Reviewed: November 15, 2005
Reviewed by: John Paige


Neversoft Entertainment

Released: November 8, 2005
Genre: Action
Players: 1
ESRB: Mature


Supported Features:

  • Analog
  • Vibration
  • Memory Card (52 KB)
  • Progressive Scan
  • Dolby Pro Logic II

    Screenshots (Click Image for Gallery)

  • GUN received a lot of very hot press prior to its release, particularly in print ads in lots of male-targeted magazines. You probably saw the literature: blood-splattered banners over a two-page spread of quotes and amazing screenshots touting a true Western experience. It was a slick campaign and very exciting. But rather than make me slaver for that moment when I might finally drop that disk into my tray (oh, get your mind out of the gutter…I’m being serious), the extra attention made me wary.

    The reason is that ever since John Wayne died the Western genre has been cursed with lots and lots of really bad films, TV shows, and, yes, even games. Every time someone got it right there were a dozen times someone got it oh-so-wrong (“Wyatt Earp” anyone?). The point is, games being an increasingly cinematic, story-driven medium, I feared GUN might fall prey to the Western deathtrap of predictability, clichés and sloth-like pacing I’ve seen time and again in the film and television medium.

    Pessimism? Realism? I don’t know. Either way I was wrong, and I’m very glad for it. Think “Max Payne” meets “Deadwood” in this colorful – and bloody – 3D action/adventure. So go west, young man…and shoot anything that moves.

    GUN drops you square into the boots of Colton White (voiced by “Punisher” star Thomas Jane), a young cowboy roughing it on the frontier with his tough-as-nails father, Ned. Together they wander the wilds trapping game for profit. Their early morning hunting expedition serves as a generous tutorial so you can learn the basics of movement and gunplay without anyone shooting back at you. But, as per usual, the bad guys show up before long and everything goes straight to Hell.

    Fighting through a harrowing steamboat ambush, Ned sacrifices himself so his son can escape, but leaves him with a shocking confession: “I ain’t your real father!” Then your quest begins in earnest as Colton, burning for revenge, tries to uncover the secrets of his past and how it’s connected to the famed Spanish explorer Coronado, killed by Indians three hundred year earlier.

    There is a lot to keep you busy in GUN, but you won’t get far at all unless you can master the two most basic skills of the cowboy: shootin’ guns and ridin’ horses. A separate tutorial early on will teach you the fundamentals of maneuvering your steed, including how to trample targets underfoot and fire your weapons while mounted.

    Like any good cowboy you must treat your horse well and take care not to ride him too hard, though of all the horse-related challenges you’re likely to face the toughest is just keeping the damn thing alive. For some reason the bandits you face on your quest seem to favor shooting Colton’s colt out from under him as much as they try actually shooting at him. With a little practice you can use your horse to gain a significant advantage over unmounted foes, which you’ll need since there’s only one of you and whole lot of them.

    Your arsenal will eventually expand to twenty authentic Old West weapons, including a number of revolvers, rifles, shotguns, a bow, and some throw-able ordinance like that great frontier multi-tool, whiskey. Great for drinking, true, but stuff a rag in the bottle, light it on fire, and give it a toss. Now THAT’S entertainment.

    The versatility and detail of the weapons is impressive. Every gun has a series of stats accounting for range, rate of fire and reload time, and there is a noticeable difference between firearms depending on your distance from the target. Pistols are a good all purpose weapon, for example, while ranged shooting or firing from your horse all but demands a good rifle if you want to anything more than make your enemies angry. There is even a long barreled sharp-shooting rifle for taking out foes practically at the edge of the horizon. Headshots, distance hits, and “weapon hits” – shooting your foe’s gun from his hand – are all rewarded.

    Your most potent weapon in any gunfight is the aptly named “Quickdraw Mode”, a Matrix-style time distortion that slows the action around you while Colton keeps moving in real time. This allows you to blast multiple foes in mere fractions of a second and aim for vital spots that will put ‘em down fast. “Bullet Time” effects have become one of the most overused action gags in recent years and to be honest it’s getting a little stale, but I won’t deny it gives you the edge when facing a roomful of thugs.

    Use Quickdraw sparingly, however, as it only lasts for a few seconds at a time (you can earn more time by scoring more kills) and, of course, you can only shoot as many times as you’ve got bullets in your gun. When the fighting gets really rough there’s even a melee attack with a vicious-looking bowie knife for some instant surgery for anyone who gets too close.

    The only time the action stumbles a bit is when Colton faces especially skilled adversaries, kind of like bosses, in a traditional Western-style showdown. These foes can require up to 20 shots to kill even at point blank range, making them tougher than some Terminators I know. A different mode of fighting might have been useful here, like a “showdown” version of the Quickdraw that required speed and accuracy to kill your opponent rather than a bazooka.

    You can choose to simply progress through the GUN storyline, but you can also engage in a wide variety of side missions and alternate modes of play. If you’re not in a bloodletting mood you can buy a pickaxe and roam the hills looking for gold, help out at the local cattle ranch, or courier messages and goods for the Pony Express.

    When that gets boring you can seek out some “Wanted” posters and collect bounties for catching criminals, or become a sheriff’s deputy and maintain the peace, or the next best thing. The saloons even feature a Texas Hold ‘Em mini-game that is a surprisingly addictive time killer. All of these activities help you on your quest in two ways: they earn you money for the purchasing of new items and weapons and they increase your skill levels in the essentials of riding, shooting, fighting, and Quickdraw, making you a more formidable cowpoke as you confront more aggressive baddies.

    All that said, the story of GUN is definitely where the real action is. Barely ten lines of dialogue are exchanged on average before Colton has to swing into action once again, rescuing damsels, outrunning Apaches, and even blowing up boats with a giant cannon. In short, there are lots of ways to have fun. Oh, and many of the great Western clichés DID survive, for the better. Be on the lookout for the Hooker With The Heart Of Gold, the Evil One-Eyed Civil War Vet, the Wise Indian, and the Preacher Who Kills People With A Tomahawk. Ok, that last one isn’t so clichéd, but the rest are pretty well established, and they fit in well with the zingy storyline.

    The visuals of GUN are a pleasant surprise. I expected mostly muted reds and browns, lots of dust, and a few sun-drenched prairies. Not so. The developers used a huge color palate for this game and their efforts to evoke nature’s grandeur are evident. The sky changes from cloud-speckled blue to fiery ochre to inky starfield in time with the events of the story, and if something looks dull it’s only because it’s meant to.

    The cutscenes are generic and the movies short, but who cares? The country surroundings are gorgeous, dotted with lots of details like ripples in the water, billowing leaves, and herd animals grazing off in the oil-on-canvas backgrounds. As you progress through the story you open up more of the playable area to include not just a couple of dusty towns but also a series of plains, canyons, and badlands that are actually pretty damn impressive. Plus, there are no load times as you travel between these different areas.

    Unfortunately the town environments are slightly less impressive, but still not bad. A lot of comparisons have been made between GUN and the “Grand Theft Auto” series, but, graphically speaking, this title lacks the expansive look and feel of the Rockstar games, largely because it is beyond the PS2’s power to render such monstrously wide open spaces like frontiers and prairies with any degree of detail. Cities are different because they’re finite and have easily defined borders, like roads, to which the player can adhere.

    But in this great frontier poor Colton can only ride off in one direction so far before he hits the magic invisible wall that LOOKS like open space but is, in fact, just a “Truman Show”-esque background that looks pretty. So the towns (which are small to begin with) come off as a little claustrophobic and the bare smattering of townsfolk make it seem more empty than an Old West town authentically would be.

    Fortunately GUN sticks to its strengths and puts Colton out in well-constructed environments that incorporate the best of what the developers have to work with, ensuring that there is almost always a defined path and something cool to look at.

    The only visual snag lies in the occasional camera glitch, which of course, pops up at the worst possible times. Though you have free camera control the computer is apt to make self-corrections – usually in the heat of battle – and invariably shove a rock or wall in your face, leaving Colton to fight blind for a few seconds while you hunt for a better angle. It’s annoying, but it’s nothing new.

    For a genre known for its sweeping romantic scores, GUN is a bit weak in the music department, sticking mostly to nasally drones on the harmonica and the occasional guitar twang regardless of whether you’re roaming the plains or shooting up a brothel. There is a decent score to be heard during the scripted action scenes but honestly the effects far outweigh whatever soundtrack you might notice.

    Bottles shatter, bandits scream in agony as they keel over and die and even your trusty horse will neigh triumphantly in time with a successful trample. Expect plenty of distracting taunts from your opponents (“You better save a bullet for yerself, boy!”) and lots of unwanted advice shouted from your allies. A pitched action scene, such as the showdown on the ferry boat early on, has so many layers of effects running at once it’s almost disorienting, which adds to the cinematic feel, the challenge and ultimately the fun.

    The real highlight is the voice work, which is star-studded and top quality. Colton’s Thomas Jane is joined by Western film staples Tom Skerritt and Kris Kristofferson as well as “Aliens” star Lance Henriksen, the perpetually badass Ron Pearlman, and “Deadwood” vet Brad Dourif, who so commits to his Western roles he really seems to have been born two centuries too late. It sounds like everyone had a fun time making this one.

    GUN has a better replay value than a lot of other 3D action titles, like “Max Payne” for example, because it has struck a good balance between the story, which alone would not take more than 10 hours or so to complete, and do-your-own-thing free play. There are dozens of ways to stay entertained, tons of side quests to complete, and a rather lengthy list of stats you can expand upon.

    Using these extra missions and mini-games to enhance Colton’s skill level is an excellent incentive for the player to take a break from the story once in a while and just sit back and soak up some of the finer details of the game. It won’t keep you busy forever, but it should take you a while to do it all. It’s far from the hardest shooter I’ve ever played but there are several levels of difficulty and usually enough lead in the air to keep your heart going at a good clip.

    One missing element is the lack of any apparent unlockables or extra features, Easter eggs, “Making Of…” featurettes, and so forth. A disappointment from a game that received so much hype, but with GUN finishing the game really takes a back seat to the fun you have just getting there.

    I guess the lesson here would be “Ignore the hype, play it anyway”. When I look at GUN I don’t really see anything new or revolutionary, but I’m not disappointed because I didn’t expect it to BE revolutionary. I expected to be entertained and I was. The fact is, GUN has been done plenty of times before, just never in the Old West.

    As I played, I couldn’t help thinking of the other titles that reminded me of it, however odd it might sound: “Grand Theft Auto”, “Spider-Man 2” – stay with me here – “Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction”, and “Deus Ex.” What they all have in common is a rather short, action-driven story with a thin role-playing element that depends on side quests, stats, and item acquisition to add depth to the gameplay.

    If you’re a meticulous type who likes to see and do everything a game has to offer then you’re going to enjoy this. If you enjoy 3D action/shooters, you’ll find this title fits like a glove. And if words like “varmint” and “tarrr-nation!” fall from your lips in everyday dialogue, then you’ll probably get a kick out of it in no time flat. GUN won’t change the world, or even the world of gaming, but it has done the genre proud, and may go a long way in lifting that persistent Curse of the Crappy Western.