Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is a Techland title. You’ve probably heard of them as being the developers of mediocre titles such as Dead Island, Dead Island: Riptide and Call of Juarez: The Cartel. That said, their latest release Dying Light, while far from perfect, is fairly enjoyable from what I’ve heard. Overall though, they don’t exactly have the best track record so naturally I assumed that if The Cartel wasn’t the final nail in the coffin for the franchise then Gunslinger would be. Thanks in part to having mixed up Gunslinger with “The Gunstringer” for Kinect, I checked it out and found it to be very fff- inhales ffffff- err, enjoyable.
The style of storytelling is perhaps the most important aspect, serving as a basis for a number of enjoyable elements to work off of. You see, the entire game is actually a story being told in a bar by bounty hunter Silas Greaves. Split into a total of 14 episodes, he spins yarns about his face offs with Jessie James, Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid and a host of other, perhaps lesser known historical figures. Given the nature of his career, Silas exaggerates a number of plot elements, some minor such as the weather and some much larger like the number of enemies he successfully fought off.
While it sounds fairly boring, it’s important to note that these changes and exaggerations actually reflect in real time. As you’re going along mowing down bad guys, Silas is narrating what you, the player, are doing to the other patrons in the bar. To better explain this, let’s go with a made up scenario so I don’t have to spoil any of the actual happenings in the game. As the player, you might be going along and you reach an impassable wall. Now, in the real world, it’s really just that Silas, being the drunk he is, has reached a dead end in his story. Of course, like any “good” storyteller, you would hear him say “Oh, but it turns out I overlooked a big hole in the wall” and suddenly a hole would materialize in front of you so you can carry on your way.
It’s simple but it opens itself to a lot of possibilities. Some of the environmental changes can be so large that they’re just straight up comedic. There are a few instances where you can use a shotgun up close and the damage caused to an enemy is downright ridiculous. A number of shootouts will have that cartoony sound of bullets whizzing past your head. Most importantly, It lets the game keep the focus on gameplay while telling back story as you play. Dare I say, it’s almost the perfect base for this game because at no point can any of this break immersion because it’s all just a story. Anything and everything can be as silly as it needs to, in order to stay fun while still not really feeling out of place. Now that said, there’s a limit of course, you won’t suddenly be abducted by a UFO or anything but it just lets the game take itself just a bit less serious than some of the previous entries while still taking place in a western setting.
As with all Call of Juarez titles so far, the game is a first person shooter only this time around, it goes for an arcade approach. You don’t have a huge variety of weapons, being able to carry a dual wield-able revolver, a two handed weapon such as a rifle or shotgun and some dynamite. Depending on your preference, you are able to pick up your preference of a slower but more accurate revolver or one that uploads rapidly at close range.
Every enemy you take out rewards you with experience points but naturally, you’ll want to aim for headshots and longshots to score the most points. Once you level up, you can allocate a point into one of three groups which essentially boil down to revolver, rifle and shotgun. Once you unlock enough skills, which add effects such as increased accuracy or a bigger ammo pool, you can also unlock legendary weapons. Visually, they aren’t much more than a gold or silver paint job but they do have a few extra stats as well.
When you do catch up to the infamous figures that Silas has claimed to have taken down, the encounters play out in one of two ways. Some bosses are more generic, forcing you to dodge a pattern of incoming fire while whittling down their large HP bar. It’s nothing amazing but a few of them did have some cool environments. My favourite in particular put you up against a certain someone on a gatling gun and you had to close the distance by dodging from cover to cover up a very steep hill. The other, more widely known individuals such as Butch Cassidy or Jessie James are fought in a duel. They’re fairly straight forward having you use your left hand to position your drawing hand over your revolver while using your right hand to build focus on the enemy with your swaying cursor. The trick is the build up enough speed and focus so that you can draw your firearm quick enough while still shooting straight. Some critics said it was a boring system but I never got particularly bored of it.
Given the whole controversy of late with the length of The Order: 1886, perhaps I should point out that Gunslinger only took me about 4 1/2 hours on Normal difficulty. Unlike the former however, which wasn’t a PSN/XBLA release, it comes with a New Game+ mode as you’ll likely be only halfway to the highest level by the end of the game. Along with New Game+ comes an extra difficulty mode which turns off all HUD elements during duels leaving everything up to the player making for a nice challenge. You can also discover hidden “Gems of Truth” scattered throughout each level. Each one unlocks a small bio on each of the figures you encounter portraying their actions in a more historical light than our unreliable narrator Silas does. Outside of the story is an Arcade mode that seeing you running through levels trying to clear them as quick as you can while keeping your combo built up. A Duel Mode also exists which is really just what it says on the tin. It can be fun to just jump in every now and again and participate in a face off.
I think that about covers everything I liked about the game. Honestly, the title pretty much blew away any expectations that I had, which might not be saying much for Techland. I can definitely see myself putting it alongside other games like Hitman: Blood Money and Red Faction: Guerilla where you can just jump in for an hour or two when you’re bored. I hope Techland puts the team behind this thing on some of their bigger projects because some of their other titles could do with a bit more fun.
Released in 2013
Platforms: PC, Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade