Get ready for a trip back in time to the Old West
The best way to describe Gun is by comparing it to one of the best-known games of all time: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Their similarities in terms of game design are striking. Both are third-person action games at heart with a theme involving betrayal, greed, and revenge. Both are extremely violent games in which your main activity is to travel around using various means of transportation and kill an enormous amount of bad guys (or civilians depending on your mood). The two games also share very cinematic cut-scenes, lots of great voice-acting, upgradeable attributes, and an open, free-roaming game structure filled with various side quests.
In terms of differences, the most glaring one is the fact that Gun takes place in the American West of the mid-1800s, whereas GTA: SA is set in an urban environment approximately 150 years later. Another difference has to do with their general level of quality. GTA: SA is superior to Gun in almost every way.
You don’t realise this right at the beginning, though, because Gun starts off extremely well, with an interesting story setup. The game has a gorgeous, movie-like presentation, consisting of numerous highly dramatic cut-scenes with an abundance of pan-outs, close-ups, and slow-motion effects thrown in for good measure. Coupled with this visual style are the sounds of some great atmospheric Western music, as well some magnificent voice acting, delivered by professional actors. The end result is a convincing presentation that effectively pulls you into the setting and the story that unfolds.
This story deals with classic Western self-policing. It is set up nicely by introducing Colton White –the main character– and his relationship to his beloved father. The idyll is quickly broken, though, when thugs –for mysterious reasons– raid the steamboat they are travelling on and kill the father in the process. Colton’s mission is now set in stone: he must find out who killed his father, and then bring them to justice - by killing them, of course. The story takes you through some very memorable situations, such as rescuing a prostitute from a bunch of corrupt lawmen, taking down entire boats with a cannon on your own boat, and shooting the head off a psychopathic gang leader while on horseback.
Unfortunately, the overall plot gradually starts to lose focus, as you’re constantly faced with optional side-quests. These range from playing poker to hunting wild deer, and they help build your stats. Most of the time, they involve shooting a lot of bad guys. While this non-linear game structure provides a great sense of freedom, it also tends to make you almost forget about your overall objective as you’re drowned in so many smaller ones. What’s more, there are few real plot twists and few pivotal scenes that genuinely reveal the personalities of the main characters. As a result, the plot, which started out so intriguing, becomes somewhat shallow and incoherent.
Fortunately, the shooting sequences themselves are handled well. This achievement is mainly due to the inclusion of a bullet-time-inspired “quick draw” mode that allows you to temporarily enter a first person perspective in which everything takes place in slow-motion. Quick draw obviously makes aiming easier, since you have more time to line up your shots, but you can’t use it forever, as it is dependent on a rapidly depleting meter. Once the meter is empty, you’re back to the standard third person perspective, so figuring out the best times to use the ability becomes critical for your success. It certainly adds a nice layer of strategy to the shooting sequences.
In third person, the shooting mechanics are bit more problematic. First of all, the aiming is simply too loose. Secondly, the reticule is too big. At times, it actually appears larger than the enemy targeted, which obviously makes headshots a matter of luck more so than skill. Another flaw - almost inherent in any third person shooter game - is the fact that the camera can be aligned in the doorway between two rooms in order to show enemies around a wall, even though you’re on the other side of it. This is a rather unrealistic technique, which will undoubtedly be used by the more pragmatic gamers.
Otherwise, the controls feel satisfying enough, once you’ve adapted to the complicated button configuration. All the buttons – including the various D-pad directional buttons – are used, and many of them are even context-sensitive. The Y button, for example, sometimes lets you hold a certain character and sometimes issues a simple talk command. On horseback, a whole new control scheme comes into effect in order to accommodate for the new actions available, such as jumping, accelerating, rearing, or trampling enemies. All in all, there is plenty of functionality put into Gun. As a result, the controls cannot be instantly accessible. They certainly don’t cater to inexperienced gamers looking for a quick pick-up-and-play-oriented gameplay experience. However, they do eventually become quite intuitive as you learn what contexts trigger which functions.
The learning process is important, because senseless button-mashing is never a good solution in Gun. Playing offensively often translates to an early death. Instead, you have to make good use of the surrounding objects for cover. In this position, you can wait for the quick draw meter to refill, and then trigger the mode, move out of cover, and shoot a few times before returning to cover. Enemies are usually intelligent enough to not just charge at you by themselves. They tend to either hide or suddenly attack in groups, in which case the quick draw mode also turns out to be extremely useful.
Another exciting aspect in Gun is the sheer sense of scope of the environments. Gun is not divided into levels but rather features a coherent game world that feels quite overwhelming. A horse is always recommended as you travel long distances through mountain wilderness, barren deserts, and territorial towns. All the areas have a great draw distance that allows you to see miles into the distance .Often you can actually reach these places – they are not just part of the scenery. The vastness of the game world does come at the expense of environmental details, though. Most areas look boringly sparse and lifeless. They are definitely not nearly as focused or dense as in a game like GTA: SA. You’ll sometimes traverse miles without seeing a single soul or interactive object. Creating a sense of solitude might have been a deliberate design choice from the developers, but it still makes the act of travelling too monotonous.
Gun has turned out to be a highly ambitious game. It has a unique setting, beautiful sounds, some really memorable set-pieces, and nice graphics to boot. Many of its gameplay mechanics are clearly inspired by the ones found in GTA: SA, but sadly, Gun doesn’t reach that game’s overall level of quality, especially in terms of longevity. Even though Gun is very challenging on the harder difficulty settings, it can be beaten in less than ten hours. You can go back to complete all the side quests, but that doesn’t provide enough replay value. There is no multiplayer or worthwhile extra features, either. Fortunately, Gun is enjoyable while it lasts, and that is why it can be recommended for fans of third-person shooters in spite of the lack of content provided.