A reminder that this review is based off the Gamecube version of GUN. Other version may vary in quality and content.
Activision is probably one of the biggest money power houses in the video game industry. Instead of making new franchises Activision is focused on milking series like Guitar Hero with as many as four different Guitar Hero titles announced for the end of this year. The developers who currently makes these titles inside Activision is called Neversoft, previous developers of the Tony Hawk series. Neversoft has constantly slaved away at making yearly entries of the Tony Hawk franchise and seasonal entries in Guitar Hero franchise, but back in 2005 they had the chance to create a new IP. What came out was GUN, A Wild West third person shooter. Did Neversoft prove that they could hold their own as a developer of a new title, or should they continue slaving away at making these hollowed out franchises.
Gun follows the tale of Colton White, who is collecting food for a ferry with his father Ned. After collecting food they return to the ferry, not long after the ferry departs it is attacked by an unknown group of soldiers. Colton and his father are among few passenger’s left alive, towards the end of the battle. With little hope of surviving Ned pushes Colton in the water to save him. Three days later Colton wakes up and sets out to find out who attacked the boat and killed his father and unleash his revenge on them. There are quite a few twists and turns in the story, but it has just as many predictable moments. Colton is a great main character who is a cool and level headed. He feels like a real person rather then just another guy going around killing everyone. There is a wide variety of interesting and likable characters on the way, along with some pretty standard issue villains who aren’t as interesting but get the job done.
The writing does a great job of capturing the feel of the Wild West. The writing is complimented by great voice work on all the major characters with accents that do a great job matching those of the Wild West. There is some light humor here that fits in surprisingly well considering the overall story has a serious tone to it. GUN is rated M for Mature by the ESRB, and it definitely not a light M. There is a lot of offensive language and it’s used casually and often so you will be hearing lots of it. If you’re easily offended by curse words, racial slurs, and other types of offensive words, you probably will not be happy with what you hear in GUN. GUN isn’t only verbally mature, but also visually mature. You can blow limbs off of animals and people. Some head shots have some gruesome effects, like ripping the skin off and being able to see their skull. Some cut scenes have throats slitting, teeth pulling and the removal of fingers. If your are under the age of 17 or just offended by violence in general, you should probably stay away from GUN.
Most of your time in GUN will be spent a third person perspective, but you have certain abilities and weapons that will allow for a first person view. Long Ranged Rifles let you zoom in on targets in first person view. Bows also has the option to change to the first person view but unlike the rifle it is just a matter of personal preference since it doesn’t zoom in or have any special attributes to it. The pistols can also be used in a first person view but only for a move called quick draw. Quick draw is basically bullet time with a special lock on that allows you to quickly change between targets. You may find your self relying on this move a little too often, but in the harder difficulties, quick draw won’t be enough to get you through every fight. The variety of weapons is fairly limited. You have pistols, shotguns, rifles, and bows and that’s about it. You can throw some dynamite like grenades as well, but rarely did they feel useful. You can take control of Gatling guns and cannons but these moments are few and far between.
Horse back combat is a staple of the Wild West, and GUN has plenty of it. Early on you may find yourself stopping to shoot at enemies but as you start to fight more enemies at once, you will take major damage if you stop. Considering the speed at which you will be moving, aiming would be incredibly challenging, but an auto aim system was put in place and helps out quite a bit. This is helpful since you may only see the enemy for a split second before he goes off the screen. It does a great job keeping the feel of control while helping you place your shots. The same system is in place on foot but it doesn’t balance out well. While the technique works in your favor, it would be nice if it gave you a little more control over your aiming to make it more challenging. Horse back combat has a bit of a learning curve but you will eventually be able to fight like a pro. It can get intense and hectic when you have multiple AI partners and you’re all on horse back fighting a gang of bandits with horses running around everywhere and people getting shot off their horses. It gives a feeling that you’re part of a large Wild West shoot out. One thing that is very strange with the horses is that during the game you will randomly find horses everywhere and are able to mount every single one of them. Find a horse in the wild? As soon as you touch it, its tamed and will let you ride it like you have been riding it your whole life. It does keep the game flowing though, so you won’t have to worry about getting stranded and having to walk on foot to the nearest town. So despite it being awkward and unrealistic, it’s easy to see that it was a good design choice to keep the game moving steadily.
One thing that really hurts GUN’s game play is the controls. Weapon changing is mapped to the D-pad but you don’t just press it, you have to press and hold it and then use the C-stick to choose a weapon. This creates a problem because the Camera controls are mapped to the C-stick as well and so during combat your running and looking around and go to change a weapon and you just accidentally selected a random weapon To make matters worse in order to equip your pistols you have to just tap the D-pad left. Adding yet another command. So you basically have 3 different actions all being combined between a button and the C-stick, but it gets worse. Down on the D-pad puts you into a first person perspective with certain weapons, but since the Game Cube’s D-pad is so small it can get misread as pressing left so you may be trying to zoom with a sniper rifle and aim but instead you accidentally open your weapon menu and your using the C-stick to change weapons. It’s a terrible set up, and will cause a lot of frustration during combat. The cover system, while already clunky in it self, falls prey to the same problem being mapped to the crouch button. There are just too many actions and not enough buttons on the Game Cube’s controller.
If GUN could only be praised for one thing, it would be the over world.. Large open ended over worlds often suffer from being too large and have a lot of nothing in between key points and towns. Making it overall feel incredibly useless and is just something to extend the game’s life. At the same time the benefit of a open ended over world is the fact that it does feel wide open and that you don’t feel restricted . GUN hits the sweet spot and makes a over world thats not too big or too small. You will find invisible walls, but GUN generally leads you away from them with objectives that are clearly marked on the map to keep you on track inside GUN’s sand box. Although once you have completed all the missions and just start exploring you may realize that the world is overall, small. Every area is used at some point during the game, whether it be side missions or main missions, so most of it doesn’t feel like useless millage between towns. Traveling bandits can attack while you’re traversing the world, while these encounters are pretty infrequent and usually are fairly short, they spice up long rides across the map. The world map has these enemy ambushes in mind and you will find lots of nooks and crannies that bandits will hide in before riding out to try to take you down.
Missions are fairly standard in structure. You talk to NPCs and get missions. Once that mission is complete you get stat bonuses and money then you move onto the next. The structure is very close to, if not almost exactly the same, as the past Tony Hawk style mission structures. There are a variety of missions like of hunting wanted criminals, crime control, herding and the pony express. In the end they all feel very similar, with the exception of the pony express and herding missions, which aren’t exactly exciting but test your horse riding and navigational skills. Story missions usually focus on getting from point A to B to initiate a cut scene, kill things and repeat. It’s a simple formula but it keeps things moving, giving a good balance of exploration, combat and story. Despite the side missions following a similar formula, some do actually make changes to exactly what you can do. Killing the target with just the bow, or instead of killing you apprehend them. So while they may all essentially be “Hunt down the target” they put you in different situations and making you rethink your strategy. A good example is if you want to capture a person alive well, you better not try to kill their horse with explosives, chances are you will kill them too. The main problem with the missions is that there’s just not nearly enough. All the story missions and side quests can be completed in well under 8 hours, leaving you with nothing to do afterwards but to roam the over world wanting for more.
Considering 2005 was the same year Resident Evil 4 came out, GUN had a lot to live up to in terms of graphics. Unfortunately GUN doesn’t deliver the same quality as the best looking titles on the system, but considering the open world its not a surprise. GUN when close up, looks pretty ugly. Many character models have low polygon counts and the environments are covered with blurry textures. Looking at the full picture though, you can see way off into the distance with minimal pop in. Things roll in smoothly most of the time unless your riding your horse full speed while zooming into the distance with your long range rifle. Animations are a mixed bag, some cut scene animations look good along with many of the horse and death animations. Other character’s don’t fair too well though. When you talk to NPCs they look like their animations are three times faster then they should be and don’t transition smoothly. People falling off horses rarely looks like their actually falling off, instead they just kind of pop off. Shooting enemies on the ground can also cause them to pop back up into the standing position. Death animations when falling into water or off a cliff is completely non-existent instead you see your character fall in about one foot then it gives you a pop up window that says “You have died” and asking you to retry. GUN supports wide screen as well as progressive scan. The menu’s are bland and feel ripped straight out of a tony hawk game, thankfully you won’t be looking at them much, since there isn’t much to do in them other then look at stats and and mess with the options.
Voice acting when paired up with the writing gives the feeling of watching a Wild West movie. Some voices seem to change from cut scene to in game though. You can talk to some one in a cut scene then talk to them on the over world and they sound like a completely different person. The music fits the setting very well. Unfortunately as good as it is, it’s nothing really memorable so don’t expect to be humming it through-out the day.
GUN is incredibly buggy, many bugs are small and graphical while others that are more severe and effect game play. During cut scenes the character models shake in awkward ways that make them look like their expanding a little bit and then popping back to normal. There is also lots of clip in and many graphics will cover each other. Some dead bodies will sit up on the ground and other animations have you going through objects in order to interact with them. Game play wise you can glitch through walls in many locations and get stuck inside the buildings, as well as fall through the ground in a cave. Some characters at time will even spawn but as you get closer they will disappear right in front you. Last but not least, the game did a full crash, I ended up having to power off the system and turn it back on and reload my last save. That being said, prepare to save quite often if you don’t want to lose hours of work.
Despite all the issues, GUN actually turns out to be a very fun and unique experience. The mission structure is simple but balanced and keeps the game flowing and the over world is large but not overwhelming. Shoot outs on horses feel great and overall it really captures the feel of the Wild West almost perfectly. With some much needed polish and added length it could have been much better product then it turned out to be. If you’re of age and can over look the frustrating controls, the length and all the glitches. Then you should definitely give GUN a try. www.amazon.com sells them for a reasonable price. The average price of $10.00 to $20.00 is definitely worth it. Any more then that though and I can’t recommend it mainly due to the length.