Written by Cyril Lachel on 12/12/2005 for Xbox  
More On: Gun

Not long ago when Kevin Costner was out pitching his most recent western, Open Range, he talked about how difficult it was to get funding for a movie of that genre.  Cowboys and Indians are part of America's glorious history, yet these days it seems like the average movie-goer is more interested in space and Middle Earth to bother showing up to some boring old western.  I can only wonder if the same rule applies to video games, because outside of a couple of mediocre attempts (Red Dead Revolver, Dead Man's Hand) westerns are few and far between.

Gun goes a long ways to filling that gap, it's a solid action game that is good looking and offers an interesting (and unique) experience.  It doesn't break any new ground, but its presentation is first rate all the way through.  In a time overrun with World War II shooters, Gun comes as a welcome change of pace.  Unfortunately it also comes with a few flaws that keep it from being one of the most exciting games of the year. 

Gun comes to us from the good folks at Neversoft, the developers best known for their prolific Tony Hawk games, but don't expect too many crazy gimmicks, this is a by-the-numbers action game that is fun while it lasts.  It's an action game that combines the fun of a third-person shooter (like Max Payne or SOCOM 3) with the exploration of games like Grand Theft Auto.  The game is set in the late 1800s, so you'll find yourself living off the land, listening to "authentic" racism, and killing just about anybody that looks at you funny … all the clichés you've seen from decades of movie westerns.

The game starts out with a lot of promise; you'll find yourself playing Colton White, a man out hunting with his grizzly old man.  Before long you are whisked ahead to a tragic confrontation with an evil preacher who has no problem killing men, women, and even your father.  As you can imagine this angers Colton White something fierce; and the rest of the game is set-up for you to track down and kill the people responsible for this heinous act.  While on your quest you'll meet up with friendly prostitutes, crooked locals, a resistance party, and your fair share of Indian tribes, it's a traveling circus of interesting characters.

But just because I compared it to Grand Theft Auto don't expect Gun to be a completely non-linear experience; the game always lets you know what you're supposed to be doing next in order to advance the plot and you can forget about taking things out of order.  But the story itself is fairly interesting, full of exciting characters doing dangerous things.  Your quest will take all over Gun's world helping strangers, shooting enemies, and blow stuff up.  Things do get a bit predictable in the game's second half, but all in all this is one story that will keep you going all the way to the end.

But you getting to the end may have less to do with your interest in the story than it does with the fact that Gun is extremely short.  In fact, this is one of the shortest game experiences I've had this year, something I found to be a bit jarring.  Just when you start feeling confident about your gunslinging abilities the game is over, you've battled your last boss and the only thing left to do is the lame mini-games.  This is no exaggeration, Gun can easily be beaten in four – five hours, and getting 100% can is nothing more than a seven hour jog.

The game's length is a problem for a couple of reasons; chief among them is that everything in the story feels incredibly rushed.  You'll be introduced to characters that will die no more than a few minutes later.  The events that seems like they should be more important are often turned into short affairs, things that are quickly wrapped up before the chapter expires.  There are a lot of moments in this game that could have benefited from the developers just slowing down a bit; by the time I got to the end of the game I found myself kind of angry that this was it, they could have stretched some of these tense moments out a bit more to create a far better adventure.  The truth is, even if they doubled the length of the game it would still be considered short by today's standards.

Another big problem comes in the form of the size of the environment.  A lot of the GTA clones try to mask their imperfections by offering huge worlds to explore, but not Gun.  On horseback you can run from one side of the map in around a minute, two minutes if it's a leisurely trot.  Not only is the world small but it's also pretty boring, there are two small towns (Dodge and Empire), a couple of forts, a mountainous area, a river, and a whole bunch of flatland called the Badlands.  That's it.  Outside of those few dots on the map there isn't much else to see, so you may find yourself not wanting to explore the world quite like you would when going to Vice City or San Andreas for the first time.  Worse yet, there aren't a lot of compelling reasons to search out all of the nooks and crannies in Gun's world, which means that won't be doing a log of sight seeing after you've played through the exceptionally short single-player campaign.

Outside of the story missions you'll be given a few different mini-games to play in order to waste some time, earn some extra money, and increase your character's stats.  Given the game's length I was really hoping that these bonus missions would flesh the experience out more, but unfortunately they really don't.  Thankfully they come in a number of varieties, so at least you aren't stuck doing the same kind of thing over and over.  For example, you can search out wanted posters that will tell you who to kill and it's your job to hunt them down and redeem your reward.  In another game you become a member of the Pony Express, quickly rushing packages back and forth (and trying not to get killed on the way).  You can also become a federal marshal, go mining, and even try your hand at ranching.

Perhaps the best mini-game I found was Gun's built in Texas Hold 'Em competition.  The layout isn't very snazzy and it's a little too easy to win against these stupid computer poker players, but it's a fun diversion that is a lot more interested than trying to find gold in the extremely dull environment.  Early on you are even able to cheat, something you don't see in most poker games.  But like everything else in Gun, these poker games are over far too quickly and you can't go back and play them again once you've won.

Despite its length and other problems, Gun controls remarkably well.  It's easy to aim and shoot, throw dynamite, and even take foes out with your melee attacks.  Things are even more exciting once you start using horses to your advantage.  The horseback battles are among the most entertaining parts of Gun, they offer something that you didn't find in Grand Theft Auto or any other games of the genre.  Better yet, if you're battling somebody already on a horse you have the choice of picking him off or just killing the horse and sending him flying.  These battles are by far the most satisfying part of the game … and rightfully so, they don't call the game Gun for nothing.

Gun does come with one gameplay quirk that has a strange way of making everything MUCH easier.  When you feel overwhelmed and cornered you can push the "Y" button and go into the quickdraw mode.  In this mode time slows down to a crawl, you have an easier time switching from one character to the next, and you never have to reload.  This is a great idea and really comes in handy … but since it's easy to refill the bar that lets you do this super-cheap move you'll find yourself doing it all the time, no matter how many characters there are on screen.  In a lot of ways this makes the game almost too easy, since there is a lot less skill involved with the actual shooting.

Now that I mention it, all of Gun is extremely easy … and not just because you can slow down time and kill people before they even pull out their guns.  One of the strangest aspects of the game's difficulty is in the map, which not only points out where you need to go but also offers a flashing meter that attempts to show you how far away you are from it.  Gun does not want you to get lost, not that you would with the world being so tiny and all.  And don't worry about dying during a mission, Gun likes to start you out right where you want to be with all the life you need.  Throughout the game I found myself constantly questioning the game's easy difficulty; you may end up having to do a mission more than once, but it will never be because you don't know what to do.  If San Andreas was too difficult for you, then Gun is the game you've been waiting for.

Gun is a good looking game, even if you can tell that Neversoft cut some corners while making the game.  There isn't much variety to the graphics, but for what there is you can't complain about the look too much.  Gun doesn't strive for new and unique graphical tricks, but what's there is good for the most part.  There are a few effects I especially liked, including the way the blood looks and how the dust goes flying as you and your horse run through the landscape.  This won't win any awards for best looking game of the year, but it manages to get the look and feel just right.

The voice acting, on the other hand, is extremely good, filled with a number of famous names.  People like Lance Henriksen, Tom Skerritt, and Kris Kristofferson are all veterans of the western genre and manage to deliver their lines with the kind of delivery you would expect from this type of setting.  If you're too young to remember any of those famous names, Gun also features Thomas Jane (the Punisher) and Ron Perlman (Hellboy, and just about every other game you've ever played) giving commanding performances.  Some of the side characters get a little annoying, but no worse than what you get in your normal western movie or TV show.  The same goes for the music, which sounds like it was lifted right out of all of the cheesy spaghetti westerns I saw as a kid … but in a good way, I think.

While it lasts Gun is great fun, full of fast action and a cool story … but it's over far too early to recommend as a full price purchase.  Even if you're the type of gamer who wants to do and see everything, getting 100% in this game won't take you more than an afternoon.  But even though it's short this is still one experience that is worth going through, especially if you're the type of person that wishes there were more western titles to choose from.  There's so much potential here that once can only hope that Neversoft decides to take some time and give us a sequel with enough meat on the bone to keep us interested for longer than six hours.  This is a good try, but it's no Deadwood.

Gun is a fun little game of Cowboys and Indians worth checking out if you're a fan of this era, but don't expect more than a few hours of gameplay!

Rating: 7 Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.
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