Featuring tales of lone gunmen wandering a bleak and unforgiving landscape the myths of the Old West possess a potent beauty. It is important to realise that the Old West is not just a setting, it is a metaphor for the conflicting forces of civilisation and barbarism. Like Arthurian legend or Greek tragedy, it is the epic poetry of a bygone era.
Gun does not understand any of this and so delivers us GTA with horses instead.
Which for the most part is fine, Gun is an enjoyable game. The horse riding is solid, while not quite delivering the visceral thrill of Imagine: Champion Rider. There is a healthy selection of side missions from herding cattle to Texas hold em poker. The action is an interesting mix of cover based and bullet time gunplay and while it isn’t very difficult it does a great job of making you feel like a gun slinger. And the scenery, once you get over the slightly outdated graphics, really is exquisite.
Best of all there are some excellent set pieces, for example one mission begins as a homage to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly before turning into a hybrid sniper/escort mission. It still feels tense, exciting and fresh.
But while Gun can play coy homage to the greats of the genre it can not replicate the soul. Perhaps the problem is that it just can’t decide what it wants to be. At one moment it presents itself as a grim and gothic western, the next it’s throwing cartoon villains and cheese cake prostitutes at you. This kind of crazy mash up can work but Gun takes itself far too seriously to pull it off.
Perhaps a larger problem is the casual racism that constantly pervades the game’s dialogue. While racial slurs were common place in the West that is not an excuse to use racism “for the lols” so to speak. Compare the way Deadwood presents Chinese immigrants with the way Gun does. In Deadwood while everyone calls the Chinese Celestials and worse, the writers portray the Chinese characters as multidimensional human beings. In Gun Chinese people are either opium addicts or hapless victims. I don’t think there was any real malice on the part of developers I just think they were trying too hard to be “edgy”. Perhaps because GTA was wacky and edgy the developers of Gun figured they needed to be as well. Unfortunately the joke is never funny it’s just sad.
But if you’re going to claim that a game shouldn’t glorify or normalise racism because it might lead to real life racism then doesn’t that lend credence to the people claiming games shouldn’t glorify or normalise violence? We are all so used to saying “It’s just a game” as a way to defend our past time from angry mothers and Christian groups that maybe we even started to believe it. But if we are are going to claim games as important cultural objects (or the A word if you’re feeling bold) then the subject matter, well, matters.
Perhaps that’s why I find it interesting to talk about Gun. It’s only four years old but already it feels like an artefact of another culture. When I play a game like Gun and then a game like Far Cry 2 it occurs to me that the movement for more ‘meaningful’ games is winning. Gun is from a time where the subject matter didn’t matter. If it was released today it would be torn apart for the racism, it’s depiction of women and even the crass pant shitting jokes. Look at how people reacted to Army of Two. Compared to Gun, Army of Two is Shakespeare.
Compared to Postal, Gun is Shakespeare.
It occurs to me that culture moves so quickly without us noticing, in another four years will be embarrassed by the Bioshocks of the world?