On a dusty street in some forgotten backwater, two men with twitchy fingers and murder on their minds square off, ready to kill or die in the name of vengeance, glory, or on account of a spare ace discovered tucked up one of their sleeves. The town looks deserted until you glance at the windows, where countless pairs of nervous eyes look on, fixated on the morbid spectacle about to unfold. A single shot rings out and one of the men crumples to the ground, never to rise again.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger delivers all the high drama of the Wild West, the showdowns, train robberies, and saloon shootouts, alongside western icons like Jesse James and Billy the Kid. The story is delivered by way of Silas Greaves, a gunslinger, sometimes bounty hunter, and apparent polygamist, who recounts tales of his glory to a captive audience of tavern-goers. Among them is a wide-eyed, hero-worshiping young fan that’s followed along with Greaves’ adventures by way of the dime novels that were a centerpiece of pop fiction in the Old West, and seems willing to swallow any of Greaves’ stories whole, no matter how outlandish they sound.
That unique frame for the narrative gives Techland the opportunity to take some playful turns with their storytelling.
Silas’ memory has been distorted by age and a lifelong dedication to strong whiskey, so there are moments where he gets caught contradicting himself and has to amend some of his tales. At moments like these, the game will slow down or pause, and then rewind through an action sequence or change elements in the environment on the fly. The other bar patrons will also sometimes butt in with their own retelling of events, which often contradict Silas’ stories, and these too become playable sequences. The meta-narrative of what’s happening in the saloon and the attempts to figure out how much truth there is in what Silas is recounting lead to some really clever, even whimsical gameplay.
The gunplay, the core of the game, is executed extremely well and always feels satisfying, whether you’re gunning down bands of vengeful Apache warriors or fighting your way through a passenger train to try to claim the bounty on the James-Younger gang. The more traditional first-person shooting, which leans heavily on bullet time to keep the action fresh, is punctuated by tense one-on-one duels against some of the West’s most famous outlaws. These duels, and the occasional quick time sequences where you snap off killing reflex shots at groups of bad guys while you’re falling from the roof or a train or sliding down a mine shaft, ensure that the huge volume of gun-slinging never feels stale.
The same can’t be said about the environments.
Though Gunslinger is an excellent looking game, and uses its cel-shaded art and character design to good effect, there are only so many paths through the wilderness or Old West towns you can walk before they all start to kind of blend together. Though the sequences on board trains or in rocky canyons help to break up the tedium of the setting, by the end of the game all of the places you’re shooting up feel a little too familiar.
The Call of Juarez franchise has a very uneven track record, but we’re glad to report that Gunslinger is a much needed high point with a bunch of interesting ideas and some fantastic gameplay. Leave it to the fifteen dollar downloadable title to inject new life into a franchise on the ropes. If the next triple-A Call of Juarez borrows more from Gunslinger than some of the other, regrettable entries (*AHEM* The Cartel *AHEM*), consider us back on board that rickety train.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger Review
Techland takes us back to the Wild West in styleWhat Our Ratings Mean