Game: Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
Reviewed: July 2014
Awful, despicable, rushed, buggy, lazy, incomplete, half-hearted, dull, weak… these are just some of the words I could use to describe Call of Juarez…. The Cartel. Fortunately, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is much better, and represents a proper effort, returning the series to the old Wild West, rather than some modern mish-mash of crap-ness that became of the previous instalment.
Techland have made a solid job of the latest game, and about time too, since a lot of people were so annoyed about the direction the previous game was taking, even before it was found out to be as dire as it was, that they, like me, had given up hope that the series could ever recover. To soften the blow, regardless of whatever final quality Gunslinger would produce, Ubisoft had decided to make the game a budget title, and made the release price a paltry £11.99. Of course, telling everyone it is going to be a budget title won’t endear the hardcore fans, already hugely sceptical about the quality due to the last game, but the end result is a beautifully crafted, well thought out, and polished final game, that would easily have been worthy of a higher price on release.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger places you in the shoes, and spurs, of Silas Greaves, an aging ‘legend’ of the old Wild West, who decides to tell his tale of famous encounters to the residents of a saloon in Abilene, Arkansas (USA), during the year of 1910. The story and later cut-scenes are told through a series of cartoon-like images, and serve as a break between each section of the game. After each one, you will come across a new famous Wild West character, such as Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, Jesse James and Butch Cassidy, as well as hearing about others via the story, such as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.
The game plays on the fact that a lot of the Wild West stories and legends are, quite frankly, wild, and often filled with inaccuracies and discrepancies. To add to that atmosphere, Silas often gets his facts or words mixed while telling his story, and this is where the games cool new feature comes in: the game can rewind back in real-time right in front of your eyes, restarting to a point where he gets to tell it how it really was. While it is a bit of a gimmick, it doesn’t always get used in exactly the same way, with objects at other times either disappearing or appearing before your eyes, or even the weather changing instantly, and the whole concept makes the story-telling part of the game more fun and entertaining. It also helps give this game a unique quality to set it apart from the other Call of Juarez games.
Throughout the game, you’ll be able to find secret spots, usually identifiable as a fedora and horseshoe together, and these give you random snippets of relevant Wild West information, such as about one of the famous Legends of the West, or simply about things such as horse rustling, or the Wild West shows that were around in that era. For any fan of old Western films, it helps provide an interesting insight into some of the well known characters that have graced numerous classic films, and therefore makes it a nice little addition to the game, to help bring depth to it.
You will also earn XP while playing; with more given if you are more accurate with your shooting. The XP system makes the game a little bit arcade-y at times, but it doesn’t suffer because of it, and it seems to work quite well. Every so often when you reach a certain XP thresh-hold, you can then upgrade your character in one of three disciplines: Gunslinger, Ranger, or Trapper. Each has stat-boosting upgrades that can, for example, make you a better long range shooter, slow down time when using iron-sights, and make it easier for you to dodge bullets. There are a number of options, and after completing the game I had fully upgraded the Ranger section, and was halfway through the Gunslinger one.
You get a small selection of guns in the game, and are able to carry either a shotgun, or a rifle, along with a revolver or pistol. You can’t carry all three types at once, meaning you’ll have to think how you approach things, and how you want to play the game. Personally, for me, I tended to use the rifle, and upgraded my stats to match that game-play style. I found close-up, the rifle was still good, and I could always swap back to a revolver quickly. Revolvers/pistols come in three types too, including a quick-shooter, a six-shooter, and a ranger, and these offer trade-offs between speed, power, and accuracy. Melee is always an option, although I only used it sporadically.
Going back to the bullet dodging, you get this ability near the start of the game, but it only becomes available when you’ve shot enough enemies, which effectively ‘re-charges’ the system. It works passively, so it only activates when you are able to, and then it is down to you to do the dodging yourself, with the game slowed down.
Returning to the game is the concentration mode, which highlights the enemies in red, just like in ‘Bound in Blood’, and again slows down time. It is a handy feature, and is also recharged as you kill enemies. Joining this is a QTE combat mode, which activates at pre-defined sections of the game. It is unobtrusive, and simply requires pressing the arrow keys. Failing to do so doesn’t cause the game to fail; you simply end up with more enemies to kill afterwards, making things a bit more difficult, so it’s best to make sure you get it right first time, but not essential.
Also making an appearance again, and without which the game wouldn’t be a true Wild West game, are duels. They work in a very similar way to the other Call of Juarez games, with slight differences in the mechanics, but basically function much as they did before. I found them to be a little bit better in one aspect, though, since you could effectively ‘cheat’ as soon as your hear a heartbeat, and shoot your opponent before he draws, or you can get an honourable kill by only drawing as soon as you see him draw, making the duel more challenging, but if you get it right, more rewarding. Duels are usually just between you and one other opponent, but there are a couple of occasions where things are a little trickier, with two opponents. The first time will be a pretty straightforward action, but the second occasion, without giving too much away, is at the end of the game, and involves what is called a ‘Mexican Standoff’. It’s basically a literal three way duel, and involves a lot of looking back and forth between each enemy, to see who is aiming for you, and who is aiming for the other guy. It was a little bit tricky, and much more difficult than the standard duels, but I still managed to get an honourable kill after several attempts. It just takes a while to play out, making it a tad frustrating as you wait for the moment to strike.
Graphically, the game looks quite nice, making use of semi-‘cel-shaded’ graphics, and incorporating nice weather and lighting effects. The textures aren’t amazing, and from some angles, they can look a little low-res, but the overall art-style more than makes up for that, and from a distance, everything looks great, with excellent panoramic vistas. Water effects, from either gushing rivers, or from the rain itself, look very nice, and character models look decent when you see them close-up for a duel.
There are some nice physics effects, with some destructible wooden objects, although not everything. I also saw a gatling gun take chunks out of the cacti in one section of the game, with debris flying everywhere, adding to the realism.
Sound wise, the guns sound suitably tough, although nothing out of the ordinary for a shooter, but the real quality is in the voice work, which is delivered well by the voice-actors, and also recorded to a high standard. I mention this, because some games I have reviewed recently haven’t even been able to get the recording done right (Saints Row 2), let alone have actors that deliver in the right context (Alternativa).
One final thing worth mentioning before I wrap things up in the summary, is regarding the ‘on rails’ nature of the game. Overall, you can have a little bit of an ‘explore’ but particularly at the start of the game, you had to follow a fairly narrow path before you’d get a message popping up. In ‘The Cartel’, it would just say "you're leaving the area" and if you didn't step back quickly, you would be given a ‘game over’ message! While you still get told that you are leaving the area in Gunslinger, you can stay where you are when that message appears, or walk very slowly back; there’s no rush, just don’t keep going in that direction, as you are just auto sent back on the right track. I only got auto sent back the once, and it doesn’t make you lose any progress, it simply put me in the right spot I was supposed to take. While I don’t really like being moved around like that, as it takes control away from the player, it was a helpful feature, and at least worked a lot better than the way it was done in ‘The Cartel’.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger makes a welcome return to the Wild West setting that defined the character of the original games, and while it makes a departure from the story of the first two games, it still manages to keep you entertained all the way through, with a semi-historical look at the past, instead of a completely fictional story. The use of Juarez in the title is a little unnecessary, as the references to it are vague in Gunslinger, but at least this game belongs to the series a lot more than the abhorrent ‘Cartel’, due to its genuine Wild West connections.
Overall, the game is of good quality, in terms of story, game-play, graphics, and sound, and even the auto-saving checkpoints work well in this game, with no need to worry about manual saves, or having to redo long stretches.
Regarding issues, there are a couple of places later in the game that require a bit of plat-forming, in that you have to jump between gaps. Most of the time it was pretty easy, but on one occasion, at a mine, it took quite a number of attempts to make the jump.
The duels could be a little bit tricky, but that is part of the challenge, and at least the game allows you to ‘play the coward’ if you are finding things too tough, although hardcore purists will probably bemoan that it makes the game too easy. You can also try out the duel game mode, where you have to beat a number of opponents in succession, with your final score uploaded for comparison with others.
The game is relatively short, lasting around 9 hours, but what you do get is of a good quality, and is fun enough that I would consider it worthy of replaying in the future. If you are able to pick this game up even cheaper than the introductory price, that was already low, then you will be getting plenty of value for money if Wild West games are your thing. Sure, it isn’t on the scale of an RPG like Red Dead Redemption (which never got a PC release anyway), and the end section felt a little bit silly (not the very end, which was actually good in giving you a choice), but it more than makes up for the abomination of the previous release, and gives hope to the original Call of Juarez fans than a genuine sequel relevant to the Juarez name may make an appearance one day.
Verdict: It’s easily a match for the first two Call of Juarez games, and so deserves the following arbitrary final score:
Does this game spur you on to play it? Should we cull all of the warez? Let us know in the forum!