targets, you're better off saving Quick Draw for later, which makes sense.
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.
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 because 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?
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.
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. Even the minor characters are voiced convincingly.
The recommended difficulty level for experienced action gamers is "Hard," but at no point in the documentation or on the screen was there an implication of grading on a curve. When reviewing a title, I always play it at the default difficulty because I believe that it represents what the average player will encounter, as most gamers (casual or otherwise) will start most new titles at the default/normal level. At the "Hard" level, some of the more uneven fights are more challenging, though.
Gun is based around a single-player narrative which is very strong. The situations, language and contexts are all adult-oriented so nothing here is dumbed-down or sugar-coated. You'll hear your share of cuss words, but more importantly, the storyline is geared towards an older audience so things don't get too simple or over-the-top. While not as subtle as Condemned, the only hyperbole that Neversoft aims for is in grittiness. Everyone in Gun looks either salacious or downright evil. No matter whom you run into, he or she is modeled and textured to look like a hard-living and hard-edged creature that was forged in some dark furnace. The dialogue and sound match the look precisely. The game's overall artistic design is seemingly authentic yet decidedly grim. I'm not sure if people back in the day looked like this, but I'm glad I didn't live back then to find out. This is Gun's best aspect, the cohesion of its narrative themes and elements with its graphics and sound. Very rarely do you find a game that is moving all in the same direction and at the same pace.
Gun's only failing, if it may be called that, is that it's a multi-system port. Rather than building the game for the X360 and scaling it down, it was built for the PS2 and scaled up. This makes sense because if the game runs on a PS2 well enough, then it'll easily run on the other systems. What this means is that the only enhancements the X360 version receives is some cleaner lines and brighter colors. I daresay that the X360 and Xbox versions look largely identical, and if the X360 version were played on a standard definition screen, there would be no discernable difference. Content-wise, the game is identical from system to system, and there isn't any multiplayer capacity. There is a Texas Hold 'em mini-game which I love, but Gun is all about its narrative core: single-player.
Seeing how Gun is limited by being designed for the PS2 before all else makes me a little sad. Looking at the modeled grass blades and leaves of other games alongside the bump mapping and lighting makes me imagine what Gun could have looked like. With the horsepower the Xbox 360 boasts, Gun could have been more populated with more NPCs to interact with and create a more viable game universe to get into. Better modeling and texturing would have made the characters look so much more detestable and desperate. Gun also suffers from some pretty big bounding boxes and collision code. Get your crosshairs near someone, and you'll hit them. It's not auto-aim; it's simply an extra surface area to shoot at that you can't see. Had Gun been developed to take advantage of the X360, this collision modeling would have also been more refined.
It is unfair to criticize Gun too harshly for these misgivings, as the PS2's hardware limitations are being exposed on a newer generation system, but it would have been nice if Neversoft had spent some time fine-tuning each edition of Gun a little more. That being said, you could save yourself about 10 bucks and buy the Xbox version of Gun and play it on your X360 but without the high-definition benefits of the game running in 780p. Whichever version you do buy, you will be rewarded with a game that has a mature storyline, bloody, and gritty action and some wide-open fun in a scary game world. Gun is a game that reflects the maturation of its audience very well. It's violent, profane, and nasty, but all with a sense of purpose, and it's always good to see a developer break away from its formula and try something new.
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