Monday, November 28, 2005
Good: Story, Presentation, Mission Variety
Bad: Short, Easy
Funniest mission objective: "Kill the peeing guard."
When developer Neversoft, a company known for their excellent work on the Tony Hawk franchise, announced that their next project would not be another extreme sports title but instead a Western they were met with skepticism from critics and fans alike.
Now, with the release of Gun, many of the skeptics have been silenced. Simply put, Gun is the best Western game ever made. Red Dead Revolver had the right idea with its unique style and send up of the Spaghetti Western. Dead Man's Hand tried to crack the genre but was, for the most part, hit or miss. Even Darkwatch took advantage of the open terrain and outlaw motif, but Gun ties all of the elements of a good Western-compelling story, memorable characters and incredible action sequences-to create one of the most stylized story-driven games of recent memory.
A tale of vengeance and redemption set in the violent West, Gun follows the path of Colton "Cole" White, a young trapper in the wilderness of Montana. When his father Ned is murdered Cole sets out for Dodge City with full intent on revenge. Along the way Cole makes some powerful enemies including a murderous Preacher, a corrupt Mayor and a gold-crazed Confederate sympathizer bent on finding the lost city of Coronado. With top-notch voice acting from Thomas Jane, Lance Henriksen, Ron Perlman and Chris Christopherson and a story crafted by screenwriter Randall Jahnson (The Doors) Gun's story is nothing if not gripping.
The game takes place in a free-roaming, load time free world that is divided between two main outposts of civilization-Dodge City and Empire City. At the beginning exploration is confined to Dodge and the surrounding territory, but after enough story missions have been completed Empire and the rest of Gun's world is open for business.
The story missions feature a nice amount of variety. Most missions are multi-tiered (a rescue mission becomes an escort mission becomes a protection mission). All of them incorporate at least one staple of the Western genre. One mission has Cole shooting a hangman's rope a la The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Another has him protecting a stagecoach as it travels through hostile territory like in The Magnificent Seven.
There are also plenty of side-missions that provide a nice break from the story. Fend off hordes of bandits and break up minor brawls in Dodge as a Deputy. Hunt down dangerous criminals for the government as a Federal Marshall. Wrangle cattle and protect herds for a rancher or deliver mail and other items for the Pony Express-there are plenty of things to keep the game busy aside from the story missions. Completing side-missions earn Cole attribute points and extra cash to be spent on weapon and health upgrades.
Getting from one place to another in Gun's large world is done via horse. Horseback riding is surprisingly responsive. The horse's health resides on either side of Cole's and decreases whenever the horse is shot or when it's ridden too hard. Pursuing bandits or fending off surprise attacks is a snap. While in first-person mode the speed of the horse and the animal's ability to jump can still be controlled, making it possible to pick off enemies while in pursuit. Trying to kill while on horseback only becomes a problem when a horse takes an unexpected turn.
In combat Cole has the use of his trusty six-shooter and another firearm of choice. It is also possible to perform vicious melee attacks for large amounts of close range damage. Weapon types are divided up over four categories: shotguns, rifles, bows and sniper rifles. All of these weapons are upgradeable and come with their own obvious strengths and weaknesses (shotguns are powerful only up close; snipers are accurate at long ranges but feature a long reload time and so on).
While these weapons are fun to play around with, especially later in the game when the truly powerful weapons become available, Cole's skill with a six-gun is where he really shines. A tap of a button puts him into Quickdraw mode (Gun's version of bullet time). Once in Quickdraw the camera shifts to first-person and a tap of the left analog stick sends Colton's aim to the nearest target. Kill off enemies quickly and more time is added to the Quickdraw gauge allowing more time to kill enemies.
In fact, the ability to regain time coupled with the absence of reloading while in Quickdraw make the mode almost unfair-or at least it removes most of the game's challenge. Why bother taking cover and eliminating enemies one at a time when you can simply switch to Quickdraw and kill the whole group in a single cloud of gunfire? Boss battles are a little tougher but Quickdraw still makes it a lot easier than it needs to be, especially towards the end.
That's another problem with Gun: it ends too soon. Expect to Complete Story mode in about 12 hours and that's with a few side missions. As unfortunate as it may be, Gun is a free-roaming third-person action game, which makes comparisons to Grand Theft Auto practically impossible. With that in mind Gun plays like a miniature version of GTA: not as big, not as much to do and not nearly as long.
Nonetheless Gun does have its fair share of memorable segments-Ned's last stand, the satisfaction of finally catching up with the Preacher and Cole's declaration to the corrupt mayor Hoodoo, "You've done your share of killin' now it's time for me to do mine!"-all make for great moments that make Gun worth playing over just to re-experience them.
Visually, Gun looks great. The use of real-time cutscenes demonstrate the quality of the character models and the excellent use of textures, especially in the wrinkles on Ned's face and the detail in Cole's facial expressions. There are some nice particle effects in the form of dust clouds and smoke. The only noticeable graphic shortcoming was the occasional instance of pop-up while riding around Gun's countryside.
Aurally is a different story. There's something not quite right in Gun's 3D audio mix. During dialog segments if Cole isn't stationary you'll notice an obvious failure to blend the audio from the left channel to the right. Also, key dialog is sometimes overshadowed by sound effects making it possible to miss mission objectives (they're posted at the top of the screen, but during combat there really isn't much time to shift your attention).
Shortcomings aside, Gun is still an inspired action game. With a compelling narrative, intuitive combat and exploration-friendly world, Gun finally does the Western genre up right. Bottom line: if you're a fan of the Westerns like The Professionals, The Wild Bunch and the Sergio Leone Westerns you'll feel right at home with Gun.
First Play: A-
Last Play: B
Overall: 88% B+