Like a spittoon that has been getting too much attention, Techland’s Call of Juarez series has seen better days. After finding a cult following with the first game, and evolving that concept into a worthwhile mid-tier experience in Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, the series tapered off with its third entry, Call of Juarez: The Cartel.
With Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, Techland is going back to the drawing board — picking and choosing what elements worked from those first two games, adding some much-need style, and wrapping it all up into a $15 downloadable product. But is it worthy of the Call of Juarez name? Read on to find out.
Although it bares the Call of Juarez name, Gunslinger is barely a CoJ title. That isn’t a bad thing, mind you, just something to point out. This particular adventure follows Silas Greaves, a Wild West bounty hunter who has rubbed elbows with some of that time period’s most notorious characters. Along the course of the game’s meaty 7-hour campaign, players will come across nearly every Wild West icon, from Jesse James to Billy the Kid to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Needless to say, Gunslinger taps into the Wild West genre and reverentially mines it for all it’s worth.
Storytelling has always been the Call of Juarez series greatest asset, and that is no different with Gunslinger. Greaves narrates the story from beginning to end — retelling his adventures to the patrons of a bar — but does so in a natural, free-flowing way. He makes mistakes, contradicts himself, and leaves out specific details until the last possible moment, and what’s so brilliant about Gunslinger is that the game adapts to his storytelling. As the various details in the story come to light, the game world will change. If Greaves mentions he was fighting Indians, but then realizes he was fighting cowboys, the enemies will instantly change.
Gunslinger plays will this concept throughout, adding false endings, starting at the end and working backwards, and even playing around with actual written history. As a result, the story becomes part of the gameplay, and Greaves’ narration informs the player’s decisions. It might seem like a bit of a gimmick to some, but the storytelling alone charmed me completely.
From a bare bones gameplay perspective, Gunslinger is little more than a shooting gallery, with players moving from point A to point B taking out enemies popping up from behind cover. The shooting is competent, and the weapons (six-shooter, rifle, shotgun, sawed-off) have their own sense of style, but the core gameplay doesn’t do anything more than function. That being said, there are little flourishes peppered throughout the game that keep the gunplay exciting, or at least give players a few more mechanics to work with.
Concentration mode returns for Gunslinger — allowing players to freeze time and take out multiple enemies with superhuman speed. Greaves is, after all, one of the best in the West, and concentration mode helps players get a true sense of what that’s like. The game also introduces a unique, one-off dodge mechanic whereby players can lean — either to the right or to the left based on the bullet’s trajectory — to avoid getting shot. Again, it’s a gimmicky mechanic, but one that feeds back into the game’s delightful presentation.
Gunslinger is filled with all sorts of Wild West-y environments; if it’s in a Western, the game most likely has it. To be fair, players will encounter similar looking tile sets, especially in the saloon/ghost town areas, but the game’s cel-shaded art style (think Borderlands) puts a modern twist on some familiar areas. The game also boasts a few set pieces, most notably a train robbery, that will have fans of the Western genre giddy with delight.
Speaking of the presentation, Gunslinger keeps replayability high through a performance-based score system. Points are awarded for every kill, and a combo meter multiplies each kill score if the player doles out death in quick succession. If a player kills a more challenging enemy, for example, they’ll earn a certain amount of points, but if they dispatch them with a headshot they’ll earn even more. The game’s in-game point system also doubles as an XP system, with the player leveling up and earning new skills like faster reloads, higher ammo count, or more time in concentration mode.
The end goal in each mission is to kill efficiently and accurately in order to earn the highest score possible. However, if players think they can do better, they can hop into the game’s Arcade mode and replay any mission. The better players score, the higher they will rank on the game’s online leaderboards.
And let us not forget the most important element of any Wild West game: the duels. While Gunslinger has its fair share of run-of-the-mill boss encounters, it’s the game’s duels that make the biggest impact. Winning a duel isn’t easy, but it sure is satisfying, as players will have to manage both their draw speed and their focus. Plenty of games have done duels better, but none to my knowledge have allowed players to stand 10 paces away from some Legends of the West like Jesse James or the Dalton brothers. And we won’t spoil it, but the game has one incredible finale — a true Wild West treat.
The one major downside to Gunslinger, as alluded to earlier is the enemy AI. Most baddies will simply stand there waiting to be picked off, or they will pop up from cover at random intervals. There is some sense of self-preservation to the enemies, but not enough to make the game challenging. The non-duel boss fights — where the player must deplete an enemy’s health bar to progress — are also a disappointment. They’re rudimentary, and are not packaged in any sort of inventive way. Those rough patches don’t drag the overall experience of Gunslinger down, but those who go into the game strictly looking for a shooter might come away a little disappointed.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger may be a case of style over substance, but when the style impresses at nearly every turn, some competent gunplay and a few unique mechanics will more than suffice. An engaging story, fantastic storytelling, and a Wild West setting as realized in a cel-shaded art style will win most over from the game’s first moments, and it only gets better from there.
This particular entry may not truly connect to the Call of Juarez mythology (save for a brief cut scene), but it more than lives up to the Wild West ideas that influenced the series. The game is a substantial offering with plenty of opportunities for replayability, but the fact that it’s only $15 makes it all the more impressive. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is well worth the price tag, and one of the more unique FPS experiences available.
Have you had a chance to check out Call of Juarez: Gunslinger? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is available now on Xbox Live, PSN, and PC. Game Rant played the Xbox 360 version of the game for its review.
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