Ryan Chartrand

Right when the world thought Will Smith had defaced the western genre entirely, Neversoft, developer of the overly popular “Tony Hawk” series, decided it was time to tell a gritty, gory and gun-slinging story in a free-to-roam world. The idea of “Gun,” Neversoft’s exploration into a world devoid of Tony Hawk, is far more entertaining to read than to actually play unfortunately. While “Gun”is certainly not a bad game, its failure to execute on target during moments of great potential is a bit of a disappointment. Being the bottom-shelf rental game that it is, “Gun” is simply another rushed experience that couldn’t draw its guns fast enough against the ultimate video game villain, inferiority.

“Gun’s” story is essentially a massive epic packed into a mere 10-hour game that leaves you wanting more. Not more of the story, but rather a more interesting and comfortably paced 10-hour story. You play Colton White, the classic western hero dressed like a Native American version of Rambo. After the murder of his father, Colton has nothing but vengeance on his mind and a rather bizarre twist to uncover. Behind the theme of vengeance is a tale involving magical crosses and other abruptly eccentric twists, which should not be seen as a failure but rather a bold attempt at making something out of an already dying genre. The story is presented with some of the most impressively animated cut-scenes, well-cast voice actors and multiple unwarranted acts of violence that make forcing the ‘M’ rating worthwhile. Without the enhancements provided by the cinematic cut scenes, however, the whirlwind speed of the story could not support most gamers’ interest past the second hour.

Nevertheless, “Gun’s” original gameplay reveals a system that not only holds one’s interest, but also has more depth than it deserves. “Gun,” although somewhat shocking, is really all about guns. Through a system of buying and upgrading, the game finds ways to make guns the prime focus at all times. At any point during a battle, a variety of weapons are available to accommodate the situation: shotguns, rifles, pistols, cavalry swords and even a dynamite-launching bow and arrow. Weapons can be purchased from either shopkeepers in towns or from oddly placed Indian traders amidst the plains. Guns can be upgraded to increase reload time and firepower, and extend the time limit of “Gun’s” version of the “bullet time” tradition. Whether you are taking down cowboys and Indians on horseback or foot, the control of the weapons is almost constantly comfortable and not quite burdensome. The problem with “Gun,” however, is that no matter how well designed its control and weapon system may be, without a convincing western style and story to transform the player into a vengeance-filled cowboy, the design becomes nothing more than an unnoticeable and constant backdrop.

When you are put into the shoes of a gritty cowboy, you expect to be treated like one. Instead, the experience dealt by “Gun” is no more than that of a standard third-person adventure experience with nothing distinctively defining it as a western game. The health meter may be based on how much whisky you drink, but is that really what ignites our childhood cowboy love for the western genre? Where are the shootouts at town hall or the flashy “Max Payne”-like gunfights? Instead, “Gun” only offers meaningless pixel bullets piercing avaricious villains as an extensive gun system hides quietly beneath it all. “Gun” tries to make up for it with more gratuitous violence such as body parts flying off and such, but the game’s stimulating impact on the player lacks any foundation to make it worthwhile or interesting. A game that fails to appeal to emotion and imagination has ultimately failed on quite a few levels.

Luckily, after the abrupt story’s reins are pulled and all quiets down, the “Grand Theft Auto” world opens up and allows you to explore as you wish. Mounting a random horse and riding off into the deep desert can be a temporarily exhilarating scene. The bright sun will burn down upon the coarse sand as you ride your horse past the shimmering lakes and wide landscapes, until suddenly a bandit attack interrupts it all and reminds you of the game’s faults. Every side-mission that can be found later on consists of mundane tasks with no real purpose or value. Some may find enjoyment in the game’s Texas Hold em mini-game or roaming the lands hunting for gold and wanted men, but even these can expire interest quite quickly. Once “Gun’s” story comes to rest, the once hard-boiled world of war and fantasy becomes a world filled with much to do but no reason to do it. “Grand Theft Auto” succeeds at open-ended gameplay because it is able to open up a massively scaled world where there is much to do and a generally entertaining reason to want to do it.

“Gun” would have been Neversoft’s first ultimate failure had they not put the time into making it visually appealing. The XBOX 360 surprisingly pales in comparison to the less blurry and far more crisp rendering job produced by the current-generation consoles. Traveling within the “Gun” world is by far the most rewarding experience the game has to offer, and thanks to its ability to present a world of blazing heat and beautiful scenery, the game is certainly not a complete failure and nor it should be the last that gamers ever see of it.

“Gun” represents a revival of the western genre in a medium where it had almost been entirely forgotten. Neversoft executes at certain moments brilliantly, but waiting for such occurrences should not be the job of the gamer. Furthermore, abandoning gamers after 10 hours of play and then expecting them to find mundane forms of enjoyment is not the job of the developer either. Anyone obsessed with cowboys and looking for a bizarre story combined with inferior gameplay may find it to be a worthwhile rental. As much as “Gun” tries to act like it’s worth its price, buying “Gun”is like paying for an air-packed bag of chips that is half-empty. On a side note, if you find “Gun” lying helpless on the floor of your local Blockbuster, be sure to put it back on the bottom shelf before Hilary Clinton notices its M-rating and bans a possibly polished sequel completely.

The Good: sometimes epic horseback riding, top-notch voice acting accompanying well animated cut scenes and an ingenious idea to combine the GTA style with the western genre.

The Bad: lacking the most enjoyable aspects of the western style, standard third-person adventure gameplay and a rushed story that can’t hold the gamer’s attention.

The Word on the Screen: C

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