SummaryHave Gun, Will Hose Hundreds
The GoodGun's free-form missions in badlands and towns don't exactly make it Grand Theft Horsey, but they come pretty close. I had a lot of very bloody fun on horseback thanks to the great game mechanics, whether wasting desperadoes or racing across the gorgeous landscape on ranching duties or in timed "Pony Express" heats, all to a storyline that is more than serviceable. In fact, above-average writing and voice acting make this the rare game that won't have you skipping through cutscenes. Ditto for the music, appropriately grand. I also enjoyed the postmodern take on "good" and "bad" guys (always better to be plugging scummy right-wing barons and their seedy henchmen than committing genocide against Native Americans). There's solid game design here, several thrills, and a lot of cleverness. The best mark of this, as always, is that you won't mind having to redo challenging missions.
The BadWhile Gun's deficiencies aren't knockouts, there's room for a lot of improvement in a sequel. Unfortunately, the RPG model is lame, fostering the illusion of character development but offering almost none. You need never equip or unequip any items, for instance, and the rewards are fairly automatic rather than earned. Annoyingly, there isn't a great range in items to buy, purchased upgrades have only trivial effect on gameplay, and the meaningful ones (e.g., weapons) are simply given to you, anyway. Along with this comes the inevitable problem of balancing; the difficulty never really ramps up except during boss missions, enemy AI at all other times being predictable. As such, while some points in the game shine, the overall sense of peril that should go with a freelance life in spurs is, sadly, missing. Who knew that you were the only gun in the west who could shoot straight?
The Bottom LineGun's fun, showcasing a fine design sensibility and A-list production standards. It's not nearly as deep as it pretends to be, and even on the hardest level it's too easy and repetitive. But its superlative qualities allow it to outshine a lot of games; one of the best of 2005.