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SummaryLike the set for a western movie - great action on set, nothing much behind it
The GoodFrom the get-go it seems like this is going to be a good game - one seamless and well paced tutorial later and you're dropped right in the thick of it and handed a bag-full of questions. If you follow the story the game never lets off and takes you on a wild ride through the compact old west. The story is not in any way sophisticated with it's predictable or unsurprising plot twists but it is addictive, drowned as it is in western cliche. The voice-work is mostly high quality too. The villains look, act and sound villainous enough and there's plenty of them on offer for you to blast away.
The weapons are great, improving in quality and calibre the further in the story you get. All the western favourites are here and eventually you even get the obligatory RPG style dynamite crossbow, though I'm happy to say it fits in well in the game as it doesn't explode on impact or even fly that straight. Also, since this is a console port you do get yer lock-on option, but shooting with a mouse works well even if it's as precision demanding as PC oriented shooters. If your cursor turns red you'll be able to hit the enemy even if it looks like something is in the way.
The storyline missions are great. One memorable mission involved packing barrels of TNT near a weak part of a mountain then shooting them at the right time to cause a landslide and cause a train to crash. The tension crept on when you could hear the train puffin' away nearby and a friendly NPC calling out excitedly "Hold it... not yet... hooold it..." when you just wanna blow that boom and be done with it. Or in one of the optional missions, escorting a gang snitch to jail; just as you get there you see five or so gangsters walking towards you from the far and dusty end of town in a line, reminiscent of the famous bad-ass walk from the movie "Tombstone" that the main characters did. These missions have the potential to get under your skin and even if you fail a mission you have the option of restarting it straight away, sometimes halfway into it. This saves alot of needless travel but does make the game shorter at the expense of being more fun.
The things I liked the best about the game is the little details and nuances like npc's exclaiming how amazed they are at your lightning-fast gun-hand when you use the bullet-time styled quickfire feature, or getting trampled by your own horse spooked by gunshots - the unscripted bits and bobs. Up to a certain point the details and the setting combined with the woefully underused western theme really help lift the game out of mediocrity. And if you come in without many expectations then you'll certainly be surprised. There were quite a few things wrong with the game but I couldn't help myself but to finish it with the story driving me on.
The BadThis game was compared to GTA for having the option to do sub missions and free roam in between the storyline. This doesn't work out as well by far. The world itself is a cracking veneer with nothing behind the sheen. Example: taken at face value a town looks great, just what you would expect a western town to look like. But enter a store, a saloon, any building and they're all empty! Not just of people, of anything!
There are a few story relevant buildings with more detail and should you choose to follow only the story and not stray an inch from the railroad tracks the story rolls on, you'll need never notice these problems. But this being a free-roaming game you will eventually try to explore the surroundings, and as someone else described it in a "the more you look, the less you find" paradox, it's disappointing. The world suddenly becomes very small as you get to know it well. Eventually I gave up exploring and just took what the game handed me on a platter.
The sub-missions! They are touted as being optional but unless you're playing on easy, you'll very soon be severely underpowered if you don't upgrade your weapons and stats. But how? The stats increase in fixed amount after every sub-mission you complete. And apart from trying to find hidden-package styled gold cache's (not as much of a chore as it sounds) that's also the only way to earn money, which in turn can be spend to buy upgrades. This necessity to upgrade really screws up some of the continuity in the game. For example: in one mission you have to escape from a jail by killing a deputy and running off violently into the night. Success! says the game, New Federal Marshall sub-mission available - in that exact town you just barely got out of.
It's as if the game can't decide if it wants to be story based, or arcade based and just throws everything it's got at you, in confusing chunks. Some missions even have a laughable stealth section, but somehow the game gets away with it, confused potpourri that it is.
There is one aspect which really annoyed me though and that is stuttering slowdown everytime you enter a loading area. The game is seamless as it has no loading screens, but when you enter a loading section it does something very funny, probably related to it's console connections. It loads into memory the area you've just entered while throwing out the area you've just left. That's fine if you're moving leisurely from point A to point B, but if you're protecting an NPC or racing against the extremely tight clock, the stuttering can get very annoying. Just imagine having a gunfight in the middle of the loading area, going back and forward as the game loads the area you've just been in again. I lowered all the settings and it didn't do a thing - something ain't right in Gun town.
After a while I've found out this game was made by Neversoft. Then it dawned on me - this game is actually very similar to Tony Hawk's Underground! But instead of skating (using the free roaming element to engage the scenery) you're shooting (which only has a point in missions)! Suddenly alot of things made sense - why you can instantly restart a mission, the pretty linear illusion of freedom, the way mission-givers stand for hours on end waiting for you to talk to them and even the movement of some NPC's.
Finally, to touch again on the free roaming subject, once you finish the story and all the sub-missions you want to do, you realise just how shallow the world is. There is literally nothing to do except roll around on your horse, shooting unwitting NPC's who congregate in towns and bounce around like headless chickens. And because the missions takes you to all the interesting sights, there is nothing left to see.