Have You Played… Gunman Chronicles?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

The halo effect of some games can extend far enough that even games made in the same engine look better in its light. So it was with my love for Half-Life and my eager search for anything that remotely capture its magic, such as mod-turned-officially-released-game Gunman Chronicles. It had aliens, dinosaurs, spaceships, Mayan temples, a deranged AI, Western and Civil War-inspired soldiers, it was literally called “Gunman”, and I remember it more fondly than it probably deserves.

Those fond remembrances begin with the dinosaurs, which seemed impossibly impressive at the time. I was already familiar enough with what’s now called the Goldsrc engine to know its limitations, so I was blown away when that smooth-necked Diplo-like leaned through the ceiling. I also liked the more customisable weapons, which took Half-Life’s secondary fire modes and expanded on them with nicely animated tertiary and fourthiary fire modes.

It wasn’t all roses. There were some pretty awful difficulty spikes, turret sections, jumping puzzles, and small enemies that were hard to see against similarly-coloured textures. But these things didn’t matter to me enough at the time to put me off. Where today I barely ever complete even games I love, I persevered with Gunman Chronicles because it seemed to communicate some basic Half-Life-yness in its enemy design and scripted sequences. I’d swallow anything to get a bit more of the similar thing I already liked.

Shortly after release, developers Rewolf Software seemed to disband. If I remember correctly they were spread out internationally to begin with – a mod team, remember – and I imagine it was difficult to maintain cohesion when the project was done. One wonders about the nature of their business relationship with publishers Sierra however, and who owns Gunman today.

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30 Comments

  1. korefuji says:

    Yep that first glimpse of the dino was amazing, and confusing, as I tried to kill it only to die repeatedly. Several years later I played it again, as I didn’t get past that bit before, and used my noggin and avoided the dino to get past it. It wasn’t always clear what you had to do, but it was a lot of fun doing it.

    • Napalm Sushi says:

      I remember that a large part of my strategising in Gunman consisted of figuring out which Half-Life monsters the enemies were based on. The dinosaur, for instance, originated as the tentacle monster from Blast Pit, while the giant robot boss in the trailer image was clearly a re-modelled Gargantua.

  2. GallonOfAlan says:

    Still have the CD. I remember it being an interesting enough diversion with some good scripted bits.

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      distantlurker says:

      Like so many of these ‘Have you played’ articles mine lives in a one of the many boxes under the bed.

      We don’t.. we don’t talk about them >_>

    • TheSplund says:

      Got the CD too (somewhere buried).
      Didn’t it start off life as HL mod if I recall and then the devs decided to shift towards a standalone game? I see it was referenced in the last para.
      As with so many other old games you didn’t quite realise just how blocky they looked.

  3. Lobster9 says:

    One of my favourite little lost gems. A lot of people I have found who played it never made it past the first act which is a shame because the game actually tells a fun little videogame story, with crumbling moons, fighting mechs, vengeful computers, and a drivable tank.

    One interesting bit of contextual history is how close the game’s release came to the original HALO which featured a similar universe and style. Gunman was kind of overshadowed at the time, but it has plenty of it’s own charm.

    • theblazeuk says:

      Agreed. The level where you meet the AI is great. And the Tank was always fun. The scripted events were not the only highlight of Gunman – I think this half memory of ‘Have you Played’ does it a disservice, really.

      • Flopdong says:

        Yeah this is definitely one of those games I played as a kid that I will always have fond memories of. Although that may be partly because the game repeatedly failed to install on my computer for no apparent reason, so when I finally did manage to get it working it felt like such a victory.

  4. ToomuchFluffy says:

    It had quite a few problems on the sound-front, but as far as I can remember I mostly enjoyed it. The weapon modes were interesting; especially for the chemical gun. I don’t remember any difficulty spikes, but it has been really long since I played it.

  5. jellydonut says:

    I bought this game solely because the box art echoed the box art of Half-Life and Opposing Force.

    I enjoyed it as a sort of total conversion mod for Half-Life. Fun weapons with all sorts of weird modes.

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    Ninja Dodo says:

    Most/all of the Rewolf team reformed as Streamline Studios which made Hoopworld and did outsourcing. Then they closed and later reformed under the same name in Malaysia, I believe.

  7. jj2112 says:

    I remember finishing it but nothing else. And I usually remember the games I’ve played…

  8. mugsgame says:

    One thing it inherited from Half-Life was that pulp fiction wackiness and brightness. Even the wall textures have an exuberance. But yeah, probably not a great game all-in-all. The last boss fight was awfully boring I remember! Fun story but told in massive exposition-dumps. I still smile when a screenshot of it features on Goldsource Gold.

  9. Jorum says:

    I have the big yellow very half-lifey box up on my shelf (EU version) I can’t remember much about it other than was fun and I enjoyed all the weapon variety. A less puzzley, more outlandish half-life.
    It was basically the spiritual ancestor of Borderlands.

    Which also reminds me; sci-fi western seems to be always popular so why haven’t we seen a Braveheart game. I mean it has
    a hero with a bunch of activated special abilities, speeder-bikes in the shape of bulls, and a cyborg horse that turns into a cyborg horse-man with an ludocrously enormous gun. It is made for gaming.

  10. haldolium says:

    It was awesome and is even today. The odd mix of wild west dino hunting and cyborgs was awesome, the weapons outstanding, even (or especially?) measured by todays arsenals.

    It also had damn nice graphics both for the time as for the HL1 engine in general.

    Great game I thoroughly enjoyed more as once and am constantly missing on Steam or GoG.

  11. BathroomCitizen says:

    There’s a really interesting point in the argument Graham makes.

    Years ago I used to play even games that I didn’t really like, but now it’s hard to play even the games that I do love. What happened?

    • Kolbex says:

      Adulthood.

    • Beefenstein says:

      Life curdles in you, each second another drop of rancid milk, until the custard you relied on is sour rather than sweet and the kisses that you receive from the sun burn you and you want to turn your face inwards and face the true blackness within.

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    oWn4g3 says:

    I actually finished it about 2 months ago when I was longing for some straight forward old school shooter. It’s overall really good, has some pacing issues and gameplay wise a horrible end boss.

  13. Stense says:

    I remember installing the demo off a PC Gamer CD and being impressed with the dinosaur silliness. Despite enjoying it, I think I just forgot about it and by the time I remembered and thought it would be nice to try it properly, it was nowhere to be found. It’s one of those games that just seemed to disappear from existence.

  14. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    I remember this! Tickling the nostalgia glands, I definitely Italy enjoyed it back in the day. A cool universe, I’d happily spend more time in again. FPS design has come a long way though

  15. G_Man_007 says:

    I really enjoyed this game, it was pretty basic by today’s standards, but it was varied and I felt it didn’t stand still to get stale (as mentioned, the changes of pace, the tank section, the interaction with “Shodan” etc). I must have played it twice now, shame it’s not on Steam (unless things have changed).

    If you like your nostalgia and Half Life mods, I highly recommend Wanted!, a brilliant western mod, some dodgy voice acting, but it out shone most other mods and western games at the time.

    Also, check out They Hunger. I’ve only played a bit of it, but I really would love to go back to it. I remember that it didn’t work with Half Life after a certain patch, so I don’t know if it’s changed.

    I was always on the lookout for more HL mods, I did come across a few others but they escape me. I heartily recommend the demo of HL, I’m not sure if it was a deleted level of HL, but it’s separate from the main game, and plays like a deleted extra, it’s excellent, and showed that a demo could be made which wasn’t just the first level of the main game. Aliens, Marines and Assassins in a perfect little package.

    These will all be dated by now, but they were great at the time.

    • theblazeuk says:

      They hunger! So,good. I recommend tracking it down even today, really innovative use of the HL engine and map tools. Great Atmosphere and plot too.

      Shame that They Hunger 3 never came out. Neil Manke just seemed to disappear shortly after a feature in PCG about bringing they hunger to HL2….

      • deadlybydsgn says:

        I dug this link up from the bowels of the RPS forum:

        link to moddb.com

        Manke doesn’t appear to be involved, but it looks like someone remade TH as a HL2:Ep2 mod.

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      The Almighty Moo says:

      That demo, Half-Life Uplink, was a bespoke bit of content built for demonstration purposes from existing assets. It’s a lovely short piece and makes a cameo in the Stanley Parable Demo’s great demos hall of fame along with several other notable greats.
      I enjoyed they hunger, but as I was installing it from a cheery RPS fanzine’s bundled CDs (before it even had that title) on an out of date version of the base game, I never managed to make it that far. Thanks for reminding me of it though, it was spooky as all hell back in the day.

    • TheTingler says:

      Here’s They Hunger: link to moddb.com

      Worth installing today. More of an Evil Dead-style fun horror shooter, reminds me a bit of Blood or what Blood II probably should’ve been like. The world needs more games like it.