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ups: Great wild west environments and story; excellent voice acting and dialogue; nice third-person action.
downs: Glitches that directly affect gameplay; some game design issues.

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Gun Review
game: Gun
four star
posted by: Shawn Rider
publisher: Activision
developer: Neversoft
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ESRB rating: M (Mature)
date posted: 05:55 PM Sat Nov 26th, 2005
last revision: 05:53 PM Sat Nov 26th, 2005

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Click to read.Neversoft has long been one of my favorite development companies. Early on in my game reviewing career, I covered their title, Apocalypse, for PlayStation One. Although Apocalypse was not a groundbreaking game, it displayed an obvious talent for action and an irreverent sense of humor. Neversoft rapidly became one of my favorite developers with the release of Spiderman for the PS1, which was a groundbreaking title: It blazed new territory in third-person action, and started the webbed superhero on a path to videogame greatness. Even the latest Spidey games draw on Neversoft\'s contribution. Of course, Neversoft is most famous for creating the Tony Hawk\'s Pro Skater series, and that franchise has dominated the studio\'s energies for quite awhile now. So when Neversoft showed up at E3 2005 with a mysterious trailer for an unknown game called Gun, I took notice.

On the one hand, Neversoft\'s Gun is a very beautiful thing: Obviously the folks at Neversoft have a similar reverence for the best wild west stories and movies that they hold for skating and the skate lifestyle. On the surface, the two seem diametrically opposed (skaters and cowboys aren\'t known for their friendly interactions), but dig a little deeper and you\'ll find that the wild west was an anarchic playground for rebels and shysters, and the perfect setting for an intense action game.

Gun follows the story of Colton White, a young frontiersman who lives with his mountain man father, Ned White. The game opens as Ned and Colton shoot game to sell to the steamboat casino. Upon arriving at the steamboat\'s dock, it is attacked by a band of ex-Confederate soldiers posing as Apache warriors. The leader of the group, a psychotic preacher searching for a mysterious artifact, murders Ned, who shoves Colton overboard just before dying. Colton survives the massacre and, of course, seeks revenge for the death of his father. And, of course, just before all this transpires, Ned confides that he is not really Colton\'s father.

Colton then heads out to solve the mystery of his origin (small priority) and to exact revenge for the death of his father-figure (big priority). Along the way he visits two western towns, Dodge City and Empire City, an indian village, a few gold mines, and a ranch. The environment is a compressed version of the western US, which is both good and bad. On the one hand, riding your horse for several days to get from point A to point B would be somewhat annoying in-game, but on the other hand, it makes the west seem a lot smaller, in spite of the wide-open vistas. And if there\'s one thing that goes against the ideals of the west, it\'s fencing in a cowboy with invisible fences.

Traveling from location to location is accomplished by riding your trusty steed. In Gun, horses are much like the vehicles in Grand Theft Auto, which means you can just grab any horse and ride it wherever. Apparently, in the world of Gun, nobody minds if you steal their horse, which is another moment where Gun breaks its suspension of disbelief. Especially after playing Shadow of the Colossus on PS2, wherein the horse Agro is a major aspect of the game, this revolving attitude towards horses is unfulfilling. In my opinion, Neversoft missed a valuable opportunity to create a unique kind of NPC which the player could bond with and become attached to. As it is, you\'ll sacrifice horse after horse as you beat down the bad guys, and there is very little incentive to get good on your horse. The horses drive like motorcycles, although you can run them too hard and kill them. But for the most part, the chance to round out the story with one of the key mythological icons of the wild west is completely overlooked.

To assist you in your movement around what is, ultimately, a decent-sized world, you\'re given a map view. However, there are some serious flaws in the map mode, the most primary being that the map shows locations of a variety of tasks and characters, but it does not show your current location. That makes it very difficult to navigate. If the world were any larger, this shoddy map-making would be a real hindrance. As it is, you can quickly become attuned to the different landmarks and find your way around the environment.

All of this riding around and finding places would be no good if there were nothing to do once you got to where you\'re going. Gun divides its open world into several types of missions. There are the main story missions, which propel the primary storyline through Colton\'s adventures as he seeks out the man who murdered Ned. Along the way, you\'ll need to complete side missions in order to build Colton\'s skills with his gun, quickdraw, horse, etc.

The side missions are divided into three main types: wanted posters, law enforcement, and Pony Express. If you find wanted posters around the world, you can read them and then go hunt down the bounties they offer. These missions are great: enjoyable, quick diversions that offer real cash and skill increases. The law enforcement missions involve becoming either a deputy in Dodge City or a Federal Marshall in Empire City. These missions are generally more entertaining to play, and more involved, but they don\'t pay as much cash. The law enforcement missions do, however, offer great skill advancement. Finally, the Pony Express missions have you ferrying all kinds of things to and fro, and these were by far the most unenjoyable missions, offering an increase in horse riding skill only and paying average amounts. Plus, the Pony Express missions have you performing stupid errands such as getting someone\'s lunch or running from one end of town to another.

In addition to the main side missions, there are several special challenges to complete. An Indian hunter will give you bonus items and advice if you track down several special animals and kill them with a bow. You can explore the hills for gold, finding abandoned mines and a variety of interesting locations. Or you can join up at a ranch and herd cattle like a real cowboy. All of these tasks offer a variety of skill and cash bonuses.

The game advises you that you may have to complete side missions in order to advance through the more difficult story sequences, which is true, but it also somewhat undoes the free-form nature of the game. If I must complete all of the wanted posters and law enforcement tasks in order to have enough skill to defeat the final bosses, where is the freedom of choice? It seems like an excuse to pad the game with non sequitur tasks rather than weaving this skill development into the story proper. While I enjoy the freedom to choose, after choosing everything, I wonder where the freedom went?

Action sequences are well-done, using a Quickdraw mode that works very much like \"bullet time\" to give Colton an edge. Quickdraw ability is recharged by scoring head shots and weapon shots (that is, shooting the weapon out of an enemy\'s hands), making it a precious resource and requiring you to get good at aiming with your other guns. In general, the gunplay is very satisfying, except when on horseback. While shooting on horseback, your horse either stops moving (as in when you enter Quickdraw mode) or you must try to jockey the horse and your weapon at once, which is cumbersome. This is a clear instance of how making the horse a more autonomous NPC could have alleviated some of the frustration, not necessarily to make things too easy, but to provide a realistic ability for your horse to move on its own.

In addition to shootouts, there are plenty of melee abilities. Colton can take hostages and use them for shields or just take them out quietly. He has a knife or tomahawk, which is very useful for slicing up bad guys when they get too close. In addition, Colton can also purchase a scalping knife and scalp freshly-killed enemies. It\'s a gruesome thing to do, and as far as I can tell has no effect on the game, which is strange. I wonder where Colton puts all those scalps?

It\'s also weird that Colton can endure and prevail in a shootout with a dozen bad guys during a story challenge and will not receive an iota of stats or skill increase, while pursuing one wanted man and bringing him in dead or alive will increase a number of stats. While I understand that the player is supposed to be encouraged to work through the side missions because that is the only way to build Colton\'s stats, it is an artificial way to motivate the player. There is no logical reason why shooting people in one circumstance would build skill and shooting them in another circumstance won\'t.

In addition to these game design flaws, Gun is not the most solid construct. The game glitches out regularly. I have lost progress and had to restart from a prior save numerous times in working my way through the game. Sometimes the characters will lose their voices, and when I speak to a shopkeeper or character who will give me a mission, I cannot hear the dialog. When this happens, I know that I must save and restart the game, or else I will likely encounter some game-stopping glitch in the near future (such as when Gun decides to forget which mission you\'re on and refuses to acknowledge that you\'ve completed some task or another). Another example of glitchy gameplay happened when I was leading a team of Indians in canoes to assault an encampment of former Confederate soldiers. After making it through a gauntlet of baddies, the canoes reach a sandy shore, and the game prompts the player to get out of the canoe and enter a cave. On my first play through, Colton was stuck in the canoe-couldn\'t jump, couldn\'t exit the canoe. The NPCs accompanying me kept paddling as if we were on open water, and it was impossible to progress. After quitting the game and re-loading my previous save, the same thing occurred. Finally, I had to reboot the console then resume the game from a different save file. I worked my way back up to the troublesome spot, and, fortunately, on the third try I was able to jump out of my canoe with my band of Indian warriors and enter the cave.

In spite of these flaws, Gun is a compelling game. The wild west theme and storyline are a breath of fresh air, and Gun approaches these subjects in a way that no Red Dead Revolver or Samurai Western every would: Gun makes much better use of the true-life grittiness of the wild west. As anyone who has read a Cormac McCarthy novel or watched the first two seasons of HBO\'s Deadwood knows, the west was not a place of boot-scootin\' boogies and Wrangler butts. It was a harrowing anarchy full of the good, bad and ugly. Gun tries to make the most of this territory and the struggle to civilize a landscape, and playing a game in these environments is a really wonderful experience. The writing and voice acting is absolutely amazing, featuring recognizable talents including Brad Douriff (Deadwood), Thomas Jane (Boogie Nights), Tom Skerritt (Texas Rangers), Lance Henriksen (The Quick and the Dead), Kris Kristofferson, and the legendary Ron Perlman (who has voiced more games than you realize). The script was written by Randall Jahnsen, who wrote the screenplay for The Doors and The Mask of Zorro.

If you can get into a gritty western on par with the greatest gritty westerns around (think of Unforgiven and Deadwood), then you need to play Gun. There is no other game out that brings the west to life so vividly, and it is a welcome alternative to WWII and space marine shooters. In many ways, Gun should be seen as a real challenger for the greatest action game of the year title, and were it not for the many technical glitches, it would certainly capture that title. I\'ll keep hoping for a sequel that features more of that old-time Neversoft goodness, and in the meantime, a flawed Gun is still a good game.

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