After a half-decade of ollies, shove-its and stalefish, Neversoft has finally decided to ditch the (50-50) grind of pumping out editions of Tony Hawk in lieu of something a little moreâ€¦dangerous. Their new western shooter GUN certainly switches it up a notch, but unfortunately, the other big N still has a lot to learn about crafting non-skateboard titles. For all of GUNâ€™s efforts, it fails to live up to the hype, with non-descript gameplay and an underwhelming narrative.
The time: 1880. The place: Montana. The man: Colton White, a rough-around-the-edges Western archetype who hunts and sells game for a living, under the guidance of his knowledgeable father Ned. After a basic tutorial section that ties into the inciting incident for the story, youâ€™ll find yourself in Coltonâ€™s shoes on a quest, to quote the box copy, â€œexperience the brutality, greed, and lust that was the West.â€
Gameplay is certainly brutal enough. With a sparse arsenal consisting of your six-shooter, rifle and knife, the bad guys will drop and their blood will flow thick. Weapons you pick up later in the game offer a few more ways to do away with foes, but most stick to standard armaments like shotguns and the like.
Shooting can be performed in 3rd or 1st-person perspectives in a nod to Oddworld: Strangerâ€™s Wrathâ€™s dual POVs, yet both methods have their own flaws. In 3rd person, the targeting reticule is often hard to make out, and in 1st person, tracking a target is unnecessarily difficult due to the slow default speed. Competent performance could only be achieved by cranking the analog stick sensitivity to the maximum; certainly an unusual gameplay issue.
GUNâ€™s key combat wrinkle is its bullet-time feature called â€˜quickdraw.â€™ By pressing in the right shoulder button, time will slow down for Colton as he whips out his trusty pistol. In 1st person mode, youâ€™ll have until the meter runs out to take down targets in a single shot. Flicking the right analog stick towards the next enemy (clearly pointed out by distinct arrows in either left or right directions) switches targets, making combat a breezeâ€”with unlimited pistol bullets truly making it the easy way out. You can also throw projectiles like dynamite, combine shooting and projectiles (shooting the airborne dynamite before it hits the ground), and combine the two while on horseback as well. Lastly, pressing the X button yields a nasty knife slash, drawing red ribbons of blood from nearby enemies.
The main game boils down to playing a few scripted shootouts, watching cut-scene after cut-scene, then a quick â€˜find this characterâ€™ fetch quest, then some more cut-scenes, then a pause so you can take on some of the side missions. The bounty of cut-scenes plays havoc with the pacing; at some points it seems that someone at Neversoft really wanted to make a Western movie instead of a game.
Although the story is soundly average, with nothing really remarkable or interesting to express, the most irksome part is that youâ€™re guided through absolutely every juncture, be it critical or mundane. Still in the Tony Hawk mindset, Neversoft saw fit to have constant updates about your objectives pop up at the top of the screen, and while it might save precious seconds of guesswork about where to go, it ends up giving you the sense of being led on a journey that someone else already solved. In the end, the main story mode truly feels like a game done in paint-by-numbers style, offering hardly any opportunity for the player to impact the story. Additionally, the story can be completed in only a few daysâ€™ worth of light play, and once itâ€™s over you wonâ€™t have much desire to replay it.
Luckily thereâ€™s a bevy of side missions to undertake, like bounties, poker, pony express runs, federal marshal duty, ranching, hunting, and gold mining. Sounds good, right? Sadly, thereâ€™s a catchâ€”virtually all of the side missions are incredibly short, lasting only a few minutes on average. Gold mining is the sole exception, since it involves rambling around the game world in search of the precious mineral. So, even though thereâ€™s a bunch of them, GUNâ€™s side missions prove to be as lacking as the main quest.
But at least it looks goodâ€”right? If you bought GUNto show off the â€˜mind-blowingâ€™ capabilities of the 360, youâ€™re in for a surprise. The 360 versionâ€™s graphics are hardly next-generation, with only marginal improvements over the very much current-gen Xbox edition, namely higher resolution textures and a silky framerate locked at 60 fps. Even so, after a majority of the cut-scenes play out, game characters and objects â€˜pop-upâ€™ as they load in, sometimes to a glaringly obvious degree (think Halo 2).
The entire game world can be explored without any loading, but this hardly becomes something to brag about when you take the size of the world into playâ€”I didnâ€™t use a virtual tape measure, but it seems that Gunâ€™s untamed west canâ€™t compete with the PS2â€™s Grand Theft Auto 3 in terms of size, much less the enormous â€˜sandboxesâ€™ of Morrowind or San Andreas.
GUNâ€™s soundtrack is all original orchestra compositions, and is possibly the one faultless aspect of the game. Music swells when necessary, even though the corresponding on-screen action is either clichÃ©d or uninteresting. One sore point sticks outâ€”the soundtrack noticeably drops out during poker matches, making for a strangely solitary experience. Voice-overs are good, although the characters that speak them are largely forgettable. At the least, professional-quality voice actors help GUNâ€™s so-so plot from dipping into laughable territory.
GUNhas plenty of other oddities to spare, like the optional hunting missions that require you to kill your prey with one arrow from up-closeâ€”prey that will scamper off unharmed should you shoot it with any other weapon from any other distance, even if you nail a direct headshot with the rifle. Or the NPCs throughout the gameâ€™s two settlements and beyond that compulsively shrug, regardless of what theyâ€™re saying. Or the text on the wanted posters that initiate the bounty missions that Colton mumbles aloud, in a barely audible tone. Or the ability to scalp downed enemies that has no effect whatsoever in the game. Yet all these aspects of weirdness feel right at home with GUNâ€™s overall undercooked feeling.
With no multiplayer modes and a barely noticeable graphical upgrade, the only upside to owning GUN for 360 as opposed to any other current-gen platform are the â€˜accomplishmentsâ€™â€”unlockable rewards that contribute to your Xbox Live accountâ€™s Gamerscore. At twice the price ($59.99 and $29.99, for 360 and current-gen platforms), it doesnâ€™t make sense to spoil your shiny new system with reheated games. Try as they might, Neversoft will have to make a more focused effort with their next non-boarding title, as their GUN only fires blanks.