Call of Juarez is a name that’s been associated with mediocrity and, at least on my radar, has generally been overlooked. With the recent buzz, I knew I had to check out Call of Juarez: Gunslinger simply to see why this game has been recognized at all, knowing full well that the series was not necessarily top-notch. It’s fair to say that among the dime-a-dozen first person shooters, this game stands out, and is one of the more interesting Westerns that gaming has seen for some time.
Silas Greaves is a painter; an easel filled with crimson forms paintings in the sky crafted by his brushes, the six-shooters at his belt. A shot to the head leaves a stream of blood still in the air, and once the stillness fades, the slain and his lifeline both fall to the ground. Using his Concentration skill, time slows around him, highlighting his enemies in red. The better a shooter you are, the more points you score for each kill, granting you the most points for headshots, or creative kills, like shooting dynamite out of the sky. The faster you can kill them, the bigger combo you’ll get, and each successive kill grants you even more points. With these points you unlock skills that further increase your proficiency and abilities.
It’s all familiar, but as with any great shooter, it shines in its executions of these similarities, and stands out for what it does differently. The slight black border around everything makes it look as slick as the shooter whose eyes you’re playing through, and shooting any of the eight fairly standard guns feels powerful and, for lack of a better word, awesome.
It’s hardly even the way that it plays that makes it so awesome, but the context of why you’re in a Western tale slaying a multitude of famous bandits and killers. The beginning of the game puts Silas Greaves in a bar, talking to a group of people who are curious about the bounty hunter’s past. He’s obviously a very well renowned Western hero in the bar, and the entire games is playing through his tale. All of the combat sequences, which is about 99% of the game, are narrated by Greaves in the bar, with banter from the other folks included. As he’s telling the story, it’s happening right in front of your eyes, quite literally putting you into the head of Greaves. Occasionally he’ll say a phrase someone happened to yell at him, and the synchronicity of hearing that particular person saying the line while Silas is also saying it is super clever, and strangely satisfying. Occasionally Silas’ memory doesn’t serve him well, and he’ll literally go back and rewind a certain scenario, making you play through the section again, just a different way. There’s also moments when certain things that weren’t clear to him at first will literally come out of nowhere, as though a supernatural entity is watching over him and helping him wade through his memories. His murderous tale is told in such a natural and believable fashion, not that it’s a believable story, but it’s a realistic telling of a story – exaggerations, fallacies, and inconsistencies are all included.
Additionally, a lot of its mechanics are unique to the genre. Standoffs present you with an enemy at a distance ready to pull his gun, and while steadying your hand over your gun to draw faster, and focusing in on your enemy to aim more efficiently, you enjoy one of the most classic Western traditions time and time again. They’re tough, an being honorable grants you not only respect, but more experience points. In order to have a respectable standoff, you must not draw your gun first. It’s an increased risk, yet a large reward. Another great addition is the “Sense of Death” mechanic. When this bar is filled, a shot that would normally be the death of you will come at you in slow motion, and you have the chance to dodge the bullet by leaning left or right, depending on which direction the bullet is coming from. It’s a neat little addition, and often gives you an ample amount of time to let your health regenerate.
Also included alongside the main story is an arcade mode, as well as a duel mode. In each of them, the main draw is gaining as many points as you can as you progress through the levels. The only difference is that in the duel mode, you will be taking out as many baddies as you can with five lives, each in a standoff, and arcade mode puts you in familiar levels mowing down as many people as you can, increasing your combos and reaping as many points as you can. Each of them use the online leaderboards, yet multiplayer is nowhere to be found in the package.
It’s true that this game has its problems, though. Each of the 8 episodes has at least one boss, usually that of a famous name from Westerns passed. It’s interesting to be fighting these familiar names, yet they’re mostly bullet sponges that pit you in an awful arena where cover is difficult to find. There was also a particular train segment that had a few problems, one being that I entered a door and it was completely black, yet I could still move around. I then fell off the train, slightly disappointed, because I thought it was some crazy supernatural dream sequence, but nope, just a glitch. Just some other moments like that happened, and they weren’t completely game breaking, but they did sort of ruin the flow of everything.
It’s rare to see a first person shooter not only do things different in terms of storytelling and execution, but to revitalize an entire franchise. This Western bar story told by Silas Greaves is a fantastic look into the old west, and while it’s not without its problems, it’s a joy ride through and through.
[+Unique storytelling][+Exciting, sleek shooting mechanics][+The familiar is done right][-Some bosses are bullet sponges][-Minor technical hiccups]