Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
The Call of Juarez series has been one of the more unpredictable ‘B’ game franchises of this generation. The first two games were solid spaghetti western style shooters that managed to carve out a small niche for the franchise. Then The Cartel came along and threatened to spoil everything with its modern setting and being a bad, bad game.
With Gunslinger, developer Techland has returned to their roots, and in doing so they’ve made a number of smart decisions. For starters, this is a single-player arcade title. This means no tacked on multiplayer, freeing all their time and creativity so it could be invested in crafting a memorable campaign.
As an arcade title, Gunslinger also benefits from a larger potential audience, thanks to a significantly smaller barrier of entry of $14.99.
I really enjoyed Bound in Blood, the second game, but Gunslinger easily trumps that. I immediately fell in love with its art style, which resembles a realistic graphic novel, if that’s such a thing. It’s cel-shaded, but not in the same way as Viewtiful Joe or Okami – more along the lines of The Darkness II. There are a number of stylized games out there, but this is one of the better-looking ones.
With so few Wild West style games available, immediate comparisons to Rockstar’s Red Dead series have to be made. Whereas Redemption was a more open game with a massive, sprawling story, Gunslinger is more compact, more focused. I prefer this. I don’t need to juggle a dozen missions or character relationships at any given time, so I’m able to really soak up what’s going on now, rather than musing on a grocery list of things I need to do afterward.
This isn’t to say that Gunslinger is a completely linear game. Story-wise, yes, it is, but the levels are surprisingly open. If you prefer to find a high spot to perch and take out enemies from a distance, you can do that. If you prefer to grab a two-barrel and get up close and personal, that’s an option, too. Part of me will always miss the old west sandbox that was Bound in Blood, but I much prefer this more focused experience.
One of the biggest changes in Gunslinger over its predecessors comes with the classes. Basically, you can choose to be a dual-wielding gunslinger (pistols), a close quarters combatant (shotgun), or sniper (rifle). As you gain experience from mowing down enemies, collecting hidden items and completing missions, you can use the points you accrue and invest them into new passive abilities for your class. The more points you invest into a given class, the better the perks you benefit from, and on top of this, you also unlock new weapons (more powerful versions of your class’s chosen weapon).
Much of what was great in past games has been carried over to Gunslinger. One of my favorite features in Bound in Blood were the duels . This time around, they’re a little more challenging, significantly more involved, and exponentially more rewarding. Not only do you need to keep your crosshair on your target, now you also have to keep your hand steady and close to your weapon. It’s difficult, but it’s also really fun.
I dare say this is the most well-crafted narrative Techland has ever delivered. It’s easy to follow, consistently engaging, often funny, and surprisingly deep. The characters are interesting, and the voice work is solid.
I’ve never been a terribly competitive person, but if you are, you’ll probably enjoy its scoring system. At the end of each mission the game scores how well you played so you can try to improve yourself or rub your stats in your friends’ faces. This and the numerous hidden collectibles add a lot to Gunslinger’s replayability.
I really only have two complaints about this game. It’s campaign is roughly 4-6 hours long, so I would’ve preferred a meatier campaign, even though there is a mildly interesting wave survival mode to play after the campaign is over. I’m also not a huge fan of the arena-based combat. You’re essentially going from one arena to the next, so you can kill all the bad guys and move on to the next level. It’s broken up by duels and storytelling, but that doesn’t completely save it from growing tiresome.
Gunslinger is the best game in the Call of Juarez series and a gargantuan improvement over The Cartel. I thought that game might have killed this series, but thanks to a few smart moves on Techland’s part, I think they’ve cleaned this brand up a bit. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is definitely worth your time.
Reviewed By: Adam Dodd
This review is based on a digital copy of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger for Xbox Live Arcade provided by Ubisoft.