Call of Juarez: Gunslinger Review for PC

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger Review for PC

The Road To Perdition Is Paved In Blood. And Booze. And Polygons.

In 2011, the folks over at Techland inexplicably decided to unhinge their most successful franchise, Call of Juarez, by uprooting the series from its classical western setting and clumsily dropping it into modern-day Los Angeles. But Call of Juarez: The Cartel is so uncontrollably obnoxious, that anyone who plays the game manages to develop his own unique set of complaints. Cheat Code Central’s own Robert VerBruggen summed his complaints up thusly :

“It’s depressing to think that Techland took a popular franchise, came up with some brilliant ideas for a new entry, and then botched the execution—but that’s exactly what happened.”

Obviously the setting isn’t the only problem, though. The title is criticized for its overt racism and insensitivity toward things like human trafficking and drug abuse. Plus, the game is plagued with technical problems, which still haven’t been entirely resolved.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger Screenshot

But here we are two years later and things have taken a turn for the better. And even though I’m not willing to call myself a Techland fanboy just yet, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger proves that they’ve definitely learned from their mistakes.

Our alcoholic readers are probably familiar with the mantra, “the first step toward recovery is admitting that you have a problem,” and Techland has obviously taken the first step. Gunslinger returns players to the Old West, which means that fans of the series can put away their pitchforks. However, the return brings with it a newly minted, Borderlands-eque aesthetic. Though, the stylistic choices actually make more sense in this game given the storyline, but we’ll talk about that later.

When you first meet Silas Greaves, it’s in one of those stereotypical western bars. You know the ones that I’m talking about. They have swinging doors, self-playing pianos, and prostitutes. Greaves is a semi-famous bounty hunter who, supposedly, ran with folks like Billy the Kid and Jesse James. I say supposedly not because Silas Greaves seems like an unbelievable character, but because he’s a liar.

A big liar.

The story is told almost entirely from Greaves’ perspective through a series of serialized flashbacks. And as the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that Silas isn’t being entirely truthful. In fact, as the narrative dips into the supernatural late in the game, you start to wonder if anything that he’s said has been true.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger Screenshot

Techland has done an incredible job using this device as a vehicle for clever storytelling. As the game progresses, the graphical elements physically change to support Greaves’ account of the story. If the character suddenly “remembers” that a ladder was in the room, one appears. If he narrates himself into a corner, he throws the story into reverse and retells it to suit his needs. This is the type of interactive storytelling that video games should be known for, but developers are too often stuck in linear narratives that follow the same formula as television and film.

Bravo, Techland.

Gunslinger’s controls are simple and intuitive. And, happily, they’re not afflicted with the same kinds of problems that plague The Cartel. Even though, at times, they do feel a little unpolished, it’s really hard for me to complain about sticky controls on a $15 game. Especially when the rest of the game is so well executed.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger Screenshot

Fans of the series will recognize the game’s return to form with regard to the control scheme as well. Players are given two meters; the first allows your character to enter Concentration Mode, which is similar to Max Payne’s Bullet Time mechanic, but enemies are also highlighted for easy targeting. The second allows you to dodge bullets when your health is particularly low. The gunplay is quick and responsive, but poorly mapped textures can often cause problems with targeting. Even if you can see an enemy’s head peaking out from behind a rock, it’s not always possible to shoot him.

Like any good western, Gunslinger is chock-full of showdowns. There’s even a Mexican standoff, which made me giggle a little. The dueling mechanic is reminiscent of Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, but it has been very well refined. During the duel, you’ll use the thumbsticks to focus your aim and position your hand. It’s a precarious, nitpicky process that’s bound to end in your death—at least a few times.

The graphics, like I said, borrow heavily from another western-inspired video game: Borderlands. Techland has chosen to abandon the realistic style that The Cartel attempts to achieve in favor of a more artistic aesthetic. However, the style is a perfect fit for this particular story. Early in the campaign you learn that Greaves’ celebrity is due, in part, to a series of dime store novels that contain illustrations of his exploits. The game itself echoes the artistic style of these novels. It’s so meta.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger Screenshot

From time to time, I did find myself becoming annoyed with the relative impossibility of the battles. Some of them rely heavily on your ability to remember enemy positions from a previous death and outshoot them on your second try. I’m a firm believer that memorization is for games like Mega Man and Myst, not first-person shooters that are meant to emulate a realistic gunfight.

Once you get past that, and the enemy AI’s obvious stupidity, the game is a genuinely enjoyable experience. The storyline is short, but it’s quippy and compelling. Plus, you get the chance to duel some of the most famous gunfighters in history. And you probably won’t get another chance to tell your grandkids that you killed Jesse James.

Gunslinger is one of those games that doesn’t feel like it’s trying very hard, but you know that it is. The developers have obviously put a great deal of thought into this game, and it’s evident in almost every element. After being disappointed by The Cartel, I was understandably skeptical about Gunslinger’s potential. But this game is infinitely better than Techland’s previous titles in almost every way.

Bravo, Techland.

Perfectly suited for the title, but not impressive. 3.5 Control
Only slightly annoying. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound of blood splattering has never been so realistic. 3.6 Play Value
Short campaign, but very well executed. 3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Meet the legendary outlaws: Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, Jesse James… Face down the West’s most notorious gunslingers and live the untold stories behind the legends.
  • Experience a lawless land: Blaze a trail through the wilderness of the Old West and live an epic adventure through stunning Western landscapes.
  • Dispense your own justice: With a gun holster tied to your leg, become a ruthless bounty hunter on a journey made of all-out gun battles.
  • Prevail in deadly gunfights: Master the art of blasting pistols, shooting rifles, and dodging bullets. Unleash lethal combos to gun down multiple enemies in split seconds.
  • Become the West’s finest: Choose the specific gun-fighting skills you want to develop and acquire new shooting abilities to become the West’s finest gunslinger.

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