Gun Updated Impressions

Activision gives us an updated look at Neversoft's upcoming action game that sets you loose in the Wild West.

The last time we got a look at Gun we gave you impressions of the game from an extended demo at a press event. The game's promising first impression left us hankering for more, and Activision recently tossed us a bone in the form of a visit to show us even more. While we still couldn't get our hands on it to try it out, we were able to get a look at the game being played during demos of various sections. Despite the game's clearly work-in-progress status, it seems to be coming along just fine.

Our demo encompassed four areas that were taken from different points in the adventure, and it began with a look at how you'll start the game. You are put in the boots of Colton White, a young adventurer who sets out to discover his roots when he discovers the man who raised him isn't his father. You're thrown right into the experience as Ned, the man you think is your father, raises you from a peaceful slumber and beckons you to come hunting. This introductory level brings you up to speed on Gun's control scheme, which blends third- and first-person elements into what appears to be a very smart package. You'll follow Ned's orders and take out local wolves and fowl. The wolves just require you to be a good aim, while the pheasants that get scared up by Ned require you to use the game's "quick draw" mechanic (which should be familiar to anyone who's up on their bullet time effects) to hit all the birds as they take flight. The early shooting segments also let you get a feel for the differences between your pistol and rifle, as well as the melee combat. The pistol is faster and will let you use the quick draw feature in order to hit multiple enemies quickly. The rifle, on the other hand, is more powerful and, although it won't let you use quick draw, has a greater range because of the scope mounted on it. Melee is a basic attack that you can perform and use with different combos. This early segment ended with a cliff-hanger, as you see Ned lose his rifle to a large and unpleasant bear that bursts onto the scene.

The next area we saw was a riverboat where Ned and Colton hooked up with Ned's friend, Sadie. Ned appeared to be in fine health and lacked any visible signs of mauling, so we assume the bear business was sorted out without much fuss. Unfortunately, given the game's story, we knew the grizzled mountain man was living on borrowed time. A brief cinematic set on the deck of the boat shows Sadie being menaced by a preacher, who settles the matter with a good old-fashioned hatchet. There isn't much time to mourn, however, as an attack on the boat takes the bulk of Colt and Ned's attention. The assault on the riverboat, which entails enemy boarders, gunmen on the shore, and incoming boats, will force you to multitask as you make your way through the ship. The segment, still from an early part of the game, continues tossing in a few tutorial bits on the controls and introduces the turret mechanic, which finds you manning a powerful gun on the riverboat and taking out the incoming craft. The segment climaxes with Ned telling you to leave and dropping the bombshell about your lineage before he pitches you overboard into the water.

The segment that followed finds Colton roused back to consciousness by "Honest Tom," who gets this name pretty quickly, as the scruffy fellow is in the process of looting Colton's comatose form. Once it's clear he's not getting any loot off Cole and he realizes that he's likely the only survivor from the ill-fated riverboat, Tom offers some sympathetic help. With Ned gone, Colton's main goal is to reach Dodge City and find Jenny, the mystery skank that Ned told him to seek out. Tom teaches him, and by default the player, the ins and out of riding a horse. The short segment shows off the Zelda-esque controls you'll you use to ride your noble steed. Our look at this segment ended with Colton heading out on the first leg of his search for the truth behind his origins.

The final part of our demo offered us a good look at Dodge City, Colt's first stop on his tour of the West. There appeared to be many possibilities to explore in this massive free-roaming environment. Before we saw the bar fight and tribulations that occur when you wind up at the local brothel looking for Jenny, we got to see some of the activities that you can engage in when you hit a town. You'll be able to visit shops and purchase upgrades that enhance your performance in the game. The saloon will let you interact with the locals and engage in some seven-card-stud poker games that will yield precious cash. Money will be central to your playing experience in Gun, as you'll need it for all the good stuff. Thankfully, you won't have to sweat playing cards every time you need cash, because there are a bevy of side missions that will be available to you. We saw two of the main side missions in town during the demo. Wanted posters will send you off hunting disreputable folk and bringing them in, dead or alive. If you're looking for a change of pace (and that's not to say that shooting people ever gets played out in the Wild West), you can also pick up missions from the local representative of the Pony Express who will send you off to deliver packages. In addition, it appears you may also be getting quests from town locals who seem to be a needy bunch. The last bit of the demo showed off the chaos that ensues when Jenny is nabbed by miscreants and you have to run to her rescue. The sequence had received a decent amount of extra visual polish from the last time we saw it.

The Wild, Wild West

Though we weren't able to try the demo ourselves, we scrutinized the control system during the tutorials and as the game was being played. When you're on foot, the system seems to be fairly straightforward and in-line with what we've seen on consoles before. You'll move your character with the left analog stick and aim with the right. Your reticule will vary in appearance to reflect the weapon that you're using and its type of firing. So, for example, a standard rifle and pistol use normal reticules, but more-powerful shotguns will have wider reticules to reflect their damage range. Melee seems straightforward and combo-friendly. You'll also find a wide array of moves for Colton during battle on foot, whether it's dodging and rolling, leaning or peeking, or pitching explosives. Based on the look of things so far, the game appears to be pretty accessible.

The most intriguing element of Gun's mechanics for us now that we've seen it in action is the riding of a horse. In fact, the mechanic appears to be a strong aspect on its own, as you'll be given a solid array of control options with your horse. Besides the standard movement, you'll be able to whip your steed to encourage it to go faster and make it jump over obstacles. Neversoft has included a touch of realism in the mechanics, as you'll have to manage how you handle your horse, because you can cause it to become exhausted if you're not careful. You'll manage your horse's well-being by keeping an eye on Colton's life, which will have an additional outline to reflect the horse's condition. As a result, you'll want to keep an eye on things as best you can.

The visuals in the game, while still rough in places, are looking more polished than the last time we saw it in motion. It no doubt helped that our PS2 demo was running in progressive scan, but, eye candy aside, there was a lot to appreciate. The early levels set around a mountain range and a lake in old Montana provided a well-done sense of scale. The same held true for the riverboat battle, which had an expansive feel that was underscored by the multitasked combat. Dodge City and the locales in it were a comfortable fit thanks to ambient activity from locals in town. Although we noted it before, we have to call out the game's organic look again, as the outdoor and town areas we've seen so far do a fine job of offering you a massive, living world to explore while hiding the seams you'd expect in a game this big. The character models in our demo were in varying states of completion. Colton, Ned, and a few others were pretty far along in terms of their appearance. And, animation seems to be coming along fine.

The audio is shaping up very well with a rich score, which complements the action and gives it all a measure of gravitas. The version of the game we tried also had some of the final voice done. From the sounds of it, Gun is going to come packing a surprisingly star-studded voice cast. While Activision reps were keeping mum about specific names, judging from the way they jumped when we took a few stabs at guessing which stars were voicing certain characters, we think we nailed a few of them. We believe that Colton will be voiced by actor Thomas Jane, Ned by actor/musician Kris Kristofferson, and the creepy preacher by actor Brad Dourif. The trio stands out, in a good way, as their voices bring a level of personality to the experience that's a good fit. Beyond the character voices, the audio for the various weapons and general town ambience works nicely as well.

Based on our updated look, we have to say we're anxious to get our hands on Gun. The game has a lot of potential that we're hopeful Neversoft, with its experience crafting some of the best games out there, is realizing. Though the third-person-action genre has gotten pretty crowded over the years, Gun seems like it has what it takes to stand out from the pack and, more importantly, bring something fresh to the genre. We'll give you a definitive answer on if this is actually the case once we get our hands on the game. Look for more on Gun, which is slated to ship this fall for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, PC, Xbox 360, and Xbox, soon.

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