Breaking away from the world of vert ramps, skinned knees, and million-point combos, developer Neversoft is trying its hand at an all-new franchise. Famous for its wildly successful Tony Hawk series, they've struck out in a different direction and created a new entry in the sparsely populated Western genre. I'm sure that stuffy suits in a boardroom somewhere are nervous about Neversoft leaving the dry, over-milked teats of the Hawk cash-cow behind, but in my opinion, Gun is an extremely solid game and an enjoyable experience from start to finish, skateboards be damned.
Telling the not-too-thrilling story of Colton White, Gun places players on a fairly predictable path of revenge and discovery. While scratching out a living selling game to passing riverboats, Colton's father is killed. Before dying, it is revealed that Colton is not actually his son. Naturally, this leads Colton into the untamed west in search of answers and justice.
To be perfectly straightforward, Colton is a boring, flat character that fits neatly into the western hero mold, and doesn't go an inch past. The story leading him along the way is equally uninspired. However, this gray zone of personality is saved by the fact that the play mechanics are squarely dialed-in and the variety of missions is excellent. Although Gun lacks the flair and style of Red Dead Revolver, it clearly has the technical advantage and offers a fuller experience. Gun is a perfect example of quality workmanship overcoming mediocre material.
Set in a free-roaming environment somewhat similar to Grand Theft Auto, I was able to follow the story missions or to pursue one of the many tumbleweed-tinged activities.. While I usually skip over side-missions in favor of the main quest, the opposite was true in this case. I got a lot of enjoyment helping a rancher herd cows and keeping lawbreakers off the streets in Dodge City. There was also the option to hunt animals roaming the landscape, and riding for the Pony Express or playing poker at the saloon were available, too.
While none of these things by themselves would make for a very rich experience, the fact that they all exist together cohesively helped to give depth and breadth to Gun's world—something that was greatly appreciated. In fact, I might even say that the side missions themselves are the best part of the game, creating a sort of Wild West-lite simulation.
Otherwise, Gun fits the description of an average action game. The graphics don't impress (never a strong point for Neversoft), but they get the job done adequately. There's lots of shooting, a range of upgrades to be purchased, a few costume switches, and the requisite last boss defeated by a couple of dumb gimmicks. It's nothing particularly unique or innovative, but the pace of the game is as smooth as warm butter, and the ability to alternate between the search for revenge or to peacefully ride among the mesas elevates its status.
Although I did encounter several bugs during gameplay (mostly collision errors like getting trapped inside walls, random freezes, or watching the wolf I was stalking pass completely through a large rock) these were only minor setbacks. Neversoft included frequent restart points to ensure that an untimely death or technical hiccup never set me back very far. Bonus points for that.
I'd have to say that despite the lukewarm tone of this review, Gun is by far the best Western game I've ever played. This is true partially because it's a good game, and partially because most of the competition is wretchedly awful. Still, Neversoft managed to get things right where a lot of other developers have gone very wrong, and for this I have to give them credit. In fact, the only thing I could really see missing were the mini-games I was hoping to find hidden away in the upper floors of the cathouse—if any of you find a code, e-mail me.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.