Game Review: Call of Juarez: Gunslinger [PC/XBLA/PSN]
“Note: This game was reviewed using the full version purchase on Steam, PC.”
Everyone remembers Call of Juarez: The Cartel right? Even though it was something you’d want to forget, like a bad dream in the middle of the night. The entire setting was a bit unneeded, seeing as how we have tons of games in the modern setting, and CoJ is supposed to be a western game. On the other hand, CoJ: Bound in Blood was absolutely enthralling with such a beautiful storyline. So people were disappointed when we didn’t get a true successor to it. However, fast forward a couple of years after the train-wreck that was CoJ: The Cartel, Techland once again shows up with a smug grin on their face, they finally reveal through many interesting trailers, such as my personal favourite, The Story of Silas Greaves, that the series would be returning to its roots with this new outing, and again after so long, we get our hopes up, that maybe now we will finally get a decent Western Shooter.
CoJ Gunslinger follows the story of an old man claiming to be the legendary bounty hunter, Silas Greaves. He sits recalls the key moments during his most famous exploits to some curious people in a bar. However, as his tale grows ever more vivid, one of the listeners begins doubting him, thinking that he is nothing more then a crazy old man. The man’s story pits us with some of the most legendary criminals to ever grace the wild west, ruthless criminals such as Billy the Kid and Jesse James.
Since I am a huge fan of western shooters, I started the game with a lot of optimism, especially due to all the hype I was seeing around this title. The games menu, which seems to have hand drawn backgrounds that look absolutely beautiful, lets you choose from three types of game modes, the Campaign, Arcade mode and Duels. After you select which mode you prefer, you will be taken to a separate menu for each. The campaign mode is obviously the one that tells the story, Arcade is where you can challenge your friends to get the best highscore, and Duel mode is a game type that pits you in showdowns with some of the most ruthless guns in the old west.
The game begins with a cutscene where an old man introduces himself as Silas Greaves in a bar, causing eyes to raise around him with curiosity. You can tell from the very beginning that the voice acting is going to be absolutely authentic to the western setting, and fortunately this is the case. The voice acting and writing is the most solid aspect of this game, it has a nice balance between grittiness and humour to keep you interested throughout.
The cut-scenes are also nicely made, with a unique style to them due to the dynamic mixture of exciting music and strong voice work. Another reason why the voice work is so great in this game is because, there is not a single character you will come across that doesn’t have a unique voice. Techland has really chosen some of the finest people. Also, the music that is used in this game does include some original pieces, but most tunes or tracks you will hear during the gameplay are from Bound in Blood. However, this is not a bad thing at all, but is instead both nostalgic and refreshing to the Call of Juarez experience.
Now, to talk about gameplay, if I was to describe it with one word, it would be fun. The shooting mechanics feel solid, the control response time is great and with the added abilities, you can really raise hell. The reason the shooting mechanics feel solid and responsive is because the guns really do feel powerful in their own way. There are multiple types of gun, like shotgun, long ranged rifle and revolvers. Each type has a few different models with distinct features. Players can easily choose the ones best suited to them. Then, there are the special guns which you unlock after purchasing specific sets of skills through the skill menu. I will talk in detail about the skill system later in the review. What I do want to talk about right now, is how the characters and guns are introduced in such a spectacular fashion. Every time a new character is introduced, a small animated intro comes up for them that briefly gives their amusing description. It is really hard for me to describe them, but you will see what I mean if you play the game for yourself.
One of the things that is implemented really well in the gameplay is the multiple scenario feature. You see, throughout the game, the old man makes some mistakes or talks about different approaches to what he did, reflecting on which was better. This feature is so seamlessly and cleverly implemented that it gives you multiple methods of playthrough during a single campaign, how it is executed is even better as while you are hearing real-time narration, and if things change, your environments change as well. It is not only impressive but also hilarious. My favourite example is when after going through this mine filled with dynamite, the explosions set off, killing you. I actually thought I had died because of something I did, but nope… the old man wasn’t finished yet and he changes his method with the line… “I would’ve done that, but it would’ve been stupid.” And so, we are given another way to tackle the mission. This not only adds more dynamism to the game, but also lengthens its playtime.
Speaking of playtime, when compared with the really low price this game is offered at, you’ve got great bang for your buck. I played the campaign on easy first, and it took me around 6 hours that time. Obviously with the more difficult the setting, the playtime will rise. The factors that affect this are the enemy A.I and their wave length for each confrontation. Enemy A.I is pretty smart in this game, as they effectively take cover to hide from you and some even try to flank you, especially if they are wearing bulletproof vests.
Sure the game will feel frustrating at times, when you can’t seem to get out of a difficult situation, but you have to learn to use your skills effectively. The main skill we are given is the ability to slow down time, to give us not only a chance to catch our breath but also to even the odds against us. You can even upgrade this particular skill or unlock new ones, such as shooting dynamite in mid air, which is my personal favourite.
And, as I said before, you can even unlock special guns after successfully purchasing a section of skills using the unlock points you earn, every time you level up. Another skill that is really cool is the one which you use to dodge bullets from enemies. This specific skill kicks into motion especially when you are on your last sliver of health and would die, giving you a stylish new fighting chance.
Other then the campaign, you have got your Arcade mode, and Duel mode. Each of which can be played competitively with your friends. Arcade mode is particularly fun as you rush against time to keep your combo level up and your score high, so that you can defeat your friends score. It can be a great incentive for friendly rivalries. Same thing with Duel mode, in which you are given 5 lives and different opponents from the game. You end up losing one life whenever you fail, and you need them in order to get second chances. Furthermore, the results after each showdown shows you your progress compared to your friends.
There are also some boss fights in the campaign, and they are either involve you facing a singular enemy head on, or confronting bosses behind some really powerful Gatling guns. I have heard similar opinions from a lot of people that the Gatling gun fights get repetitive and lackluster, but that was not the case with me. I did not find them repetitive because there is a different method to take them down each time. For example, the first one involves you running cover from cover, in hopes of getting close enough in the vicinity of the operator to take a shot, while another one requires you to use dynamite to bury the boss in debris. Also, if you are wondering, then yes, we do get to take control of the Gatling guns ourselves during some keypoints of the campaign, and it is absolutely a blast destroying everything and ripping through everyone!
I have been talking a lot about the good things in this game, and there are definitely a lot. However, lets talk about some issues that didn’t sit so well with me concerning this game. First of all, I have to mention the cel shaded graphics. It isn’t extremely bad or anything, but it sometimes hinders gameplay. Like for example, on some levels, it is hard to differentiate between the enemies and the environment, so you end up having to play Where’s Waldo. You can refer to the picture with the Gatling gun to understand what I mean. There is so much detail on that scene that it kind of looks messy, causing the enemies to blend in at times.
This problem does improve when you play on a PC though, as the high resolution will make the outlines of the cel shading much sharper and the details clearer. However it isn’t always the case, as some levels are just too cluttered with cel shading details. Also, the resolution won’t particularly help if your computer isn’t that powerful or you’re playing on a console. Fortunately though, this doesn’t mean that the games location designs are bad, on the contrary, the game takes place in various locations ranging from the trademark canyons to the western towns.
Still though, the thing that really got on my nerves was the lackluster ending. After such a strong story, and effective build up you finally get an amazing twist by the end. You even get a choice concerning it. However, the choices don’t feel well balanced, with one that looks like it was the developers favourite, and the second one that seems like it was under developed, because it had to be included for the sake of giving you a choice, thus it feels weak. I really think that these endings could’ve been much deeper when compared to the rest of the story, as they fail to hit the mark set by the build up throughout the game. Lastly, the showdowns don’t seem to play so well and are really frustrating, especially on the PC with the mouse and keyboard. Same thing if you play with the controller, it is more taxing of your patience than it is fun.
On a final note, do not let these flaws stop you from getting the game, as it is an absolute joyride from beginning ’till end. The shooting mechanics are well realized, and the controls are responsive enough that work great with the games combo mechanic. The story is absolutely amazing as well, with some really solid lines, it is made to hook you from the start as you begin to unravel who Silas Greaves really is.
Most impressively though, is how cheap this game is for what it offers, you not only get the thrilling campaign, but also the arcade and showdown mode which you can play competitively against your friends. There are also lost nuggets to be found, which reveal back stories of the historic characters and locations you come across in the game. These things really help the replayability level of the experience, and if you are interested or want to unlock the entire skill tree, you would want to play the game more then once. For that, the developers have even put in the Newgame+ mode. The game would have got a higher score from me though, if the showdowns were more enjoyable and the ending was on par.
I can honestly say, if this is what Techland has in mind for the future of Call of Juarez, I am already excited. This game proves that Techland still has that special skill required for making western shooter games, and we should be happy about it. Furthermore, I can also safely say, that this is one of the best Western FPS game I have played in a long, long time. So be sure to grab it whether on the PC, PS3 or Xbox 360 if you love western spaghetti shooters.