The other day, I finished Gun, the 2005 Western game from Neversoft. Overall, I’m feeling pretty ambivalent about the experience. On the one hand, I have to commend them for their ambition – there’s the potential for a great game within Gun. But on the other hand, there are so many poor design decision, and such a total lack of polish, that it’s kind of galling that they rushed the game out the door and charged full retail price for it.
First, the good. While a bit sparsely populated, the world itself was pretty well done. It looked fine for a game of that era, it felt about the right size, it was easy to navigate, and the areas each had a distinct feel to them. The idea to compress the entire western territory in a single contiguous tract of land is not one I would have come up with, but I think it worked. Both the voice acting was better than in a lot of games from that era, and, while I wish there was a bit more of it, the music was so good that I cared enough to turn the other audio in the mix so I could hear it better.
Also, to Neversoft’s credit, the game is technically sound. While I encountered a few AI and scripting related bugs, there were no show-stoppers and no crashes. Checkpoints are frequent, and the game’s difficulty is actually pretty well balanced (though a bit on the easy side on the default setting) except at the end.
I don’t want to dwell too much on the obvious deficiencies in the polish of the game. Rebel FM adequately covered the problems with the final mission. Side-quests are inaccessible for story reasons get prematurely unlocked. Proximity is detected by straight-line distance, so you can trigger scripted sequences from inappropriate locations (such as being in a mine below a target, or from an adjacent path behind an impassable wall). Whether or not objectives will be marked on the main map, or just the mini-map (or occasionally not at all) is inconsistent. Within missions, you’ll hear enemies doing call-outs (“He’s reloading”) even when they’re all dead. And many more.
From the Rebel FM podcast with the developers, it seems clear that the amount of resources devoted to the project were rather insufficient for its scope, and so both polish and content went by the wayside, to some extent. I actually didn’t mind so much that the game was short – I’d rather have a story that keeps moving rather than bogs down. What hurts is that the game is short because there were cuts made in the middle of it and consequently the narrative jumps around and just barely holds together. It’s not as bad as Gears of War, but then again, story is a far less integral part of the Gears experience, than it is of the Gun experience.
To a certain extent, all these complaints have to do with issues that arose fairly late within the development cycle, and could have been fixed with six months or a year more of development time. What I want to talk about next time is the biggest problem I had with the game – the tonal dissonance between its story and gameplay, and the consequent lack of immersion – the causes of which go back to what I imagine were some of the early, conceptual design decisions made in the development of the game.