Image: Screenshot from GUN
Written by: Elijah Moon Blackwell
It’s a different time. The social landscape is changing. You never know who you can trust. Everyone is out for themselves and it is survival of fittest.
Oh, I’m not describing 2020. I’m attempting to portray the usual atmosphere of revisionist-western media.
Western books, movies and TV shows all have the same general aesthetic but still manage to be unique by telling their own stories. Since the Wild West is mythological, it allows for creative legends. Cowboys dress alike and live in the same desolate locations. However, their personalities and motives are always diverse.
Surprisingly, there isn’t as many good western video games.
I was in the mood for some gun-slinging horse riding action. So I loaded up the 2005 release GUN, a title I played on GameCube as a kid, but was now trying out the PC port.
Let’s Address The Big Problems First
There are racial slurs for Native Americans (who are called Indians in the game) and Chinese immigrants. The Irish are shoehorned into a conversation about railroad labor.
The Native Americans speak deep and slow when talking. When attacking they scream and yell. They are represented as stereotypical caricatures.
The one voiced female character in the game is a saloon prostitute who needs saving. At least she does pick up a rifle and starts blasting at one point during the story.
You could say publisher Activison and developer Neversoft probably wanted to portray the time period accurately? I find that to be a weak argument, as there isn’t much historical fact in this game to begin with.
I wanted to address it; a warning for those who may find the content unsuitable for personal consumption.
On to the game.
The Map is Fantastic.
GUN is an open world game. It keeps you on a linear story that utilizes several parts of the map. Interestingly enough though, there are some locations that you don’t visit during the story.
Exploration has it rewards. You’ll find wanted posters, piles of gold to mine or some hidden away ammo cache.
Events in the story may have an impact on the map. Nothing damaging necessarily, but the landscape does change.
It’s actually pretty awesome. A small, easily digestible world that’s full of unique scenery and things to discover.
But of course there are some issues. There’s only two towns. Dodge is a small frontier town. There’s a saloon and a few empty but still accessible buildings. Empire is the larger, more established town. It has more buildings but the interiors are still barren. Only like two saloons have furniture.
Most of the exploration is done in the Badlands. The untamed wilds of the west. Sprinkled about may be a mining operation, a farm or a little shack. As a kid these structures made my imagination run wild. Who lived here? Is there a way I can enter?
Now-a-days I understand that most of the map is unused when outside of a mission. Once you’ve found all the gold piles and wanted posters there isn’t much left.
Probably the best side quest is the one with the Native American hunter. He will give you a series of quests to hunt down great beasts. You can only use a bow and for some you can’t spook them or they will run away. This quest line may lead you to parts of the map you may have not been to before. Since you don’t get a marker on the map of where the beasts are, you have to explore. It’s incredible.
I love this map even if it’s tiny by modern standards.
The Other Side Quests Can Be Hit or Miss
My problem with this game is the wanted posters and other side quest lines. Empire and Dodge have US Marshals who will give you various law enforcement missions. You can probably guess how this goes.
Go to the objective marker. Kill everyone. Repeat. Job done.
Well, what about the wanted posters? Same thing. However, there is one added mechanic. Some wanted posters have the stereotypical dead or alive choice. In most cases bringing them in alive is worth more than bringing them in dead. This means you have to get in close, slash the criminal with a knife or shoot them in the knee, then subdue them.
There is no “bringing” them anywhere though. Once you’ve subdued or killed them the mission ends and you immediately get cash. No throwing them on the back of a horse and transporting them. No getting intercepted by the criminal’s accomplices trying to free him.
Some of the wanted posters are challenging. Most are routine.
The other side quest line is the Pony Express. This is actually kind of cool. I can’t think of any other game that features the Pony Express. After some digging I did find what appears to be an educational FMV game called Pony Express Rider. I managed to find someone on YouTube who played through it.
Needless to say, it’s nice to see the Pony Express in a game. Even if GUN takes place in 1880 which is like 20 years after the Pony Express had went bankrupt but you know, I’ll take what I can get.
Unfortunately, the missions are pretty lame. I mean, it’s the Pony Express. You ride from point A to point B within a certain time limit. Once the route is completed you get paid. It fits the subject matter.
The problem is that there aren’t many obstacles in your path. You don’t ride through new territories or get taught new shortcuts. The Pony Express could have been a good tool for teaching the ins and outs of the map. Could have been a chance to expand on the game’s lore and explain what the settlers are up to in the Badlands.
Lastly, there’s the cattle herding. Very suitable for a cowboy game. It’s what you would expect. It’s fine. I do like that outlaws will come and try to take your cows. For me the best part of this quest line is the final mission. It is the longest and really feels like you put in some work. Depending on when you do this quest it may just feel bland because you’ll be making a trek you’ve already made a few dozen times. It’s best to do the cattle herding earlier. It’s an okay side quest but still doesn’t match the fun of hunting down legendary beasts.
The map is near-perfect but the diversions within it aren’t the greatest.
What Do You Spend your Hard-earned Cash On?
There is a tacked-on leveling system. Finishing missions will increase certain stats. To upgrade your weapons you can visit three different traders.
The traders are where you get the pickax to mine gold from. You can also buy health boosts for your horse. Their main purpose is upgrading your weapons. The reload speed and damage output can be increased. The Native American trader can turn your bow into one of the most overpowered weapons in the game.
It is vital that you upgrade at least two weapons. The revolver is great since it has unlimited ammo. The second weapon to max out is completely up to you.
The game gets very difficult, if under-powered. Be sure to upgrade when you can. Enemies in the late game have large amounts of health.
So other than upgrades, what else is there to spend your money on? You can gamble, which means you can become ultra-rich. But in doing so you’ll realize there’s nothing to spend said riches on. No clothes, no buildings, no special horses and no weapons. The weapons you get are given to you as the story progresses.
There is no reason to hoard money unless you want to become overpowered. Even then there’s almost no point in upgrading every single weapon.
I almost wish you had to buy ammo or health items just to give the money more of a purpose. There is an overabundance of ammo and health refill locations. I never felt like I was about to run out of supplies.
The Game is Also Extremely Short
I got to the credits in about five hours. There’s still some gold piles to find and I hadn’t done every side quest yet. But yeah, in my casual play through I finished the game in close one sitting. That five hours also consisted of me trying to glitch into certain buildings or try to reach unreachable areas.
If you were to focus on just doing the story missions you could probably beat it a lot quicker.
The story being so short is sort of depressing. I thought it was longer! My nostalgia told me the story was an epic journey with tons of plot development!
Nope, the story is about as long as a Call of Duty campaign.
The Plot. Oh No the Plot.
I’m not going to spoil major plot details but let’s just say this story is bad.
The overall idea isn’t bad. The driving motive of all the characters is pretty neat. It’s just the pacing and out-of-nowhere moments.
This game jumps around so hard. Characters go from hating the protagonist to loving him minutes apart. One minute a certain person is an ally and the next mission they are an enemy. There’s no time for the plot to breathe. You don’t have much time to really think about the actions of the characters before they are immediately overwritten.
It honestly seems like a plot that was written as they went. There is some moments in the story that felt so last minute. Some things aren’t explained while others are overly explained.
If treated like a cheesy Grindhouse flick, then the story is pretty entertaining. In fact that’s my advice. If you are going to play this game and want to enjoy the plot; pretend it’s an Alex Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino or Jason Eisener movie.
It’s Still Worth a Try.
In a post-Red Dead Redemption world it’s really difficult to enjoy GUN fully. You have to place yourself in the 2005 mindset so you can appreciate the quality for the time. Alternatively, you need to expect a great, short game with amazing atmosphere.
This is one of the few games where the music is amazing while on and off. Music off will allow you to hear all kinds of ambient noises. It makes it easier to hear the piano playing in the Dodge City Saloon. Music on increases the intensity of action sequences.
The voice cast is also incredible. Thomas Jane, Lance Henriksen, Brad Dourif and Ron Perlman are some of the amazingly talented voice actors. Everyone gives it their all creating a very convincing performance. This leads to some amazing quotes.
If Red Dead Redemption II didn’t come to PC I would probably give GUN the number one spot. However, if compared to games of other genres GUN is lacking in many areas.
My opinion is very mixed. I’d totally recommend checking this game out as it is one of the few good western video games. Just go in with somewhat of a low expectation and don’t expect a Red Dead Redemption experience.
GUN can be found on GOG or Steam for $19.99. That price is stupid high. Especially since it doesn’t have widescreen or controller support. The physical version is on eBay from $10-$15. If you have a GameCube, PS2, Xbox or 360 then you can find used copies for cheaper.
Wait for a digital sale or hope that it pops up in your local game or thrift store.
Got any games you’d like me to check out? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org!