The Call of Juarez series has been a rollercoaster ride. The first two games were decent, with Bound in Blood being the best in the series. Then The Cartel released and took the series to an all new low. Techland decided that should not happen again and created Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. After putting some time into the new downloadable title, I can safely say this is the best game to date.
Gunslinger revolves around a man named Silas Greaves. He comes to a local saloon in a small town and sits down with a few locals reading a book about a legendary gunslinger. Silas Greaves then proceeds to tell the small group of patrons that he is indeed the man in those novels, and all about his dangerous adventures.
The game keeps the Call of Juarez feel to it, with first-person shooting and the slow down mechanic that allows players to take out multiple enemies in one fell swoop. There is also a “last chance” feature. When his health is very low, Silas can use a rechargeable ability that has the player dodging a bullet, slow motion to the left or right. If dodged correctly, Silas regains health and continues on his deadly path.
The game breaks down into three main aspects. The first is the standard first-person shooter that has the player using revolvers, rifles and shotguns to shoot enemies as they travel through the short levels. Duel wielding pistols for fast shooting is always fun and the option to control both pistols with the left and right triggers makes it even more intuitive. Silas can use a variety of different weapons that feel varied even though they all revolve around the same type.
The game features a surprisingly robust skill system, where each kill offers up experience points, and leveling up will give the player a point to unlock new skills, weapons and modifiers in one of three skill trees. The game has a point system in place where multiple kills in quick succession offer up multipliers for higher XP bonuses. The shooting and the feel of the entire scoring system reminded me of The Club or Bulletstorm. It may not be as deep as other games, but it was still fun to see how far I could go in a single combo.
The second aspect of Gunslinger is the returning quick draw showdowns. These serve as final boss fights for several levels of the game. Players must focus a reticule on the target that slowly zooms in using the right stick, and must move Silas’ hand towards his gun holster with the left stick to increase the speed of his draw. Players can draw first for a dishonorable kill, but waiting for the enemy to draw first will make it more dangerous, thus giving the player an “honorable kill”. These showdowns are more frustrating than fun. Even after I thought I had figured out exactly what I needed to do to get the perfect draw, I would still end up getting shot or miss my target, even with a 90 percent focus. Sure, they’re not bad, but after numerous tries with the same boss, it would begin to wear on my nerves.
The third aspect of the game is the other boss fights. These fights play out much like adventuring through the main level, but with a boss either holed up in a certain area or using a high powered gatling gun. These sections had me running around the boss or rushing to get cover while constantly shooting them when I had the chance. They seemed to have way too much health, and could take me down with two or three hits. I would rather have played the showdowns over these fights, and most of them were not fun in the slightest.
Now, the mechanics of the game are well done, but what sold it for me was how it played out. Since this is all being told through Silas’ memory, things may change when he remembers something different. So he may say he was surrounded by 40 Apaches on all sides, and I would begin taking them on. Halfway through the fight, Silas would say, “Wait, that’s not how it happened. I went around those enemies.” And the game would reverse and I would take a separate path. All of these are handled in a rather tongue-in-cheek manner. Since Silas likes to embellish his stories a bit, situations may change when some of the people listening to his stories remind him that that is not how it really happened. It’s a smart and fun way to handle the presentation and it works.
Visually, the game looks gorgeous in some areas. Huge mountain terrains and waterfalls look fantastic on the PC. The game gives off a cell-shaded look with the character models and environments, and the comic book cut scenes have a somewhat comedic feel to them. I get a very big Borderlands vibe from it all. It’s fun, humorous and kept me entertained throughout my play through.
On the short side, the story mode took around four hours to complete, but after all that, there was still the arcade mode that has players taking on short levels with the goal of getting the highest score possible, as well as the duel challenge where players take on a string of showdowns in a row using only five lives. The arcade mode is pure fun and trying to get the best score became an addiction to me. It took everything I loved from the story mode and made it quick, fun and to the point. It utilizes the skill tree perks by unlocking them through play. It feels so satisfying to nail a 30-kill combo using dual pistols while activating bullet time to keep the combo going.
For $15, players will get a fun, arcade-feeling shooter that never takes itself too seriously. The presentation is what makes the game, and the shooting is solid enough for any fan of the first-person shooter genre to enjoy. The boss fights may be a small frustration, but that didn’t stop me from loving the overall experience. Techland has truly made the best Call of Juarez game with Gunslinger. I cannot suggest it enough.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on PC.