Twenty-first century film and television have not been kind to the Western. With precious few Westerns making it to the silver screen and even fewer on the tube, one could argue the Western has seen its day—that it has ridden off into the media sunset.
Neversoft says no, partner. The company that brought us no end of great Tony Hawk titles now joins hombres like Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and Sergio Leone with its new third-person shooter, GUN.
At first glance, GUN appears to be a pretty garden-variety third-person shooter. You are Colton White, a hunter and trapper busy working the open range with your father. After an outstanding in-game tutorial that cleverly introduces the game’s control mechanics while Dad (voiced expertly by Kris Kristofferson) provides gameplay pointers, Dad and Cole board a steamboat. Cole catches sight of a preacher playing pin-the-ax-on-the-whore just before all hell breaks loose. In the ensuing melee, Cole’s pa buys the farm, but not before giving our hero a cryptic little clue.
Pa dies in Cole’s arms; you can almost hear the haunting music signifying payback isn’t too far around the corner. Mr. Eastwood to the set, Mr. Eastwood to the set.
The story is fantastic—it’s full of lust, greed, betrayal, violence, and revenge. We delve deep into the corruption of small-town politics, the white man’s relations with the Native Americans, post-Civil War conflict, and Cole’s own unusual backstory. GUN pulls no punches, killing off Cole’s allies in grisly FMV cutscenes and pulling the rug out from underneath his dusty boots again and again. And if playing the storyline isn’t enough, you can play a little Texas hold ‘em, go bounty-hunting, play cowboy, or try to keep the peace in a lawless town.
Gameplay in GUN is reminiscent of any third-person shooter. A two-stick combination controls movement and the camera, while the buttons control melee attacks, jumping, and ducking, with the shoulder button firing. The controls are simple and straightforward, with a good balance between control and ease of use. A small complaint could be made about the use of the R3 and L3 buttons for rather important tasks (reloading and using the scope, respectively); forcing a reload while circle-strafing a boss can be incredibly frustrating.
Where GUN rides away from the herd is the Quickdraw mode. Simply put, Quickdraw puts Cole into a first-person bullet-time for a few seconds, during which the bad guys move in super-slow motion while Cole can blast away at them at his leisure. This almost makes battles against enemy grunts too easy, but, then again, it never seemed like John Wayne had any trouble with a half-dozen extras drawing down on him. Quickdrawing is a blast (quite literally), and gunning down groups of thugs with Matrix-esque speed and accuracy is nothing but fun. Neo, I’m a callin’ you out.
Balance is an issue with GUN, as even without Quickdraw mode, the everyday bad guy is a pushover. However, boss battles are incredibly difficult. Cole can empty cylinder after cylinder after cylinder from his trusty six-shooter into evil’s flavor of the month, only to be cut down like meat on a hook. If there weren’t a very accommodating game save system, this would be a huge problem; as it stands, it’s only frustrating and annoying.
GUN also provides controls for fighting on horseback, so whether you need to gun down another rider or trample some card cheat, Neversoft has you covered. Travel by horse can be a little confusing; the map is rarely perfectly clear on what is a path and what’s just a canyon wall.
The character graphics are good, but nothing to write home about. Some of the characters have a strange, Resident Evil-style appearance; it’s hard to tell if you’re blasting away at the living dead or guys who just really need a good shower and shave. The FMV cutscenes are, regrettably, just average, but the setting artwork is excellent, and it really gives the game a Western feel, complete with dusty wooden sidewalks, desert canyons, and the wild countryside of frontier America.
Sound is top-notch. Guns report like cannon fire, horses thunder across the desert, and the war-whoops of the Indians really sell the cinematic feel. The score is good, too, underscoring the story while never letting you forget you’re in the Wild West. The best epic adventure games transcend the medium and become virtual films—the sound in GUN is almost that good. Voice-acting is spot on, with great performances by Thomas Jane, Lance Henriksen, and Kath Soucie that drive the story like an angry stagehand.
GUN isn’t a game for kids, with all kinds of bloody mayhem and sexual references; GUN earns that M rating. It’s also pretty short, and odds are you can put the main story to bed inside of 12 hours. Cole doesn’t necessarily have to ride off into the sunset after finishing off the big bad, but the little side games are only fun for so long.
GUN’s a great game. Even if you don’t care for shooters or if the only Wild Bunch you know is the bunch of bastards that vandalized your car, you’ll find something to tickle your fancy in GUN. Raw, unbridled violence and a deep story with good production values make for an experience that’s worth, at least, a long rent.