Available for: Xbox 360, Xbox, PlayStation 2, PC
The Wild West has experienced a renaissance of sorts on television, with series like “Deadwood” and “Firefly,” but the video game industry has struggled with titles rooted in the same ancient genre. Past games like “Dead Man’s Hand” and “Red Dead Revolver” were less than well-received, and the last decent western game that comes to mind (“Gunsmoke”) debuted on the original NES game console. It’s refreshing, then, to see a game like “GUN” push its way to the front of the line and succeed; thanks most in part to its straightforward control system and addictive gameplay. “GUN” isn’t without its faults, though, and while the storyline is one of the best in recent years, it’s far too short to make a genuine impact.
The hero of the story is Colton White, a relatively calm gunslinger considering he’s just watched his father Ned (voiced brilliantly by Kris Kristofferson) slaughtered by a group of bandits, led by an evil priest named Reed. (Coincidentally, an all-too-similar evil priest character appeared in the summer sequel to “The Mask of Zorro.”) Before dying, Ned makes one last request of his son: that he travel to Dodge City and exact revenge on Reed and his dastardly cohorts, including town mayor Hoodoo Brown and ex-Civil War general Thomas Magruder. As Colton slowly learns more about Magruder’s plot to uncover a secret gold mine rumored to be somewhere in the area, he also discovers more about his father’s past.
Featuring an open environment that makes the game seem a lot more like a western “Grand Theft Auto,” “GUN” is just as much about its optional side missions as it is the main story. Whether its cashing in on a bounty, cleaning up at the poker table, or ridding the land of a pesky grey wolf, the side missions enable you to earn money for purchasing upgrades and increasing stats. While these missions do make the game last a little longer, they ultimately become a nuisance to play through. The main story is much more interesting and involving, including particular subplots that involve working alongside cowboy rebels and a tribe of Apache Indians.
The best part of “GUN” by far is, quite simply, the gunplay. Featuring a simple control setup that gives you complete command over your weapons, the push of a button will quickly take you into Quick Draw mode (a “Matrix”-like slo-mo), allow you to change weapons, or zoom in on your target without losing much time. This results in a much more enjoyable gameplay experience, as you don’t have to worry about wasting the first few hours learning yet another new combat system. Even more outstanding is the game’s camera control which, for once, doesn’t suck, but instead gives the player a decent view of the action, with no in-game bugs to be found.
Finally, it’s tricky to talk about a western video game without mentioning horseback riding; and if the game doesn’t feature horseback riding, then it’s not a western. The horseback riding in “GUN” appears to a love-hate experience. In my time playing the game, I found gunplay while riding a horse much more difficult than just chasing your opponents around on the ground. There are pros to using the horse, though, including a greater resistance to getting hurt (since the horse must first die before you start taking damage) and its value in swiftly getting you across the vast landscape. Other players may enjoy the horseback riding featured throughout the game more agreeable, but if given the choice, I’d prefer not to ride a smelly animal if I don’t have to.
And yet despite all of the praise, “GUN” simply isn’t worth more than a weekend rental. The average gamer will have the main story completed well under eight hours, and that includes taking the time to participate in a handful of side missions. This doesn’t, however, signify that you should ignore this title by any means; it’s certainly one of the better games currently on the market, especially one available for so many different consoles. It features a lot more depth than most games have these days, including a rather enjoyable storyline (movie rights, Hollywood?) and simple enough controls to satisfy both novice and hardcore players. How often do you get to say that these days?