Developer: Neversoft Entertainment
Release Date: November 8, 2005
We game journalists are a picky lot—too picky, sometimes. Many of us will sit around and complain to no end about the lack of innovation in video games, and wax fondly about the “gool ol’ days” when everything was a new and life-changing experience (mainly because back then, gaming was new enough that no ideas had had the chance to be run into the ground yet. Funny how that works.) This is usually followed by talking about how great Nintendo is, and everything spirals downward into lunacy from there.
However, games to me, are like food—there are times when I feel like trying something new and exotic, and there are other times when I just want some food I’ve already had before, but done so well that I really don’t care that I’ve had it before. Food doesn’t have to be “innovative” or “postmodern” all the time in order to be a good meal, know what I mean? If it is and still remains quality, then more power to it. But I’d rather have quality over newness.
GUN is one of those games doesn’t really do anything new. It’s got the “sandbox” concept that’s been aped by all game makers since Grand Theft Auto III. It makes you shoot lots of things (both in third- and first-person). It has platforming sequences, it makes you use the right shoulder button to pull the trigger, and the left to throw the Western equivalent of grenades (mmm… alcohol explosives.) It makes you “protect” things for predetermined amounts of time, it has hints of stealth sequences, and, by God, it has fetch quests. By all rights, it’s mediocre and paint-by-numbers, right?
If you think that, you’d be wrong. GUN may employ a ton of gameplay types that we’ve already covered over the years, but the trick is that every single one of them is incorporated into the title very well, and in an atmosphere/setting that often takes a backseat to your mystical crystal-filled fantasy worlds or your sci-fi apocalyptic landscapes, yet is still rife with untapped potential. I haven’t had such a good old-fashioned shootout against Apaches while riding atop a stagecoach in… well, ever, actually.
GUN takes place in the Wild West, and it’s not one o’ ‘dem sissyfied politically correct “we call them all Native Americans now” Westerns. In this here Old West, people live by their guns, the “civilized” cowboys are just as crass and inconsiderate as the so-called “savages” that they fight, and wow, Indians really do attack all the time and scalp people and everything. It’s a chance to live in a John Wayne movie, only reimagined and updated for the millennium. Still, it never loses the identity of its source material.
Our protagonist, Colton White, in the space of a day, has had his entire world flipped upside-down. His father’s been killed along with a bunch of innocent people—oh, wait, it really wasn’t his father after all, he’d been lying to him all these years. With nothing but a gun, a horse and a mysterious coin to fall back on, Colton ventures forth to unravel the mysteries of his past and present, meeting a cast of well-defined characters on the way. Of course, White himself is defined well enough that he could possibly end up a mascot for his time period, the same way Master Chief and Solid Snake are for theirs. His marksmanship is second-to-none, and should you so choose, he has the opportunity to become one heck of a hero—or become a villain in whatever town he happens to be in at the time. Either way, he’s a rather likeable character.
During the course of the game, you’ll be wondering who’s friend or foe, as the characters you meet are prone to switch sides darn near at the drop of a hat. You’ll also encounter characters who are more than meets the eye, as is easily proven when Jenny, who you first meet as an “entertainment” girl in a saloon, proves to be a mean hand with a rifle.
Colton will end up facing down mobs, hordes of Indians, evil gangs, and sometimes even the law in search of a way to make sense of his life again. As mentioned before, while the methods which he uses are nothing new, they are done well enough that you don’t mind doing yet another shooting gallery or “defend this!” mission in a video game.
Rock-solid control and game design makes this game a blast to play through, as well. Outside of a few analog spazzes when the action gets really intense, drawing beads on baddies is a cinch, as are other gameplay mechanics. Melee combat is just as much a part of you as gunplay, and switching to either is seamless. The ability to “quickdraw” (a sort of bullet-time with your pistol that does its best to mimic the pistol-fanning winderkinds of many Western movies) is a great feature that forever keeps you from deeming the game unfair. The compass/radar is actually useful and never, ever fails to inform you of your current objective. You will never get lost in GUN. Think about that for a second. This doesn’t often happen in 3D games. It’s practically a breakthrough.
The great thing about GUN is that while it’s been released on increasingly powerful systems, its least powerful host still has no trouble realizing the game’s ambition. The aging PS2 console still contains many of the graphical touches that one normally doesn’t see in games for this system. Texture and detail on characters have not been lost. When someone gets shot, there’s a bloody bullet hole in their flesh. When I hold a shotgun in my hands, I know I’m holding raw power; because once I nail someone with it, they go flying back across half the room, screaming after the easily-heard blast of buckshot is ejected from the barrel. The voice-acting is top-notch, as is the soundtrack and the amount of sound effects used to bring life to the game’s world. The towns themselves can seem a little bit sparse at times, but that’s about it. Neversoft wrung a lot of juice out of the PS2, and it shows.
A piece of advice, however; if you want to get the most out of your GUN experience, play this game on Hard Mode. When all is said and done, GUN’s biggest—and only—fault is its attempts at accessibility. Simply put, it tries too hard. The auto-aim in this game in Normal Mode is absolutely insane; enemies barely have to be in your crosshairs to be taken out. In Hard Mode, a bit more precision is required. Enemies are, of course, also tougher in Hard, which requires you to go on the subquests (such as Wanted posters, which are fun anyways) that raise Colton‘s attributes so he can take them out. All those people complaining about how short this game was? They only played it on Normal, I guarantee it. However, I can’t exactly blame them; Normal is technically supposed to be the native standard for a game.
If you’re looking for a good game that mixes old and new game creation concepts into a cohesive whole, look no further than GUN. It looks awesome (even on the PS2!), uses cutscenes to its advantage, and didn’t forget to include great gameplay. This is the closest we’re going to get to a next-gen reimagined Sunset Riders, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s just fine. Heck, with the Christmas rush over, Activision’s lowered the price of this to a measly 30 bucks. That’s a steal if there ever was one. Grab it up and blow up some Injuns.
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