Ah, the majesty and promise of the American West! What better inspiration for an involving, wide-open gaming experience? Violent, colorful, brimming over with raw energy: It's a perfect setting for the kind of roaming adventure game everyone loves. In fact, the only way to screw it up would be to take all the frontier's majestic potential and try to cram it into a shoebox.

The story of Gun is just right; get them greedy, murderous thugs what killed them people you love, even if it means you have to shoot your way from Missouri to New Mexico. Of course, you'll have to do just that, and there's a great gameplay engine for all the shooting, riding, brawling, and general cowboying that's required to get you there. Problem is, once you've opened the whole map, it only takes about a minute to get back and forth between Missouri and New Mexico—maybe two, if you take in all the desert, badlands, prairie, and general-purpose range on the scenic route. Which is, to be fair, very scenic.

But in the end, in spite of their promise, the story and the world are too thin and cramped, and that's about as Western as a one-gallon hat. Artificial limits, in the form of commercial barbed-wire fences, brought the classical Wild West era to a close; with all Gun has going for it, it's a shame that its limits keep it from being a classic in its own right. The West shouldn't be won in one lazy afternoon.

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Beyond the game: Add Gun to the list of recent titles that feel half-baked. The game just develops too much stuff that's never used—locations, mechanics, characters, you name it. Are developers half-assing projects to concentrate on the next-generation titles? And even if so, why leave that truly disturbing, violent, and utterly useless "scalping" feature in the game?

Worth playing for: When it's at full gallop, Gun really do git itself along, with a six-gun-shootin' engine that's complemented by the rootin'-tootin' intangibles. Not many games make you want to pick every fight you can just to prove you can plug every varmint in town.

Frustration sets in when: There aren't enough varmints per town. And the towns, all both of them, aren't big enough for the one of you, even with the wilderness thrown in. You can complete the game, side missions and all, in about the same time it takes to watch the great Clint Eastwood Westerns. Unlike the films, however, the game doesn't offer a compelling reason for repeat visits.

Final judgment: Gun starts out as big and lovely as Montana, only to end up as flat and disappointing as Texas. Take an afternoon and rent this beaten mule.

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