The Tree of Life is a common theme in world mythology. From the one described in Genesis to the date palm in ancient Egypt, it's been a popular symbol for eternal life, a miraculous entity whose fruit grants immortality and under whose shadow lies the rest of creation.
In gaming there is the Tree of Half-Life, from whom springs life eternal in the shape of addons, mods and total conversions. No game since Valve's classic has come close to having the impact it did on the PC games scene, though. Its roots have dug deep beneath the gaming consciousness, and it has been left to its bastard children, such as Counter-Strike, to truly carry on the line. These branches have grown out with such vigour and success that Mavas is now legitimising the bastards and welcoming them to the paternal told with open arms. After being the darling of almost every online player in the world, not to mention the office, Counter-Strike is to receive a solo release in the coming months. Before that, however, is a game almost unheard of until a couple of months ago. A game that was originally intended as a free total conversion until it was seen at this year's E3.
Gunman Chronicles has been developed by a bunch of people scattered all over the globe going by the name of Rewolf, and it's a shining example of how much vitality the mod community has injected into this often limp, marketing-led industry.
What's This Then?
Opposing Force was one of the greatest add-ons in the history ot add-ons for one of the greatest games in the history of games. Yet there was something about it that left us disenchanted.
The expectations were so great that we couldn't help but be disappointed in something that was essentially identical to its predecessor. The good bits were fantastic moments of tense gaming that will be forever etched on our defective memories. The bad bits were long strolls through corridors admiring areas of the Black Mesa complex we hadn't already seen through the eyes of Gordon Freeman. It was a great idea: play Half-Life again as one of the army soldiers sent in to sort out the mess, paralleling Gordon's movements, fighting aliens and black ops and even crossing paths with the man himself. The only problem was that we had already played it before and that there were no stunningly new ideas in there. It was successful more thanks to Half-Life's enduring replayability than to its own innovations. Step in Gunman. Set in a futuristic universe inhabited by similar aliens to the ones that came from Xen, it certainly has enough new ideas to make it a worthwhile addition to the Half-Life series and be stamped with the official Valve seal of approval.
The Xenome, obviously the cousin race of the Xen, have been wreaking devastation on every planet they've laid their slimy tendrils on. The only people who can stop them are the Gunmen - sci-fi gunslingers determined to bring criminals to justice and a sticky end. Your role is as one of the more prominent space sheriffs, about to be left alone to battle it out against the Xenome and some evil humans. Both the story and the presentation are right out of the comic book school of design.
You have these gunmen, who are like cowboy versions of Starship Troopers (a sort of space sheriffs if you like). You have enemies who actually wear cowboy hats. And you have a barrage of ideas, tributes and references giving a nod and a wink to the seasoned games' player. Gunman Chronicles takes the idea that Star Wars was a western in space and gives it the Half-Life treatment. Because, above and beyond, this is still a Half-Life game. It may have started its existence as aTC, but the final product is as inspired and as polished as anything you could hope for. All the textures are new, all the humans, monsters and miscellaneous creatures are new, all the environments are new and all the weapons are new. Everything from the detail in the scenery to the design of the creatures and the gun animations bleed professionalism. It's only the awkwardness of certain engine-driven cut-scenes (something the original Half-Life never had, but which seems standard practice tor total conversions) that betrays the amateur nature of the game.
A Slice Of Life
You begin the game aboard a spaceport which acts as a base for the gunmen and, despite everything looking completely different, you feel you're on familiar territory. You are initially restricted to a lift pod that transports you through the station, with a screen getting you up to date with the story's background and the windows on either side giving you a perfect view of a working, moving, living space structure. You can watch ships docking, machinery in operation and even other people moving about in other sections. When you arrive at your destination you get to listen to a pep talk addressed to all the gunmen before things 'start to go wrong' in the way things always do in the H-L universe. Gunman uses this not as the entry point to the action but, quite cleverly, to teach you how the game works. It dispenses in this way with what was always a clumsy device: the separate training level (the straight-forward Hazard Course in Half-Life and the amusing Full Metal Jacket-inspired Boot Camp in Opposing Forctf. Veterans of first-person shoot 'em ups might complain that this is an insult to their intelligence and that it makes you go through a routine you already know all too well. However, because it's so seamlessly blended in with the game (instructions are given out by engineers or trapped soldiers you walk past) you don't actually notice too much that you're being taught the basics of the game. Right from the start, Gunman follows in the footsteps of Valve's masterpiece by putting you in a believable environment that exists outside the game's story.
Guns For Hire
Because of the comic book style of things, the world Rewolf has created isn't quite as believable as Valve's, and you never feel the same identification with this faceless Gunman as you did with Gordon Freeman. But the important thing to remember is that Gunman is supposed to be good fun above everything else. It's about big monsters, big guns and large amounts of gore. A perfect example of this is the localised damage Rewolf has introduced, allowing skilled marksmen to blow the head off human enemies. Not in the same league as Soldier Of Fortune in terms of bloody violence, but then there is much more of a game behind the bloodshed. It is a licensed Half-Life game after all. It has scripted moments in abundance, it has brilliant set pieces and tough opponents.
You stumble across scenes of aliens fighting each other, dinosaurs shredding each other's necks, scientists getting their heads bitten off and common enemies making your life easier by killing each other off - as they did in Opposing Force. We haven't come across anything as challenging or admirable as the black ops from Half-Life, but it still partakes from the greatest A! found in any 3D engine. The best moments in Half-Life (anti Opposing Force) were those where the game quietly saved itself before entering a new area with 23 per cent health and a low ammo count. You'd go in and, before you knew what was going on, your body would already have been blown up by a precise grenade, ripped to pieces by bullets or had its head whistled off. And then you'd go in again, and again, getting a bit further, eliminating one more ninja, pushing that 23 per cent a little bit more. Those are the kind of moments Gunman is aiming to recreate. And, in many ways, it succeeds in creating them. Not as expertly realised as those in Half-Life, but enjoyable all the same. Human enemies all run, take cover, roll over and take the best firing position available to them, ensuring every battle is different no matter how many times you go through it. They even kick you in the teeth if you get too close. Alien creatures also show a greater degree of intelligence than we're normally used to by hiding out of reach from your gunfire and coordinating their attacks.
Considering the desolate state of the first-person shooter market, with only Voyager: Elite Force having been released in recent history (Deus Ex is on another plane of existence altogether), Gunman Chronicles is an almost obligatory purchase for the legions of trigger happy gamers who like a single-player story. Forget the fact that it started out as a total conversion. With the money pumped in by Havas and the help Rewolf has had from Valve, Gunman has matured into a fantastic sci-fi shooter.
What we said
"Considering the desolate state of the first-person shooter market, GC is an almost obligatory purchase for trigger-happy gamers who like a single-player story."
What you thought
- "I think Gunman Chronicles is one of the best games I've played in quite a long time -excluding, of course, the excellent Half-Life. "There's heaps of atmosphere and the giant Brachiosaurus near the start of the game scared the life out of me the first time I saw it. Your fellow gunmen are helpful and the rebel gunmen react to things realistically, ducking from your fire and trying to pick you off with their sniper rifles. "I think you were a bit unfair saying that it doesn't disguise its monorail nature as well as Half-Life did. Quite frankly, you can't make it any better, as the monorail in Half-Life was very boring and you couldn't skip it. "Apart from that, I think your review was spot on. My only complaint is that the game is way too short."
- "After reading your review, I added Gunman Chronicles to my Christmas list and was pleased that Santa brought it to me. Well, what can I say? Although it's not as good as Half-Life, GCcertainly is brilliant, but here are a few things I'd like to add about it. "Good points: very scary atmosphere, especially on the last levels; cool weapons; loads and loads of movie-like moments, such as the crocodile pit; cool way of upgrading weapons; cool music; some very cool and scary monsters; loads of gore; and the fact that anything to do with Half-Life plain cool. "Bad points: on the box it says there's 40 hours of gameplay, yet finished it in less than 20; the ending was crap; the cut scenes seemed out of place for a game of this type; and a lot of the time the puzzles took too long to figure out, leaving a feeling of blind-gaming, which nobody really likes. But all in all, this is a brilliant game, worthy of its PC award."
- "Gunman Chronicles is a short-lived load of tat. I can imagine it's easy to have your judgment clouded by having impossible expectations for a game. Instead of being sorely disappointed with the game, expectations appear to have rose-tinted your opinions. It's hard to see how you could give Gunman 87 per cent, without having been brought up on an exclusive diet of Wolfenstein 3D. "The gameplay consists of little more than breaking into air vents to find yourself apparently trapped in another room. But wait - there's another air vent through which to escape (repeat ad infinitum). "The character interaction also left a lot to be desired, with NPCs making little more than throwaway statements, bereft of advice, along the lines of, 'arrgh [cough] monsters [gurgle]' before dying. It was lucky that the game lasted little more than six hours before I returned it to the shop, despite the claims that it offered more than 40 hours of gameplay."
I despair, I really do. Tim, there's no nice way of putting this, so I won't even try. When we talked about the monorail nature of GC we weren't referring to the Intro, neither were we alluding to the opening sequence in Half-Life where you're being taken underground by a monorail.
See if you can work out what we were actually talking about from these helpful hints. Mono (single), rail (route that cannot be deviated from). I hope this helps clear things up.
As for you, Joy n_ spices, you've got us banged to rights. The only FPS we've ever played is Wolfensteln 3D-after I've finished writing this I'm going to fire up the old 286 in the comer and play some more. Forget Gunmarfs superb Al, customisable weapons, character interaction, gripping atmosphere, and engrossing storyline. In fact, we just made up the whole review on the spot and based it on Wolfenstein, as we knew Gunman would be more of the same. Its linearity doesn't make it crap, and neither does It make it just like Wolfenstein 3D. And anyway, what are you complaining about? You effectively got a free game -even Wolfenstein cost money to download.
Download Gunman Chronicles
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Gunman Chronicles Screenshots and Media
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