I don’t think it’s a shocking revelation to say that some genres of gaming are more popular than others. The yesteryear of gaming was populated by platformers, then RPGs rose to fame from SNES to PS1, and most recently the market has been flooded by either FPS games or more casual endeavors. But one genre I love that never really kicked off is the Western. Maybe it was watching ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ as a child (well, when I was 19,) but there’s something about a good old-fashioned Western that can keep me entertained for hours.
I can’t honestly say that I’m upset that the genre hasn’t received more attention, as the games would lose their uniqueness, but it’s still a shame that I can’t even name 10 games that could be considered such. ‘Call of Juarez’ maybe, but ‘Outlaws’ did a Wild West FPS first. ‘Gun.Smoke’ and ‘Sunset Riders’ were pretty good, and I’ve been looking forward to ‘Wild ARMS’ for a while now. Heck, Shigeru Miyamoto’s very first game back in 1979 was ‘Sheriff’, but that was a little before my time.
The most famous Western game to date is also the most successful, ‘Red Dead Redemption’, which won several Game of the Year awards, beating out titles as impressive as Mass Effect 2, Heavy Rain and Halo: Reach. Despite its success, it’s not out of the question for someone to have heard of the game and even played it, without being aware that it’s a sequel, albeit mainly in spirit. Maybe that’s for the best – both of these games are good, but neither is really ‘Game of the Year’ material. They deserve a little more attention than they’ve gotten, but they’re not unknown, neither all that famous.
You might think that designing a Western would be easier than other games considering the lack of competition, but every element of the game has to have some Western overtones, whether it’s horse-riding mechanics, realistic weapons, or a blackjack tournament on the side, and I chose these games not just for their similarities, but because they both pass these requirements with flying colours. If it wasn’t for games like these achieving what they do, I wouldn’t class Western as a genre of game, but they deserve their own category.
So put on your spurs and get in the saddle as I guide you through a little background on these games.
GUN, which has to be one of the most stupidly vague video game titles I’ve ever heard in my life, was developed by Neversoft and published by Activision, released in North America and Europe in November 2005. It’s one of the few games that wasn’t released in Japan, although outside of Japan it’s on an incredible amount of consoles; GameCube, PS2, Xbox, Xbox 360, an updated version was re-released on the PSP, and since October 13th 2006, it’s been available to purchase on Steam. Whew!
The game follows Colton White, a sharp-shooting, quick-drawing… GUN-owning marksman raised by his father, Ned White, and Colton helps him hunt animals for meat and for their skins, which is how Ned makes a living. When the steamboat they’re on is attacked, Ned admits that he’s only Colton’s adoptive father, and entrusts a casino chip to him. The chip belongs to the Alhambra saloon in Dodge City, and so begins Colton White’s violent quest for the truth.
GUN is a difficult game to talk about when it comes to reception. On the one hand, it’s been positively received by critics, had a combined total of well over a million copies sold, and GameSpy awarded it ‘Action Game of the Year’ for the Xbox 360. At the same time… I have not seen anyone talk about it on the internet. Ever. I’ve seen people mention that they’ve played it, but I haven’t seen it reviewed or included in any Top 10s. This could be due to a small boycott of the game from ‘The Association for American Indian Development’ due to the games inclusion of Native Americans as enemies in some places, but the boycott never reached the level of games like Grand Theft Auto or Resident Evil 5.
Overall, reception of the game varies from ‘good’ to ‘very good’. Game Spot described it as ‘a 19th century Grand Theft Auto’ and Game Informer put Colton White on their list of ‘Top 10 Heroes of 2005’. That said, let’s take a look at its opponent, Red Dead Revolver.
In August 2003, Capcom contacted Gamespot and confirmed the unfortunate news that the highly-anticipated ‘Red Dead Revolver’ was cancelled, along with games like Dead Phoenix and Capcom Fighting All Stars. Unlike those two games, Red Dead Revolver was saved when Rockstar San Diego took over development and announced in December 2003 that it would be released the following spring. True to their word, Red Dead Revolver for the PS2 and Xbox hit the shelves in North America in May 2004, and came out a month later in Europe and a year later in Japan.
The game begins with Nate Harlow and his Native American wife ‘Falling Star’ happily raising their son, Red. Nate’s just made a pretty big discovery – he and his partner Griff have found a secret cache of gold in Bear Mountain. Unfortunately for Nate, the news spreads quickly, and he finds himself dead at the hands of Colonel Daren and his men. Red gets back in time to fight off some of them, and even manages to shoot off Colonel Daren’s hand at the cost of burning his own hand grabbing his father’s gun from a fire, but ultimately he has to flee, knowing that he’ll never be able to move on until he gets retribution on his family’s killers.
Red Dead Revolver was received quite well, but that’s about it. It had ratings of roughly 75% on GameRankings and Metacritic, and it sold nearly a million copies (920,000) in North America, but it hasn’t been nominated for any awards, nor is it underrated enough to be considered a cult classic. Its greatest legacy is the much more successful sequel, Red Dead Redemption, which as I’ve mentioned before won several Game of the Year awards and was rated by IGN as the third best game of this generation. But how does the first game in the Red Dead series compare with GUN?
Well, I’ve got my ten gallon hat on and I’m ready for a showdown. Yee-haw, let the Game War commence!
Straight away, both of these games struck me as graphically strong, both very well-made and good examples of what the consoles they were on could do. Red Dead Revolver was impressive even for the PS2, and I played GUN on the GameCube, and let me tell you; it’s pretty shocking to find a multiplatform title with neither hype nor notoriety which has graphics as colourful and well-designed as Twilight Princess. So both of these games are impressive, but there’s still a lot of difference between the graphics.
For starters, GUN is just more bright than Red Dead Revolver. You won’t see it everywhere in the game, but it’s easier on the eyes, especially in environmental areas involving plant-life. It doesn’t sound like much, but considering that the game features much more open-world exploration than Red Dead Revolver, it’s really a bonus for the environments you can explore to be so appealing to play through. In particular, the area at the beginning of the game is probably the most beautiful area I’ve seen in any game on the GameCube, full of wildlife and foliage.
Red Dead Revolver is a little darker and grittier, but also in a very appealing manner, as it fits better with the tone of the game. It might not make your heart flutter to climb up a dusty, sandy mountain full of rocks, but the graphics do make you feel like you’re climbing up a… dusty sandy mountain full of rocks. There’s more realism, and on the whole I found it easier to immerse myself in this game than I did with GUN. Every fence, wall and path looks reasonably worn down (except the Governor’s Mansion), and I liked that.
Moving onto the characters, GUN’s Colton White is always looking very good. Wait, I didn’t… erm, not in that way, it’s just that he and all the characters in GUN are very well animated, move fluently (especially impressive considering they can go from walking to running to attacking you in milliseconds,) and all the main characters are easily recognizable, from Colton to Ned to Jenny to Soapy to Reed to Magruder. Cutscenes are fairly frequent and pulled off well too, not better or worse than the standard of ordinary gameplay, but that’s because the ordinary gameplay is already very good.
Red Dead Revolver’s characters are all well-designed for the most part; for some reason I remember being unimpressed with the confederate soldier and the Native American design, but I can’t remember why. Still, everyone is animated well and I think there might even be more characters models than GUN – when in battles, I’d fight groups of pretty similar people in GUN, although much like Resident Evil 4, it’s not that much of a problem.
On the whole, I find an element of faithfulness to the source material in Red Dead Revolver – the West was dusty, dark and gritty. But although Red Dead Revolver’s graphics are better for a Western, GUN’s pleasant palette is better for a game. This ain’t ‘Western Wars’, it’s Game Wars. GUN takes round one.
I’ve never been into Grand Theft Auto, but one of the biggest compliments the series has received (aside from being the primary source of frustration for over-sensitive moral guardians for decades now,) is that Western games like these have been described as ‘Wild West GTA’. But did the games manage to retain their Western themes while allowing the players easy access to the guns, horses, melee weapons and other features they had to offer?
The gameplay is GUN is smooth and the controls are always fully responsive. It is very much a run-and-gun kind of game with not too much strategy and a focus on killing your enemies quickly rather than waiting patiently to kill them safely without taking damage. Nonetheless, it’s a very fun game, although outside of sidequests, the gameplay can get a tad repetitive, even though the wide arsenal of weapons can help to keep things fresh – one second you’re assassinating someone with a bow and arrow, and the next you’re charging against four bandits with a pair of six-shooters and a whisky bomb.
Red Dead Revolver is a more linear game, but the controls are just as functional. Combat is a little more strategic thanks to the variety of environments for fighting, and a variety of enemies too, plenty of bosses with not-entirely-clear weak points that you have to study and manipulate. One downside – GUN is big on open-world exploration, with plenty of sidequests, upgrades, and even gold to be found (and mined – buy a pickaxe!) Red Dead Revolver occasionally lets the player wander around town before starting the next level, but this trend doesn’t last too long and the limited exploration gains little but some unlockables.
Each game has its own special combat-quirk, and GUN’s is the quickdraw function. During combat, the quickdraw gage is filled, and when you activate it, the game slows down considerably and you’re free to blast away with unlimited ammunition for a few seconds; this is helped by the fact that quickly moving the control stick left or right automatically locks onto new targets. It even works well on bosses, and is refilled fairly quickly, although the lock-on feature can occasionally get stuck behind, say, a wall.
The original gameplay mechanic in Red Dead Revolver is duelling, and I’ll be blunt with you – it kind of sucks. The idea isn’t bad, albeit a little unnecessarily complex; move the right PS2 analogue stick down as quickly as possible (when your character’s hand is closest to the gun in the pre-shooting stand-off part of the duel) and then move it up, pressing the fire button as the aiming reticule focuses on the target. This sucks for several reasons. First of all, it’s not explained very well, meaning that I didn’t realize until near the end that you’re supposed to move the stick back up as slowly as possible. Secondly, you survive early on duels, and you tend to still win them when you do badly, which means when you get into the must-win insta-kill duels later in the game, you will repeatedly lose. Finally, the final boss and the pre-final boss are both fought in this manner, and losing means you have to replay the areas leading up to them.
As annoying as duelling is, I can’t say Red Dead Revolver is losing for that reason – I didn’t even mention the multiplayer, with a wide variety of characters from the game with lots of great voice-acting, post-kill one-liners, and fun. But although both games are well-designed, the execution slips in a little more places in Red Dead Revolver than it does with GUN. For this reason, GUN takes an early 2-0 lead as it bags gameplay as well.
If you’re reading this because you want to know my opinion of the two soundtracks of these games, keep reading. If you’re reading this because you want to know which game wins this category, I can save you some time by saying that the soundtrack for Red Dead Revolver contained several tunes from Ennio Morricone, who worked on the music behind several classic Western movies like the Dollars Trilogy (‘A Fistful of Dollars’, ‘For a Few Dollars More’, and ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’) and ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, as well as ‘The Untouchables’, ‘Inglorious Basterds’, and ‘Django Unchained’. Guess who’s going to win
Even though GUN does not have much of a chance, its main theme is still an excellent tune. It’s big, it’s sweeping, and it sounds like a Western. It also sounds a little regretful, which is an odd trait for the opening theme of a game, but it also plays from time to time when you’re roaming the plains on horseback, and it’s also played over the credits, so this is the definitive piece of GUN music, and it’s a good one at that.
I’ll be blunt, this kicks GUN’s main theme’s ass. This is some classy Western stuff right here; this isn’t particularly good for opening or closing, it’s just good in general. This is ‘Here, watch this game demo of characters being established for a split-second before doing badass things that look really cool while we strum a guitar and play the mouth organ and make you want to play the crap out of this game’ music, and it’s done well. If I heard this after finishing the game, I’d want to play it again.
While GUN had more than its fair share of fist-raising blood-pumping action music, I’d rather show off the laid back city music it has. The tune for Empire City, a duet between guitar and violin, at least before another violin and some drums join the fray, is a great background piece for a city in the west. It’s calm, although not entirely relaxed, and even though it’s not uneasy either, you get the feeling that something could kick off at any minute.
Once again, GUN’s efforts are good, but Red Dead Revolver’s tune wins by a mile. Another great tune, which I believe plays as you’re the sole US Cavalry soldier on the roof of a travelling carriage, shooting out all possible enemies as they try to set it on fire. The whistling and chanting just add to the classy, understated but action-filled feeling the tune gives me. I’m not sure what else to say, it’s just a really great piece of music.
So overall, GUN definitely wasn’t bad when it came to music, but Red Dead Revolver took tunes from some of the greatest Western movies ever made and made sure a generation of gamers would be able to hear them. Consider the score 2-1.
Westerns tend to be quite gritty affairs with expendable enemies, one-man armies, and family-unfriendly violence, so… basically, ‘Game of Thrones’ except with cowboy hats and accents. But does this mean the characters have no depth, or are difficult to relate to? How can you retain the classic grittiness of such a genre whilst telling an interesting and original story?
Well, I think both games have the ‘grittiness’ down considering that they both have tutorial levels delivered by the player character’s father, who goes on to die very early on, so early that I don’t have to consider it a spoiler. In GUN’s case, Ned White teaches the player the controls by reminding his son how to hunt, which is a pretty nifty idea – how many tutorials do you know which end with the player shooting a giant bear? In any case, Ned lives long enough to direct Colton to Dodge City with a casino chip from the Alhambra Saloon, and the rest of the game follows on from that.
In Red Dead Revolver, Red isn’t exactly ‘taught’ by his father, but the well-worn path to the shooting range by his house implies that it goes on. After practising with some targets, Red runs back to the house when he sees his family being attacked, and it’s worth noting that unlike Colton White, Red is clearly in his young teen years when this happens, with an off-screen age-lift between the first and second levels. Nonetheless, you get an idea of Red’s character when he reaches into a the burning wreckage of his house and burns his hand badly by picking up a gun, just so that he can shoot the man who attacked his Dad. Kind of dumb, but in a loyal and vengeful way.
GUN continues in a fairly linear fashion; make it to Dodge City, meet Jenny at the Alhambra Saloon, shoot some people, make your way to Empire City, shoot some people, meet the mayor, etc… not that it’s bad, I actually think the story’s very good, mainly because of an event close to halfway through the game that I absolutely did not see coming that ended up surprising me, which I cannot mention now because it would ruin the surprise, but nonetheless I was surprised, and that doesn’t happen often.
The story in Red Dead Revolver continues as Red catches a few bounties and meets a few other characters, and the role of other characters is the biggest difference in the games. In GUN, you can help out the sheriff and gain some allies and enemies along the way, but in Red Dead Revolver you actually play different chapters as different people, from the impressively-moustached gentleman Jack Swift to the lovable farmer Annie Stoakes. You even play a level as one of your later enemies!
Overall, GUN’s story is better than Red Dead Revolver’s to me, but something about the latter’s presentation manages to win for me. GUN has a good story presented in an alright manner, but Red Dead Revolver has an alright story presented excellently. Having different chapters with different playable characters lends a certain depth to the complete cast that GUN was lacking in. Things are tied up at 2-2.
It sounds a little odd to rate a Western on how Western it is, but one of the most important parts of this comparison is how well these games managed to mix a fun gameplay experience with classic links to the Wild Wild West in a manner that felt natural rather than shoehorning in a few references to ‘cowpokes’ and ‘moseying’. How did these two do?
I’ve mentioned some of the side-quests like blackjack and hunting, but to be honest, they’re almost entirely all from GUN. Adding to that, horse-riding in GUN is a necessity and it gets its own tutorial level, one of the best levels in the game, whereas horse-riding in Red Dead Revolver is a rare luxury that doesn’t add a lot. From the gambling tournaments to the farmhand experience, GUN manages to make it fun to do a whole variety of things in the west, even though they mostly involve shooting someone.
Allow me to sum up my experience with Red Dead Revolver when it comes to horses – on one level, a particularly good one if I’m honest, I was sneaking around scoring headshots on guards who were patrolling a large stone area. After killing nearly all of them, I found a wandering horse (I may have killed his previous owner.) I got on the horse, trotted forwards a few steps, then got off the horse because it was nearly the end of the level and I didn’t want to have to learn a whole new control scheme just to shoot an oncoming wagon a few times. It is never mandatory, or necessary, to ride a horse in the game, and the first time I found a horse, I’d passed the halfway line of gameplay-time.
One of GUN’s more notable weaknesses is the writer’s inability to do simple Math. In a flashback, Ned mentions finding Colton as a baby in the Civil War, which, if the dates of the game are correct, took place roughly… 10 years before the game starts. Colton doesn’t really look 12 to me (Although it would explain why everyone calls him ‘Kid’.) Still, there’s a whole bunch of famous Western figures who have an important impact on the plot, from Hoodoo Brown to Chavey Y Chavez, Clay Allison… chances are, if the character has a name, they’re based on a real person. A lot of research went into GUN.
In keeping with Red Dead Revolver’s use of music from classical Western movies, it crams in plenty of references too. There’s a Natalie Portman lookalike in the saloon who quotes from ‘The Professional’, a bridge level eerily reminiscent of a scene from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,’ and the young ‘Kid Cougar’ who takes part in a duelling tournament late in the game looks a lot like Leonardo Di Caprio’s character in ‘The Quick and the Dead’, a movie where his character takes part in a duelling tournament. Three of the enemies who duel you in the ‘Jailbreak’ level are also named Sergio, Ennio and Eli, names that should be familiar to a fan of Westerns.
All in all, Red Dead Revolver makes a lot of references to the Western genre, but it doesn’t really incorporate them into the plot, or the gameplay, whereas GUN can have you hunting classic baddies, teaming up with… well, other classic baddies, and just feels like more historical research went into it. GUN takes the final category, but does it take the Game War?
So far on Game Wars, it hasn’t been easy picking a winner because it also means picking a loser. Both of these games instantly got bonus points in my eyes just because even today, with Call of Juarez and Red Dead Redemption, I still think of the Western as a very unexplored area of gaming. Not that that’s a particularly bad thing for these games because, as I said, they both instantly got bonus points.
I think the Western in general combines so many successful elements of other games. Take the horse-riding from Zelda, the strategy and cover-based tactics of any decent third-person shooter, and side-quests ranging from hunting and racing to blackjack and target practice; manage to pull it off and you’re almost guaranteed fun. Manage to pull it off WELL and you’re guaranteed a quality piece of entertainment, complete with memorable moments and tons of replayability.
But between these two games, one goes a little further than the other.
GUN VS Red Dead Revolver.
The winner is…
Red Dead Revolver has a tiny bit more to offer than GUN what with the multiplayer and multiple playable characters, but GUN’s core gameplay is more polished and refined without any of the little mistakes Red Dead Revolver made; and GUN offered a lot of exclusive things too, namely sidequests and horses.
Normally I love both games the same amount and picking one is a slow and torturous task, but this may be the first time that I don’t have much hesitation when it comes to which game is better. But despite this, I can still say that Red Dead Revolver is definitely worth playing – it has an amazing soundtrack, the story is told well, the controls are smooth and the graphics are great, and I feel like the duelling was more my fault than the game’s. It has a lot of really fun things to offer, and I enjoyed it a lot, even if I think GUN is a more balanced and well-rounded game.
That’s just about everything I have to say on these two games. GUN was just a little bit quicker on the draw, but both games deserve congratulation and thanks for how much I enjoyed them.
Next time on Game Wars! Two notoriously difficult NES games prepare to do… ‘battle’!
Thanks for reading!