The Story So Far
Five years have elapsed since Major Archer witnessed the terrifying battle against the alien breed known as the Xenomes. Owing to the General's untimely departure during the war, Archer was put in charge of the Gunmen; a group of soldiers looking like something from the US colonial wars. Now the Xenomes are back in force, only this time there appears to be someone calling the shots.
It is time for you, Major Archer, to stand up and snuff out this menace once and for all. The aliens are wiping your troops out, and it is now up to you to face the genetically enhanced aliens, and to eliminate whoever or whatever is controlling them. With just your knife and a nervous group of soldiers at your side you head off for the planet to unravel the mysteries within .. but you are most certainly not alone.
Gunman Chronicles began life as a free user-made "total conversion" for Half-Life, and its developers, Rewolf Software, are a group of designers, artists and programmers from various parts of the globe who all met online. But the project caught the attention of publisher Sierra and eventually became a full retail publication, the first new stand-alone release built on the Half-Life engine.
Gunman begins with a great video scene setter, which despite its relatively poor visual quality in places serves to set the scene nicely. After this you are dropped into the familiar Half-Life driven first person world of Gunman Chronicles, beginning with a tutorial that shows you how to perform basic manoeuvres, and more importantly weapons handling.
You might be thinking that you won't need to be shown how to operate the weapons, and indeed you could very well enter the foray using the basic weapon modes and go on to complete the game. However, you would not be getting the most of them, in particular the M.U.L.E. (Multiple Unit Launch Engine) which is fully programmable to fire rockets in all manner of combinations. With the exception of the humble knife, all of the weapons have an alternative firing mode of some description.
There isn't a vast array of weapons in the game, but they are all solid mad chuckling fun, and with the programmable element it gives them enough variety to prevent them becoming boring. The one thing that confuses the hell out of me though is why you begin the game armed only with a knife, when your accompanying troops all wield firearms. Admittedly it is not that long before you come across the pistol, but it is still a little weird nonetheless.
Apart from this though the story is built up nicely from the opening sequence, and there are four different worlds to be explored in the game. I found the desert location to be by far the most enjoyable, riddled with scorpions, genetically modified dinosaurs, and of course rogue Gunmen. What makes this section particularly good though is you get to drive around in a tank letting rip with guided missiles, rockets and twin machine gun turrets. Oh the simple pleasures in life!
Know Your Enemy
The bestiary in Gunman Chronicles ranges from the hugely impressive to the extremely dull and uninspired. You will discover a couple of huge monsters in the game which are guaranteed to astound and impress, and if you are of a nervous disposition probably scare you witless too!
Unfortunately not enough is made of these creatures, and the giant dinosaur you discover near the beginning of the game is never seen again after. It would certainly make for a far more scary experience if more enemies of this size were used in the game. The biomechanical and alien creatures look great though, with neat animation and impressive firepower, but there are a couple of poor inclusions. For example, the alien that looks like a pink scorpion is particularly uninspired, and looks almost like they have taken the acid spitting critter from Half-Life and stuck a different model on top. On the flipside you have the rather fearsome creatures with a flower like crown who fire homing green insects at you, which are almost totally inescapable.
Enemy AI is generally good, inheriting the established Half-Life AI code, but still suffers from the same gung-ho nature of some of the enemies, most notably that of the human opposition. Often they hide behind something and then roll out into the open letting all guns blaze for a few seconds, which makes them a stupidly easy target to hit in the meantime.
Graphics and Sound
The Half-Life engine is still pumping out eye candy as ever, with my only criticism being levelled at the poor quality background images that fail to give the game any real sense of depth. The landscape detail is excellent, and some of the buildings you get to creep around are straight from the Counter-Strike top drawer. When the only sound inside one particular building is the tick-tock of a grandfather clock and your clumping footsteps on the floorboards, the sense of dread is amazingly real.
The enemies are all superbly animated, with the aliens having a flesh-like quality that at times is quite grotesque to look at. Rogue soldiers look fabulous in their assorted cowboy style garments, and really give the game a kind of strange Wild West feel. The ability for the Half-Life engine to handle large ships and monsters is in evidence again, and you will be astonished at some of the examples of this within the game.
Voice acting is fine, but lacks a decent sample definition which means they are often lost in the environment sounds going on around you, and also sound annoyingly tinny. There is far too much reverb going on too, and frequently in places that really would not reverberate sound in a million years.
I have been deliberately vague about the locations and enemies in the game, for to go into any further detail risks spoiling the game for you. Gunman Chronicles has a cracking storyline running throughout with its fair share of twists and turns. All of this is set upon some truly stunning landscapes and against some pretty fearsome foes. Though the AI has its flaws and a couple of the enemies are unimaginative to say the least, the game still shines through.
With a little more thought put into the puzzle elements of the game, and a few other nips and tucks this could well have been something truly special. It is still a good blast though, even if the price tag is a little extreme for a game which is essentially just another Half-Life mission pack. Certainly a worthy addition to your single player FPS collection.