Developer: Techland/ Publisher: Ubisoft / Played on: XBLA / Price: 1200 MSP ($14.99) / ESRB: Mature [Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, Suggestive Themes, Strong Language]
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger takes all the stereotypes of the Wild West and exaggerates them as far as they can go: famous bandits like Jesse James and Billy the Kid are real enemies, bar fights and scuffles with outlaws are commonplace, and duels in the streets are usually the best way to end a disagreement. Gunslinger utilizes these in conjunction with streamlined gameplay, well-paced storytelling, and attention to detail to create an entertaining and exciting shooter.
Set in the early 1900’s, Gunslinger places you in the boots of Silas Greaves, a well-known bounty hunter living out the last of his days drinking in taverns and retelling his stories to any who will listen. His tales include battling an entire battalion of Indians, offing famous outlaws like Jesse James, and in general doing some epic cowboy antics. Not unlike the narrator of Bastion, Silas details the action as it happens, oftentimes backtracking and adding elements that he supposedly forgot the first time (like a bridge conveniently appearing to afford him a quick and easy getaway) which are then physically added or altered in the game world. Plenty of well-written and finely delivered dialogue makes listening to what Silas has to say enjoyable, and the ending in particular stuck out the most.
Gunslinger takes an arcade-style approach to gameplay, favoring a mission-based format over one continuous adventure. The story mode is broken up into short missions that are punctuated by a showdown with a special foe, usually a criminal that Silas has a personal grievance towards. The episodic mission structure is set up so you can play one episode and be satisfied with its conclusion, or play through a few episodes in one play session and get a deeper understanding of the overall story. No matter how you play through the game the story mode can be completed around a dozen hours, which is a shame when the game leaves you wanting for more.
Returning from past Call of Juarez games is the bullet-time ability that allows you to slow down time and pick off enemies with pristine accuracy, not unlike Max Payne and Red Dead Redemption. As you kill enemies you gain experience points that can be used in three different skill trees to enhance Silas’ abilities. Useful power-ups include increased clip sizes, extra resistance to bullets, and a particularly useful skill that makes your guns aim at the heads of enemies instantly when in the aforementioned bullet-time mode. I found the leveling system to be a great way to add a reward system and some customizability to the gameplay.
Level objectives attempt to offer variety but each ultimately boils down to you killing everyone in your way. This façade causes the game’s flow to stumble a bit and can get repetitive, but this doesn’t hinder the overarching experience enough to ruin what’s otherwise a fun title. Hidden in each level are items called nuggets of truth. These items reward you with extra experience points and additional plot details, like background information on certain characters.
After the short and sweet story mode is completed there’s an arcade mode that helps extend the life of the game. In this mode you’re tasked with surviving through waves of enemies as you rack up points by dishing out death and racing to the finish. It’s not a huge leap from what you’d see in the story mode (in fact every setting in arcade mode is a rehash of a story mode level) but it does offer a slightly different challenge. The last mode available, duel, gives you five chances to fight each of the main villains one after the other. Like arcade mode it offers a new challenge but nothing drastically different from the story mode.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is a visually remarkable downloadable title. Realistic environments set the mood for the entire game. One level has you drudging through thick mud near an abandoned mill, another has you racing through a lush ravine while in pursuit of an Indian tribe, only to be caught in a gunfight on a speeding train. Gunslinger’s set pieces places you in just about every cliché Wild West setting you could think of. Along with the voice acting, the sound effects are top notch as well: Shotguns blare as they fire, foes scream out they’re coming for you as you hide behind cover, and bullets ricochet off the walls. The visuals and sound come together and create an atmosphere that captures the western theme perfectly.
Aiming can be hit or miss, quite literally. Peering down the sights of your gun gives a more authentic feel but hinders the gameplay. Lining up with your opponents head in the heat of battle is more of a challenge than it should be. Getting jostled as you get shot compounds the issue further, which will result in plenty of ‘game over’ screens before you reign victorious.
Although short, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is a fun, exciting, and story-driven game. The way in which Silas recants his tales, the rewarding leveling system, the variety of locations and situations you play through, and the superb voice acting make the game memorable and worthwhile. There are shortcomings, like the overall story mode brevity and the sketchy aiming, but these are just blemishes on what turns out to be a fantastic Wild West shooter.