Students, put on your stetsons and pretend to whistle, ‘cuz it’s time to go back to the Wild West!… well, one of the multiple interpretations of the West. Personally, I absolutely love Westerns. Very few genres are so focused on such a small period of time, let alone one as idolized as Western expansion. But out of all the Western games out there, which are we going to talk about? Red Dead Redemption? Call of Juarez? I’m thinking one that’s more a relic of its time: Gun.
Now, I’ll be honest: I only recently played Gun after I got it from a Steam sale. I have no nostalgia for this game, unlike others who might’ve played it. Thus, my retrospective will be a lot less glowing than others who would have played this game.
You play as Colton White, Clint Eastwood-lookalike whose life of hunting with his father is thrown to the side as a turbulent wave of affairs provoke the death of said father, the sinking of a steamboat, and the twist that his dad wasn’t really his dad. This brings with it a quest of revenge, bloodshed, and bullet time as you figure out what the hell is going on.
Have you played GTA? Great! You already know how this kind of game goes: open world, main missions, side missions, celebrity voice actors (Ron Perlman is always a plus in anything), plus the ability to go postal if you so desire, yadda yadda yadda. I won’t bore you with such details, because that’s a checklist that’s unneeded when talking about this game. It’s stuff you have probably dealt with before if you’ve played sandbox games of the time (albeit more forgiving and with bullet time), just with a Western paint job. It functions as this sort of game should, but doesn’t do anything with said gameplay too radically that’s worth mentioning specifically (like missions or shooting mechanics).
But what can we talk about in this game if we aren’t talking about how the main gist of how it plays? Well, there are three small things I’d like to bring up: scope, story, and scalping.
Moving around the map is one of the most important parts of the sandbox genre. If you don’t enjoy the process of getting around, a majority of the experience will be very monotonous. Gun, as a whole, succeeds in this regard. A lot of it has to do with two things: soundtrack and map size.
Gun is not that big of a world when compared to other sandboxes. While this doesn’t make it a map of “discovery,” it does allow getting from mission to mission with relative ease. It doesn’t feel “big.” That’s what the soundtrack is for. Taken by itself, the soundtrack isn’t the most original. Yet riding through the prairie with that sweeping orchestral score has a subtle strength to it. It tells you to keep going, to get revenge on those who killed your father.
We can also talk about the narrative and how it uses said narrative. Is it the most compelling story? No. It’s the same sort of revenge plot you’ve seen countless times before. Is that a bad thing? Not at all. But it does feel a bit rushed at points, jumping from one plot point to another.
Not only that, the plot points that are there just seem very obligatory. Whether it’s the predictable death of a possible love interest, the predictable betrayal, or the predictable “getting to the right side of the war,” it never does these plot points in interesting or strong ways. When I got my revenge from the big bad (filling the revenge quota) and defeated all of his henchmen, I thought there was going to be a bit more to it.
This is one of the bigger issues that come from sandbox games: the narrative you make for such games will feel either too slow or too fast, and the end doesn’t often feel satisfying. This is especially true you when get to the end and have nothing else to do (except maybe go on a rampage, but this isn’t a game that makes that idea fun).
Finally, I’d like to talk about an extra mechanic in the game that adds nothing worthwhile. In the game, you have the ability to scalp people, which I don’t like. Now, before you overreact, let me explain.
In Gun, there is no reason to scalp, except the sake of scalping. Now, this may be just me, but I don’t think people scalp for the sake of scalping. There’s a reason for it: spreading fear amongst your enemies, proof of a bounty, torture, etc. I mean, Colton doesn’t seem like the type who’d enjoy scalping people for the hell of it, so it’s not really a way to expand his character. Thus, I could only assume that is for the player… and I can’t see why a player would want to just remove the top of the head of their fallen foes just to hear their screams of agony. It’s just sadistic.
Even if they are just polygons, it’s not a very enjoyable way to finish off an already defeated enemy. It’s pointless sadism and doesn’t add anything worthwhile to the game, whether it be for characterization or incentive.
As a whole, the game functions and is a fun little cowboy game. However, since there are newer Western games that do the same thing as Gun but better (Red Dead Redemption is the big example here), the main reasons I would suggest this game are nostalgia or if you don’t have the hardware to be able to play RDR. It’s an artifact of its time, and not an important one. But if you are in the mood to go back a couple generations out of whim or research, it might be worth your time if you love the (virtual) feel of the lone prairie.
The Good: It’s a game that functions smoothly and does give a fun, pulpy Western shebang with the sort of gameplay you expect in the genre and setting, along with a generic but epic soundtrack. The type of game to turn your brain off to (positively). Also, riding horses? Always fun.
The Bad: There are far better games in this genre now in every way, plus the narrative arc doesn’t have that much of a punch.
This game is like: A flick you watched from your childhood that hasn’t aged especially well. It has its charm, but you wouldn’t watch it again unless it was a huge part of your childhood
With those nitpicks out of the way, what are lessons that we can take from Gun?
1. Formulaic ≠ bad
Not every game needs to be a trailblazer. Gun didn’t create a shockwave in the industry and didn’t need to. It was bought, people enjoyed it, and in turn left it a place in our industry’s history. Not every game has to be a game-changer, and the ability to make something enjoyable for a group is still important. It’s not the most glorious end goal of a product, but it made people happy, and that’s still wonderful.
However (and it’s a big however), this is not an excuse to strive towards mediocrity. Gun is a relic of its time, and I understand that. But there is still a feeling that it’s lacking something to make it a real treasure.
2. The journey is more important than the end result
This is more true with sandbox games than any other genre, I feel. Reaching the end of a sandbox game can be draining. Putting all those hours into something expansive and then finally finishing it can be melancholic. Finishing a sandbox game always makes me feel a little empty, but I try to focus on the joy I got rather than the dissatisfying end. It might be overly sentimental, but if we didn’t get something out of games, we wouldn’t be playing them to begin with.
3. It’s difficult to look back fairly
Playing Gun made me realize how much our medium has evolved in just ten years. The fact that I feel that there is a game far better than Gun in every sense of the way is a sign that we have been making better games. Perhaps this way of thinking is more my fault than the game’s. I mean, I played Red Dead Redemption first, which is a game of far greater scope. It’s probably impossible to not compare Gun to it. Gun does feel like a predecessor to RDR, even if it’s made by a completely different company.
Should I be grateful to Gun then? I don’t feel like I should. My biases are front and center in this lesson, and for that I apologize, dear reader.
However, I think this does allow for a couple of questions for those who played Gun first and adored it. Do you feel Gun does something better than games now? How unfair was I towards this game? Do you think the Western is a genre that we have too much or too little of? I always make sure to read the comments I get from these articles, and hearing your opinions when I make articles means a lot to me, even if I don’t directly comment on them. Maybe I could start a mailbox?
Remember: nostalgia will emotionally trump quality if you aren’t focused. Be careful when reminiscing about younger times.