Life in the Old West must have been gritty, violent, and short if it was anything like Gun, a new Western-themed action adventure from Tony Hawk series developer Neversoft. Featuring an open-ended environment that you can traverse on foot or on horseback, plenty of gory shoot-outs, numerous optional side missions, and an interesting story, Gun initially seems like a 19th-century Grand Theft Auto. Unfortunately, the experience just doesn't last long enough to be savored. Gun's main story missions are exciting, but the main plot is over so quickly that the whole thing just ends up feeling rushed, and the various side missions aren't compelling enough to hold your interest after the end credits roll. So it turns out that a terse, simple title like "Gun" is really the perfect fit for what could have been a great game, if only it had more meat on its bones.
Colton White doesn't take long to exact his revenge on the unsavory customers who made his life difficult.
Gun is the tale of Colton White, a soft-spoken gunslinger raised by a resourceful old hunter named Ned, made instantly likable thanks to an excellent voice performance by Kris Kristofferson. One day Ned and Colton's hunt lands them on a steamboat carrying some sort of important artifact that Ned seems to know about. However, he's not alone in his knowledge, and as the ship is besieged, Colton barely escapes with his life. He makes his way to Dodge City at Ned's request, and from there embarks on a journey that will put him up against a greedy ex-military railroad mogul and his wicked cohorts. There's a strong cast of characters in Gun, and the 3D cinematic cutscenes are impressively motion-captured and choreographed, making each story mission worth looking forward to if only to see how Colton's misadventures will continue to pan out. Colton will find himself on both sides of the law, allying with a diverse array of different comrades in his efforts to find answers and seek vengeance.
Unfortunately, the story hurries along at a breakneck pace. Situations that seem intended to introduce entire chapters of gameplay tend to be resolved almost immediately. For example, at a certain point, Colton is deputized as a peacekeeper in Empire City, the game's largest town. You expect to then undertake a series of sheriff-style missions, but Colton's career path very quickly goes sour as the story jarringly goes in another direction. It blazes on like this until the end credits roll--maybe six hours after you first begin play, depending on how many side missions you opted to take on and depending on how much trouble you had with the final battle, which is one of the only tough fights at the normal difficulty setting. There's just no time to really get to like (or dislike) the main cast.
The mechanics of gameplay certainly are good, and even though there are only a few main story missions, they tend to be diverse and packed with intense action. Gun carefully walks the line between being a run-and-gun shoot-'em-up and more of a realistic, tactical shooter. You get to use all kinds of different authentic weapons, including pistols, rifles, shotguns, sharpshooters, bows, and dynamite in order to take on vastly superior odds, which Colton can overcome because of his excellent marksmanship and his ability to instantly recover all his health by drinking from his flask (what's in that thing?). Controlling Colton primarily from a third-person perspective, you'll also get to take on ferocious Apache warriors, play with barrels of TNT, fire cannons, and more.
Plus, you also get to ride and fight on horseback, making for some high-speed battles. Your horse's hooves are arguably even more dangerous than your firearms, and besides, it can be mightily entertaining to trample your foes, causing their bodies to get flung about like rag dolls. The horse-riding mechanics are fun and well designed, allowing you to shoot rather effectively while mounted. You also get to execute quick sliding turns (an awful lot like handbrake turns in a driving game) while balancing your horse's health with your top speed. You can spur your horse to go faster and faster, but this wears the animal down. Also, with the exception of those times when you run up against a barrier of some sort and just keep running, all the animation on horseback looks very convincing. The only problem is that there's no real sense of horse ownership in the game, as horses are completely disposable. Western heroes like Colton White ought to have their very own trusty steeds, but in Gun, you'll just grab whichever animal is closest to you and won't grow attached to any of them.
Not many games get the act of shooting people in the face down pat quite like this one. There's nothing neat and tidy about this action.
If you figured there'd be a lot of shooting in a game called Gun, you figured correctly. Colton will typically be up against large numbers of foes, but there's a very wide auto-aim window on his pistols, which lets you easily blast multiple foes even when they're hiding behind cover. Chances are you'll do most of your damage with your rifles, though, since you can aim down the sights of these in a first-person view, which lets you effectively shoot foes from afar. You also have limited access to a quick-draw ability, which slows everything down for a little while and allows you to quickly line up a bunch of deadly shots against groups of foes. Magically, you don't even have to reload during a quick-draw attack, though Colton's pistol ammo is unlimited anyway, and his other ammo types may be replenished by conveniently strewn power-ups. Colton can even go to town with melee weapons like knives and hatchets, easily slicing up large numbers of foes. So the action isn't exactly realistic, but it still feels that way to a certain extent since your foes tend to weave and dodge effectively, and will shout to press the attack when you're caught reloading. Most importantly, the weapons feel like they pack a real punch, and enemies are fun to fight, especially ones on horseback. It's hard to decide whether it's more satisfying to shoot a rider from his mount or to take the mount out from under him.
The shooting action is great, though it's not for the faint of heart. The makers of this game must be big fans of HBO's Deadwood or something, because the level of violence and general vulgarity in Gun greatly surpasses what you'd probably expect from a typical Western, even if you've seen some of the gorier ones. Gun pays tribute to the classic films in the genre, from the unbelievable rescue from the gallows in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly to the unforgettable last battle (courtesy of a Gatling gun) in The Wild Bunch. However, Gun isn't just bloody; it's downright gnarly at times, like when you blast a big chunk out of an enemy's head with a clean shot from your rifle. Expect graphic violence, racism, and misogyny in heavy doses during the course of the game. Hey, no one said the Old West was pleasant. But for what it's worth, some of this mature-themed content borders on being gratuitous, since Gun clearly isn't aiming for historical authenticity. You'll realize this from the moment you first catch a glimpse of the main villain's private locomotive, emblazoned with a big, fat skull logo. The game is far too over the top to be taken seriously.