Call Of Juarez: Gunslinger
We could have been forgiven for thinking that the Call Of Juarez series was dead. Call Of Juarez: The Cartel, the series' jaunt into the drug wars of modern day Mexico was not well received and has long since been consigned to pre-owned multibuy offers the world over.
But, like a hero from so many good Westerns before it, the Call Of Juarez series returns from the dead to offer up an alternative take on some of the most captivating stories of the Wild West in a handy downloadable title.
Call Of Juarez: Gunslinger is a good old fashioned arcade FPS that draws together the stories of the likes of Billy The Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Jesse James into one romp across the old frontier in search of revenge.
Players take on the role of Silas Greaves, a grizzled and hardened bounty hunter in search of the man that strung him and his brothers up from a tree an left them to die after robbing them at gunpoint.
Told from the point of view of a series of flashbacks the story jumps across the Old West following Greaves as he hunts down some of the most notorious characters ever to sit in the saddle.
There's no deep meaning or inspired philosophical examination here. Call Of Juarez: Gunslinger is pure pulp in the tradition of the old Western dime novels that the game references so often.
What it does, it does well and that is flashy, trashy FPS action. Running across rooftops avoiding incoming fire or coming out with pistols akimbo in the middle of a shootout; these are where this game really shines.
Techland has put some serious thought into recreating the thrill of a classic Western shootout and they've achieved it in volume enough to dwarf Mad Dog Biff Tannen's massive manure cart.
First of all the Chrome 5 game engine shines with the beauty of Old West locations from Mexico to Montana and everywhere in between. There's bleaching sunshine and horizontal rain to contend with and each level looks every bit as gorgeous as Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption.
The gameplay is well-balanced with Techland employing the time-tested tool of bullet-time to embue the player with the skills of the quickest and meanest gunslingers in the West. And it does the trick rather admirably.
With the touch of R2 players can slow down time and put bullets between the eyes of the red-highlighted enemies – of which there are many. A second use of the bullet time allows players to dodge one fatal shot allowing them to fight another day and end the days of the offending shooter.
The shootouts in each level are an adrenaline-soaked joy to playthrough with each enemy dying in a gleeful splash of pink mist.
Experience points are awarded for dispatching enemies with bonuses for things like headshots and hitting a man on the run. Dispatch a series of enemies in quick succession and the score benefits from a combo bonus.
The experience points help towards levelling old Silas' abilities up in one of three different disciplines – the dual-wielding Gunslinger, the sharp-shooting Ranger and the close-quarters specialist Trapper.
Each discipline gives bonuses for using the game's different classes of weapons improved skills and even unlocks newer and better weaponry. These skills comfortably complement your chosen playing style and will come in extra handy should you ever try out the fiendish HUD-free True West difficulty level unlocked upon the completion of the Story mode.
During the course of each level there will also be a duel. This is an encounter where Silas will face off against one other equally vicious and skilled gunslinger High Noon-style to prove who can draw fastest. These are pretty tough even on lower difficulties as it can prove quite fiddly with players needing lightning-fast reactions and the ability to delicately balance use of the left and right thumbsticks with two trigger fingers to ensure that Silas' shots are the only ones that land on target. There's also an honour bonus for letting the other man draw first before killing them.
The fiddliness of these duels is possibly the only downside to the game but they are not so awkward that it detracts from sense of accomplishment upon winning.
For those that love scores and topping online leaderboards there's an Arcade mode which strips out all of the story and lets player hammer through the levels as quickly and stylishly as they can racking up a decent high score along the way.
There is no doubt that Call Of Juarez: Gunslinger was a last chance scenario for the series. The fact that it was consigned to a digital release was enough to show that Ubisoft was looking to minimize their losses should Gunslinger prove to be a flop.
However, Techland has really managed to pull this one out of the bag. Call Of Juarez: Gunslinger is polished beyond the shine of the sun reflecting off the Rio Grande and plays like a joy from start to finish. It's pulpy, trashy and just the kind of shooter to kick back with on a hot summer night.
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