Before Red Dead Revolver would get an open world sequel set in the wild west, GUN was probably the only game at the time known for this concept. It came out on almost every console upon its release, but not just for the original Xbox, GameCube, and PS2. This title was further ported to the PC, 360, and even the PSP with some exclusive content added in. I remember my friends talking about it a lot before its release, but after the weekend it launched, Gun simply became a forgotten relic.
This was especially strange since no one I knew thought it was a bad game and only had a minor criticism of it being too short. However, while going through my collection of titles made by Neversoft, such as Spider-Man for PS1 and the bunch of Tony Hawk games, I found my old copy of GUN. I did study some American history when I was attending university and will admit that I have a soft spot for Bonanza and Lucky Luke, so I decided to give it a go. Was it worth the shot, though? Not really.
Uncooked spaghetti western
After an introduction featuring our protagonist escaping from dangerous cowboys on their steeds with Lord’s Prayer being recited in the background, the game skips to another short and confusing cutscene about explorers being killed by Native Americans in 1542. After this, Gun finally lets you take control over Colton White, a young man travelling alongside his father to find a steamboat that can take them down the Missouri River for unknown reasons. However, this too becomes far from a steady ride.
If the beginning did not try hard enough with the three different intros, we also get a preacher launching an attack on the steamboat with his mercenaries. When all seem lost, Colton’s father gives him a medallion which must be taken to a woman in a nearby town. Right after, he tells Colton that he is not his actual father and pushes him off the boat. While none of this is hard to follow, the story throws so much at you in the beginning just to make it seem like everything is on the edge and interesting, without giving you time to get invested. Everything is sloppily told and sped up too fast, making it hard to care about what is going on or give the characters any value due to them lacking memorable interactions.
Thankfully, the story takes a breather right after this messy start and becomes better paced, with Colton simply seeking the truth about his “father”, fulfilling his last wish, and getting revenge on those responsible for his death. This plot turns into a standard western tale from here on out, and while it is hard to call it original in any way because of this, at least it has a progression with varied villains to take on. Unfortunately, there is too little time provided to let anything occurring sink in, with even the campaign for this open world game being easily beatable within four hours.
Although Colton is a decent character, there is little to say about him in terms of personality and the same goes for the supportive characters. They might have one or two minor stereotypical aspects to them, but truly nothing else. However, the over the top villains could have been entertaining, as they have designs that obviously showcase that they are the bad guys and motivations revolving around simple forms of greed. Even the main antagonist is just a big fat old man with an eyepatch, who almost looks like an accountant turned into a pirate.
Sadly, this is also where GUN stumbles terribly: it does not have a clear tone. It has scenes with gruesome violence, such as the throat of a defenceless woman being slit or corpses hanging from trees, giving this world an uncomfortable atmosphere. Yet, the dialogues and villains are so unnatural and cartoony, they feel meant for a younger audience or played for laughs. Because of this uneven tone, it is hard to care about anything that is going on, with the outcomes being easy to predict. The moments where the story tries to be interesting are simply shallowly implemented, with Colton’s background being nothing of a mystery from one single sentence he utters early on. There is an attempt at creating something worthwhile here, but it is all poorly executed.
Story Score: 3/10
Empty target practising
You control Colton in an open world TPS, where you will be exploring a huge landscape and can take on both main- and side missions. Although, the name of the game is pretty much what you will be doing throughout the adventure: shooting with guns. In fact, despite that Colton can perform simple melee attacks and will acquire different weapons for such use, this move is completely ineffective due to its short range and forcing you to stand still. This holds especially true when your handgun never runs out of ammo.
You will be carrying a lot of different firearms and unlock better ones as you progress through the main story, such as varied revolvers, shotguns, snipers, rifles, and bows, with dynamites and Molotov cocktails to throw also being included. All are useful in distinct ways, such as snipers for dealing accurate shots from afar, while arrows are silent and good for stealth missions, giving you a lot of possibilities for how to take on the foes. Whenever you decide to zoom in with a weapon, you will go into FPV for better aiming and it is always easy to change between this and TPV, making it so you should always be in control of the action.
The other times you will go into FPV, is whenever you activate quick draw. This ability is restricted by a bar that you fill up by killing animals or people. However, it can be triggered at any time, with the filled portion only showcasing how long this mode will last, which is a commendable touch. When using quick draw, everything goes into slow motion and the more you kill, the longer you will stay in it. You can also change between targets to lock on while in this mode, but this does not work at times or even worse: chooses someone that is behind cover. This feature can only be performed with a revolver as well, which limits its use.
It is hard to be annoyed by any of this though, as Gun is incredibly forgiving. This can already be seen with the huge crosshair you are provided with, making it hard to miss any opponent and simultaneously problematic to get an accurate headshot with. Unfortunately, this title further neglect testing you skills, thanks to the the enemies’ terrible AI. Despite that some will take cover, they do not mind attacking you out in the open either, making the shootouts become too simple and dull. You yourself can also sneak, hide behind covers, and peek out left or right for making quick shots, though you are never stuck to a cover and can only loosely stand behind them.
While these are fine abilities, I rarely found much use for them as hiding just prolonged the gunfights and the opponents will more likely than not move towards you. It was actually better to run in one consistent direction and shoot with any weapon possible to take them down. I even forgot that you could roll out of danger until I had beaten the game, as it was never a helpful move. As for your health, you can carry sips of whiskey for refilling it. This is a cool concept, but I found it also too easy to exploit due to bottles being available around every corner and resetting a mission would eventually provide you with a full bottle of whiskey that can heal you multiple times.
Whiskey and ammo are pretty much the only things you can pick up around the world, since money can only be acquired through side missions or patches of gold you can dig up if you bought a pickax. Through getting richer, you can purchase upgrades easier, such as faster reload times for your rifle. However, even here there are problems. Despite that Gun encourages you to do side missions for better outcomes, it is never needed and all can be simply ignored. I also found many of these extra activities a huge chore to take on, but we will come back to this aspect later in this review.
The lack of meaningful rewards can also be seen in some of the upgrades, such as being able to scalp your enemies. This literally does that and nothing more, you do not even collect them for any purpose. I do like the idea of side missions rewarding you with upgrades to your stats like quick draw, melee attacks, and the speed of your horse, though I never felt any difference. Main missions only provide more side missions, health upgrade, and the next main mission, making the progression feel rather mundane when there is little to be excited about.
Then there is how you travel around this land: by riding horses. There are no form of fast travel mechanic included here, which would have been fine if this world was not huge and empty. I hate this take on the wild west, as I found myself constantly riding between far away places with nothing breaking up the tedium. When you also consider that there are only two towns within this title and each are on the opposite sides of the map, it made every journey a drag. The horses do have some interesting abilities, as they can trample, jump, and even drift, making them quite fun to control. Sadly, these moves are never useful in any situation.
Although, the gunfights while riding on your steed are always existing by making you focused on two things and are well implemented in this adventure. The horses also have their own health bars that will heal if they stand still or walk slowly, but this is not all. They will also take damage when speeding up and if they die, you are stranded and must walk onward on foot. This makes the horses feel incredibly valuable, especially since Colton is no marathoner. Walking around this land, is an unbearably slow experience that no one should endure. At least, you have a helpful map to showcase where you should be headed towards next.
Then there are the main missions and they are all repetitive with nothing to offer. Some will have linear stealth parts that feel more like QTEs, but that is as far as the variety really goes. Gunfights are so bland, that they will have turret sections, fetch quests, and even escort missions where I always forgot I had someone to protect since the enemies are a joke. Finally, there are the boss battles and none felt different from each other. They were basically huge thugs with bigger health bars and stronger weapons than the common foes, but just as dumb.
I could go on with a lot of minor issues, such as how I am always faster than the people I need to follow, which causes me to stop every two seconds, but bottom line: GUN has a lot of problems. There are a lot of ideas presented that I do enjoy, but the world was not built with the character’s abilities in mind. The developers clearly wanted to make a big and interactive world, but instead created a drab wasteland. While the shooting can be fun and the horse riding has its moments, no mission takes good advantage of your capabilities and the playthrough turns into a drag and monotone journey.
Gameplay Score: 3/10
Titles trying to go for a realistic presentation post the 64/32-bit era can easily age poorly, due to bland textures and sceneries reminiscing of blocks. This unfortunately describes Gun‘s visuals, and it does not help that the characters have stiff movements with terrible mouth animations and uneven polish to their facial features, causing them to look horrendous. Despite that there are a healthy selection of animals, such as wolves, horses, birds and more, none are appealing to look at because of their shallow textures and designs. I do like that Colton gets new outfits in different missions though, even if there are few reasons for it.
For the sake of being more positive, the environments can look nice and there is a healthy variety of areas to visit. Canyons, railroads, mines, lakes, forests, and the two towns, all look distinct and believable, adding to the setting of the wild west. It really is a beautiful sight to behold when the sun is setting over the land while you are riding on your trusty steed. Furthermore, there are some entertaining violence to witness here as well, such as fingers being blown off or heads exploding after an accurate shot, which can leave you lost for words. Although, it is a shame that there is a lack of set pieces and general life everywhere to the point that you can call this a wasteland. This goes for the cities too that have so few inhabitants, even the shops are missing retailers.
The concept art for the characters are at least solid, though only the over the top villains are the memorable ones due to their creative designs. I would say the same about Colton, but only because he looks like an artistic reinvention of Clint Eastwood. Cutscenes also use the in-game presentation and they look ugly because of this, with the CG ones being short and few amounts of. At least there is a solid use of colours to not make everything look like different versions of sand, helping at making the sceneries become visually adequate.
As for the voice acting, it is about as muddy. Some characters, like Colton’s “father”, is just terrible by sounding rather bored the entire time. Thomas Jane tries to give Colton a lone wolf vibe and does a decent job at it with a gritty voice, reminding me of the impressive tone he provided the protagonist of The Punisher game from 2004 with. Sadly, because of how the serviceable actors only mimic stereotypical western characters, it makes it hard to have anybody become memorable or intriguing. The sound effects are at least satisfying, with the shots from firearms being varied and impactful. I also admire the small details included, such as the clink from a whiskey bottle being performed whenever you drink from it.
The soundtrack is a mixed bag as well, though fare much better thanks to the composer Christopher Lennertz being on board. If you are unfamiliar with him, his work includes plenty of fantastic scores found in multiple Medal of Honor games, From Russia with Love, and he even had a hand in Mass Effect 3. However, his record also includes composing for movies like Alvin and the Chipmunks, Hop and A Bad Mom’s Christmas. This translates well to Gun‘s music in terms of quality, as some tracks are amazing. The best ones consist of orchestras featuring strong focus on trumpets and drums, but highlight instruments you might be familiar with from western shows, like fiddles and guitars. These have wonderful buildups and varied tones that add to the different settings perfectly.
However, there are also some weak tracks, such as one where only a low harmonica is playing a repetitive and uninspiring tone. It can fit the setting, but these melodies are simply monotone. The audio is better than the visuals and adds to the atmosphere when you are taking on this long journey. However, even its uses can be questioned. While I love the orchestral scores with intense focus on notes hitting hard, they will never make hedging barn animals exciting.
Presentation Score: 5/10
I cannot say I had much interest in doing any of the side activities, despite that the game constantly recommended me to do them. You can purchase some upgrades for your weapons and horses as mentioned, but how you get them can go from the game providing you with a decent time to a bore. Missions can only be activated one at the time, with the exception of the ones given from the Native Americans where you are tasked at hunting. These are not very interesting, as you just shoot animals you find in the wilderness.
Tracking down wanted criminals is about as uninteresting, except that you can try to knock them out in order to capture them alive. The idiotic AI makes both forms of hunting underwhelming, but the other quests are all over the place. Races are always bland with some being masked as fetch quests, taking on job as a sheriff is straightforward and includes the occasional shootouts, and hedging is tiresome by having you run around in circles. None are interesting enough mechanically to become worthwhile. Even hunting for gold was forgettable, due to how spare these mining areas are in this lacklustre world. Although, being able to play Texas hold’em is nice for a couple of minutes.
Extra Score: 3/10
What this title lacks, is any clear idea of what it wants to be. The open world aspect should have had more to it or been removed, fights are dull, and the tone of the story is inconsistent. I do enjoy the setting and the abilities your main character has, but this is a hard sale thanks to the amount of problems provided from unclear design choices. GUN basically shoots itself in the foot, which is why I believe it simply came and died. The PSP version should especially be avoided, unless you are interested in games aiming directly at the sun.