The Wild West. A mere mention sparks images of dusty wagon trails, rugged cowboy adventures and saloon-filled towns built by gold-mining hopefuls. In the late 1800s, the invasion of settlers into American Indian territory led to a lawless every-man-for-himself existence often filled with greed, ruthlessness and violence.
And that's where video game developer Neversoft comes in. It aims to replicate the worst the West has to offer in its latest effort, Gun. With a cinematic feel as big as the Montana sky, this action-adventure game revels in conquering uncharted (or at least rarely traversed) gaming territory. Unfortunately, it takes the same attitude in adding a modern—and completely unnecessary—twist.
Gun's story centers on gunslinger Colton White, who was raised in the Rockies by an aging mountain man named Ned. When Ned is killed in a riverboat ambush, Colton vows revenge and heads off to find the murderers. His journey takes him across bandit-filled badlands, into Apache and militia territory, and through settler towns. Along the way, the cowboy encounters (and engages) prostitutes, vagabonds, crooked marshals and even more corrupt mercenaries, all while discovering more about himself than he bargained for.
Players get a similar deal when it comes to the game's over-the-top brutality, language and alcohol use. While Gun doesn't necessarily inhabit Resident Evil territory in terms of blood and gore, it certainly seems to relish the "freedom" that goes along with an M rating. Victims of all kinds are decapitated, dismembered and even desecrated. Heads blow up, necks are slit and eyes are gouged. In short, there's nary a scene that doesn't come with blood virtually pouring into players' laps.
The game's makers, of course, defend theese graphic depictions. Neversoft president Joel Jewett says, "If you go back to the time period from the end of the Civil War, 1865 to 1890 ... you've got roughly 30 years where you cannot believe how much happened in the Western United States. There's an unlimited amount of epic blood, guts, death." Producer Irwin Chen adds that times—and morality—were different then: "[This] isn't your standard old Western. The bad guy doesn't always wear the black hat and the good guy doesn't always get the girl and ride off into the sunset. Gun sets itself in the real West, where good and bad blurred together as murder became the only means of justice and greed corrupted all but the most righteous."
Did anarchy and violence accompany the Western expansion? Certainly. We know for a fact that these were bloody times in which order was established by whoever possessed the fastest draw or the biggest weapon. That still doesn't necessitate the extent to which the shoot-'em-up Gun glorifies the most spectacular ways to kill and the most debase of existences.
Indeed, violence isn't the only negative yet ever-present element here. To restore health, Colton takes swigs from liquor bottles collected along the way. As Ned faces death, his last words instruct Colton to go find a prostitute named Jenny, who, along with providing further guidance, lends her services to him. Add to this a never-ending stream of obscenities (f-words, s-words and misuses of God's and Jesus' names included) and some severely misguided spirituality. So-called "Christian" symbols and characters are misused throughout. And the game opens with the Lord's Prayer being uttered as Colton puts a bullet through an attacker's skull.
So Gun is filled to the brim with foul content. Case closed, right? Not exactly. Because even more disturbing than the game's content is its high quality craftsmanship—that makes all the messy morality seem OK. Hard-core gamers may criticize this adventure's difficulty level, but pros and rookies alike will agree that the project's visual, audio and gameplay aspects are remarkable. Like Grand Theft Auto, this is a limitless world in which players can spend hours on side missions ranging from poker games to riding for the Pony Express to hunting wild game. Meanwhile, the main story line is broken up into bite-size missions that never feel redundant.
All of this adds up to an intriguing journey that's ultra-violent and crude yet addictive in nature—just how the game's makers planned it. "There just aren't any good adventure games these days," claims Neversoft director of development Scott Pease. "So ... our goal [was] to marry some kick-a-- third-person and first-person shooting mechanics with a wide open, free-roaming adventure where you have this huge world to play with. On top of that, we built this epic story that's kind of true to the West, true to the mythic tales of violence."
"Kind of" is the key element there. Obviously, the Wild West was exactly that—wild. But recreating the era with freeze-frame depictions of heads being blast off and blood spewing from dismembered bodies seems like a whole lot of overkill.