Sometimes a game comes along that straddles the border of old and new in spectacular fashion. Sometimes said games don’t always get the true recognition they deserve. It could be argued that the RGG Game Of The Month for May 2018 is one that fits that category. A release that oozed class (at least in terms of technical and creative achievement), that also happened to be a swansong of one generation while flashing the possibilities of what was on the horizon. It low-key took the world by storm, only to be increasingly overshadowed and left out in the cold.
This month we are pleased to pay homage to the game that is: GUN.
It was the year 2005 when the gaming world got to travel back to the brutal, barbarous wild wild west courtesy of publishing pioneers Activision. While these days (talking the here and now), Activision may well be vilified for being the folks who just roll out a new Call of Duty each year and be done with it, their origins lay in the old wild west of video games themselves. This was the company that broke out from Atari and helped forge a third-party publisher legacy, which is nothing but the norm in 2018. A publisher founded by risk-takers, GUN can be utilised as a parable for the company themselves. It itself a risky move, but one that was very much welcome, at least in this writers’ opinion.
The game was developed by Neversoft, whom at this point in history were practically known for two things: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Spider-Man. It’s no more a jump in output than Grand Theft Auto was from Lemmings. The Windows port being handled by Beenox, with a version on PlayStation Portable called Gun: Showdown which had a fair few changes and alterations by developer Rebellion Software.
GUN could be interpreted as a gamble by some, which could ironically be self-referenced with the games marketing campaign utilising 42 Entertainment’s Last Call Poker. Why a gamble, you ask? Well, let’s simply be honest here. GUN is very much a revisionist western, a genre thought long dead by Hollywood and much less holding any sort of weight in the video game market. While the swashbuckler was seen as being in the midst of a mild resurgence thanks to Pirates of the Caribbean, gone were the days of the western all’Italiana , where save a slight flirtation with the western genre coming about in the 90s (Unforgiven, The Quick And The Dead), it was hardly something with a built in international audience to exploit on the level of, say: horror – where games like Resident Evil had already shown you could shift a title just by whacking a zombie on the cover.
The ace in the hole for GUN then, was undoubtedly the story by Randall Jahnson. The original story that plays into many of the famous tropes of the genre (for better or worse, depending on your personal stand point) was quite simply a masterstroke. Jahnson is perhaps best known as a screenwriter and previous to this penned the fantastic Mask of Zorro from 1998. The plotting is linear and perfectly paced. GUN does a masterful job of entering the player into its world, that of main protagonist Colton White. Now, typically we may do a larger run down of the story, but quite honestly? It would do the game a total disservice. It’s about as good (and at times cinematic) as any damn western you could care to mention that you’ll likely see being repeated every other Sunday on TV. Much like those great revisionist western works of the past, GUN is rarely a world of black and white, but one constantly operating in the areas of grey.
Joining Colton White is a whole host of intriguing characters that do the term “character” justice, from Jenny the prostitute to the despicable Rev Josiah Reed. Many of which also happen to have names relating back to real world counterparts, such as Mayor Hoodoo Brown. Tying back to the idea of this essentially being an old school Hollywood production that just happens to be a video game, the voice acting roster is packed with incredible talent and true veterans that ultimately help shape the experience and make those characters feel all the more real. Whether it’s Thomas Jane’s tremendous performance as protagonist Colton, Kris Kristofferson’s Ned White (who’s short screen time is instantly impactful), or Brad Dourif absolutely nailing the bastard that is the ‘Reverand’. Oh, not to mention the Ron Pearlman. It’s like a dream cast and let’s not forget, this is 2005, it’s not an end of career cash grab. It’s actors, acting and it’s on a level not many gaming experiences prior to GUN can honestly match, which as bold of a statement it is, is one I personally will stick by.
But don’t be fooled into thinking all the behind the scenes talent, or that the story and commitment to the genre is all that makes GUN what it is (that being, quite simply: a masterpiece). Any game needs good gameplay, right? As that is always the crux of the matter when it comes to gamers. Well, thanks to the fine folk at Neversoft, they absolutely hit the proverbial ball out of the park and into the darn stratosphere. While the genre in terms of the bulk of the games style and intention goes (read: theme) is unquestionable, the gameplay falls into a more enigmatic territory, essentially being a chameleon suiting itself to fit the fancy of whatever situation is playing out on screen. It’s an action-adventure, sure…Yet it’s also a sometimes third-person then first-person shooter, it has elements of an RPG with the focus on levelling up abilities or in the sense of strategy in correctly arming Colton. There also happens to be mini-games a plenty, it gives you the option to be able to walk about time, traverse areas by horse or just go hang out and gamble at the casino. While it all may appear to a first-time player in 2018 as small fry stuff, by no feat was it in 2005 and I would say it's still impressive today, while not being outright overwhelming. Rarely will you get bored playing GUN, in my opinion.
As with any multimedia release, the game wasn’t safe from criticism nor controversy. One of my personal favourite additions to GUN which helped me fall in love with it was the inclusion of Native American culture, which plays a massive part to the plot (without going into spoiler territory). I wont just write-off these concerns nor the problematic (as much as that may simply be a buzzword in 2018 for some) portrayal of Apaches appearing as antagonistic. To not dog the article or get into anything discussing race or politics (hey, this is a retrogaming site not Huffpost), this’ll just remain an acknowledgement for you (the reader) to go and research on your own and form opinion that way. Send your hate tweets @Olly023 on Twitter. The largest noted controversy was brought about by a declared boycott of the game from the Association for American Indian Development, who took issue with said problematic portrayal (that largely exists in the earlier portions of the game story wise). Activision’s sole response was to highlight the games intention of “reflect[ing] the harshness of life on the American frontier [in the 1800’s]”.
Toward the start of this article I mentioned the straddling borders of old and new. GUN was more than just a refreshingly honest, dedicated take on the themes of the western genre and in that sense alone taking something old and making it new again. No, GUN legitimately straddled generations in the sense that while it was released on Microsoft XBOX, Sony PlayStation 2 and Nintendo GameCube – it was in the very early line up of the Xbox 360. While garnering widespread critical acclaim on the then-current gen systems, the X360 version was especially scrutinised leading to a more mediocre reception, which is something I absolutely do not co-sign! If for nothing else, GUN in HD via the 360 was jaw-droppingly stunning at the time, in much the way I could get totally enamoured by a game like Peter Jackson’s King Kong on the same system. Not to say it looked bad on the older hardware, as believe me (or check the screenshots) – it certainly didn’t! instead pushing them to their limits and even making you think twice about the impending HD revolution and whether or not it was even worthwhile (it was, folks – the X360 may go down as arguably the greatest console of all time, warts n’ all). It is also currently available to buy on Steam if this has spurred you to want to give it a go.
GUN is one of those games that you can point to that is the total package. Graphically? Gorgeous! Gameplay? Incredible! Story/plot? Masterfully engrossing. That’s not even mentioning so far the superb original soundtrack composed by the criminally-underrated Christopher Lennertz, of whom prior to GUN gamers may be aware of as being the man who made the music for Medal Of Honor and later contributed to the Mass Effect series. Honestly, if you’re a fan of the medium of video games in general (which, I’d assume you are as you are here right now), you’d be doing yourself a massive disservice to not having experienced GUN.
While many may (fairly) compare GUN to the Grand Theft Auto series (which at this point had released the game-changing third instalment, plus Vice City and San Andreas spin-offs) insofar as epic, open-world video games go, it honestly didn’t beat around the bush in giving the player an opportunity to see and do a whole cavalcade of things to keep folk engrossed. But it is honestly the (again, it really is that good) story, characters and plotting that sets it apart from its contemporaries, voice acting included. While at the time Rockstar released their own spin on the western with Red Dead Revolver (a game with a very troubled and interesting history), it seriously doesn’t even come close to the scope or feeling of authenticity that GUN does. RDR is a nice collage of the ‘spaghetti western’, packed with the knowingly exploitative vulgarity that Rockstar is known and loved for. GUN is a whole other beast and one that Rockstar didn’t come close to (inside or out of the genre) until the sequel Red Dead Redemption, which clearly took some inspiration from Neversofts ventures out west. GUN just got it right, first time of asking, with its combination of gameplay and story to create a memorable experience that was everything a fan of the genre could possibly want and/or need. That’s what makes it so damn special!
It’s a personal joy of mine to be able to write about GUN (even if in short and relatively vague, for which I apologise) this month and it makes it all the better that it’s for the purpose it is. As a massive fan of the genre and themes on display (I’m the guy who will often point to Navajo Joe as a Top 3 all time in the genre film-wise and someone who himself wrote and directed a western for his University final project (yay third person speak!)), it’s a game to which I am pretty much the target demographic and which it sold to perfectly.
GUN rightly deserves its place as RGG’s Game Of The Month for May 2018! Now stop just taking my word for it and go out there into the wilderness (of the internet, or high street should you be so brave) and go grab yourself a copy of this amazing piece of video game history. It will be a play that you wont soon forget. That, I promise...