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Call of Juarez: Gunslinger (Multi-Platform) Review
Posted by Stephen Randle on 06.19.2013





Title: Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment
Developer: Techland
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Players: 1
Rated: Mature
Available for PS3 via PSN, XBox 360 via XBox Live, and PC (PC version used in review)


The Western genre has long been poorly represented in gaming, which is one of the reasons why everyone latched so hard onto the revolutionary Red Dead Redemption (and the fact that it’s an incredible game didn’t hurt). The Call of Juarez franchise, it may surprise some people to learn, has been around for a long time, with several releases of widely varying quality and only a loose connection between them. The latest game to be released under that banner, subtitled Gunslinger, once again abandons all ties to the older games and starts anew under a different concept. You play as a famous bounty hunter, Silas Greaves, who walks into a saloon one day and feels compelled to relate his life story to those assembled there.

And thus begins the game, told in a retrospective narrative, as (speaking over top of the gameplay the entire time) Greaves relates his time spent hanging with legends like Billy the Kid, his duels with some of the best gunmen the West has to offer, and even shining the light on the truth behind his wilder tales. This opens the game up to an interesting mechanic that comes into play several times: sometimes, when you finish playing through a scenario, Greaves will break into the story and announce something to the effect of “no, that’s not what happened”, sending you slightly back in time in the same scenario, but with changes as dictated by Greaves’ memories. For example, in an early tale, you can fight a duel against the local sheriff, only to find once you complete the task that, in truth, the sheriff surprised Greaves and knocked him unconscious, and no such duel took place. Instead, you wake up trapped in the local jail, and the story continues from there. The combination of the narrative overlapping the gameplay instead of interrupting it with cutscenes, and the nature of the “unreliable narrator” who can change the scene at a moment’s notice, gives the story a unique and interesting flow that keeps you engaged.


Now that’s downright purdy.

Mechanically, Gunslinger is a stripped-down first-person shooter, giving the player only three guns: a pistol (upgradable to dual pistols if you choose), a short-range shotgun, and a long-range rifle. In addition, there is the traditional “bundle of dynamite” that acts as a grenade. Coupled with the limited weapons is a simple levelling system, where you can gain skill points to improve your abilities with any of those three weapons. Obviously, you can go for a balanced attack, but specialization has huge benefits, including unlocking several specialized weapons depending on the path you take. My favourite mechanic that plays into the older nature of the guns involved is that bullets can only be loaded one at a time, and the skill trees give you the ability to hammer on the reload button to shove those bullets home faster, something that can be the difference between life and death.

Speaking of which, there are two special abilities that help you survive against waves of sometimes incredibly accurate gunslingers. The first, called Eyeblink, is your standard “bullet time” mode, where time slows down and enemies are highlighted, allowing you to clear an area much quicker. Eyeblink is controlled by a gauge that fills as you kill enemies, and even a full gauge only gives you about five seconds of time, so you still have to manage it carefully. The second, and possibly more important ability, is called Cheating Death, and it just might save your life. Simply put, if the gauge is full, and you happen to have stayed out of cover for too long (like all cover shooters, hiding heals all your wounds, which is necessary, because you will get shot quite a lot), and one of those varmints out there fires a shot that would kill you, you get a one-time chance to choose to move left or right and dodge the bullet. Of course, if you choose wrong, you die, but that’s what checkpoints are for.


Red is such an…appropriate colour for those guys

Ah yes, checkpoints. Gunslinger has a very generous checkpoint system for when you bite the bullet, and it’s a very good thing, because the game also features one of my least favourite game mechanics: the insta-death Quick Time Event. At points in the game, you’ll enter an area, and be forced into a series of random button prompts. Miss any of them, guess what, you’re dead. I find it to be an odd inclusion in a game where you already have to rely on your reflexes to shoot enemies normally, and if it weren’t there, I wouldn’t miss it for a second.


I’d be less worried if it didn’t look so…well-used.

In addition to the normal gameplay is the one-on-one duel mechanic, which takes place when you face off with some of the major enemies in the game. In Gunslinger, duels are an exercise in two-handed button managing, as you must control a constantly moving and shrinking crosshair, trying to keep it centered on your opponent, while also moving you gun hand slowly closer to your holster. Oh, and then you have to draw and pull the trigger before the other guy does. Draw too early, you could be considered dishonourable, but the penalty for pulling too late is…well, you can guess.


If it’s down to him or me, I’m pretty sure I’d rather it be him.

Graphically, the game is surprisingly breathtaking. The environments are detailed and incredibly lifelike, and you really feel like you’re walking through old Western towns and vast, untamed frontier wilderness locations. The enemies tend to be less detailed, and you’ll see most of the half-dozen or so models within the first scenario, but the major characters, both those on your side and those you fight, are all unique and receive individual, comic book-style introductions when they come into play.

Pros

- Gorgeous Western environments, both urban and country
- Intriguing narrative story mode, including a narrator who can suddenly change things completely
- Skill tree system is simple and elegant, specialization brings greater rewards

Cons

- Super-accurate enemies can get pretty frustrating
- “Cheating death” mechanic doesn’t make Insta-death QTEs less annoying
- It’s pretty short, by which I mean, there’s not enough of it

The 411

Call of Juarez is a surprisingly great game from a franchise that has had many ups and downs. The pseudo-historical context allows the game to associate the protagonist will all sorts of cowboys, sheriffs, thieves, scofflaws, and ne’er-do-wells from the pages of American legend, in a story that never stops being entertaining. A simple but fun combat system allows you to run through towns and countryside with guns blazing, and the one-on-one duel system is a well-done mechanic that is challenging without relying on luck or gimmicks. The whole campaign won’t take you long to get through, but there are enough extras to keep you coming back, and if the series can build on this new foundation, a follow-up title could be a potential Game of the Year. And since it’s available for a mere fifteen dollars, you’ll find that you get a great deal more than your money’s worth.



Graphics: 8.5 – Locations are gorgeous, but the enemies tend to blend in to the environment sometimes.



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Graphics9.0Locations are gorgeous, cel-shaded beauty, but the enemies tend to blend in to the environment sometimes.411 Elite Award
Gameplay8.5A simple combat system with only three gun, plus “eyeblink” and “cheating death” mechanics that both work easily and well. Insta-kill QTEs can go away any day now, though. 
Sound8.5The in-game narration conceit is something I’d love to see more of, and the environmental sounds are top-notch 
Lasting Appeal8.0Short story mode, but weapon specialization trees and a boatload of unlockables, plus arcade modes, will all keep you coming back. 
Fun Factor 8.5It’s not quite Red Dead Redemption, but it’s the most enjoyable Western-based shooter I’ve played since then. 
Overall8.5   [ Very Good ]  legend


Screenshots
All 6 Call of Juarez: Gunslinger Screenshots





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