Review By: Jared Black
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To date, the Wild West has been woefully underrepresented in the video game world. The best titles to arguably capture the time period were perhaps Samurai Western or even Capcom's old top-down shooter Gun.Smoke (which I loved), but neither was what one would consider a true representation of the time period. Enter Gun, Neversoft's (yes, the Tony Hawk people) attempt at a gritty, ultra-violent Western. While it's almost certainly the best video game Western to date, is it worth overheating your new Xbox 360 for?
Gun tells the tale of Colton White, who lives out the life of a trapper in the late 1800's Montana countryside with his father Ned. After a routine hunt (which serves as basic training), they board a steamboat to sell their wares. There Ned has a shady meeting with a prostitute, and shortly thereafter the boat is attacked by a renegade group led by an evil preacher named Reed. Ned is killed in the ensuing battle, and one of the last things he tells young Colton is that he's not his real father. Thus Colton sets out for not only vengeance against Reed, but also to get some answers about his real father and Ned's past.
The storyline is a good one, with several twists and a number of interesting characters that play a part along the way. Although it's not very long (roughly 10 hours), it's well-crafted and exactly the kind of tale you'd expect in a game set in the Wild West. Activision understood that the storyline drives the game, and as a resulted assembled a talented cast of voice talent including Thomas Jane as Colton, Kris Kristofferson in an all-too-short role as Ned, Tom Skerritt as Resistance Fighter Clay Allison, and more. They really add a lot to their respective characters, and the overall story is much more entertaining as a result.
The gameplay is pretty much what you'd expect out of a GTA clone. Most action takes place in third-person, with some limited stealth areas (which are forgiving enough that they work despite the lack of a true stealth engine) and plenty of riding and fighting across the countryside on horseback. If you're a veteran of action games of this nature, I recommend that you start out on the Hard setting as the Normal setting is geared primarily towards casual gamers and will come across as much too easy for most of you. Other than shooting hundreds of varmints, variety in the main storyline also comes from several mini-games including shooting cannons, protecting stagecoaches, ambushing trains, and more. To spice things up a bit more, Neversoft included its own version of bullet-time in the form of QuickDraw. Once Colton enters QuickDraw mode, the world around him slows down making it easier to dispatch of large numbers of foes at a time. Making certain shots, such as shooting a gun out of an enemy's hands, add to the QuickDraw meter allowing Colton to stay in that mode longer. They're also pretty fun to pull off, which is always a plus.
To compliment the main storyline, there are a number of optional side missions that can be accepted. These include hunting down fugitives found on Wanted posters, escorting citizens as they transport valuable goods, playing in poker tournaments, and more. Completing each of these missions increases Colton's stats based on the type of mission, so Pony Express rides increase his horse-riding abilities while playing poker is purely for money. The problem is that after a while they all start to blend together, with many being slight variations on the same theme and very few standing out as anything special. The few that are unique are some of the most fun, and really make the rest seem like afterthoughts added simply to lengthen the game. Add to this the fact that stat increases don't really make that much of a difference (on the Hard setting anyway), and it doesn't take long for it to become hard to find motivation to keep accepting them.
Graphically, Gun was clearly hastily ported over to Xbox 360 and looks inferior compared to even early titles built exclusively for the platform. The environments are the only real highlight, as they look great despite the natural emptiness of the Wild West. Even so, there's a nice amount of variety in the game world from lakes, to mountains, to ranches, to caverns and more. The towns are large enough to feel realistic, although the interior of most buildings (the ones you can enter anyway) are pretty empty. The character models, on the other hand, look like they were taken straight from the PS2 version with nothing done to enhance them. Many animations in cutscenes are doggone awkward, with NPCs gesturing wildly when speaking normal sentences and walking funny. On the other hand, the faces of the main characters look very nice and display a wide range of emotion. And there are a few nice touches though, such as NPCs standing against the side of a building peeing (which you'd expect to see out of dirty cowboys).
As I mentioned before, the voice work is excellent as Activision has assembled a great cast of voice actors. Also, Apaches speak something other than English, and while I have no way of knowing if it's realistic or not it sure sounds Apache like. The accompanying music score is subdued, but kicks it up in all of the right places and compliments the action perfectly.
With some more variety in the side missions and a longer main quest, Gun could've emerged as a true gem. Instead, it's merely one of the better GTA clones on the market and the closest anyone has come to creating a true video game Western. For many people that will be more than enough to warrant a $60 purchase, but considering the fact that it doesn't really scream "next-gen" I'd recommend buying it for $10 less on another console if possible.
Posted: 2005-11-26 08:56:46 PST