The Good, The Bad and the Pretty
Call of Juarez stepped out of it's comfort zone with the third installment, COJ :The Cartel. It abandoned the wild west, and opted for a modern LA flavor. It was an abysmal entry, and the franchise was in need of a refreshing comeback. Techalnd's latest digital title, Call of Juarez : Gunslinger, brings back the series roots, returning to the old wild west. It's more over-the-top, with cel-shaded visuals, a light-hearted narration, and an ability that lets you dodge bullets. It's totally crazy, but who cares. Call of Juarez is finally back on track.
Gunslinger tells the story of Silas Greaves. A ruthless bounty hunter out on some business. As he enters a saloon, a few strangers promptly question Silas into retelling a few stories of his bounty hunting days. The entire game is narrated by Silas in-game, and throughout comic style cutscenes. Levels are presented in flashbacks, with you playing events as Silas explains how they happened. It's well written, and provides witty humour that plays a big role in how some levels pan out. For example, Silas occasionally exaggerates, telling parts of the story that never really happened. The listeners also jump in, trying to correct Silas. These sections are played, then the game winds back, replaying it from Silas's point of view. It's very amusing, and provides a unique approach to video game narratives.
Story is the weakest part of the game. If your looking for a strong narrative, you wont find it here. It's a forgettable series of tales, but Gunslinger is more about fast-paced arcady gunplay. It provides a mixture of fun mechanics that the series is known for. From duel-welding revolves, to concentration mode - a slo-mo ability that pinpoints enemies and provides time for precise shots. Levels are fairly linear, with each objectives having you travel from point A to B, dispatching enemies along the way. There's only a small handful of weapons. From revolvers, shotguns and sticks of dynamite. You wont find any sniper rifles, as Gunslinger is more about fast-paced gunplay. In most levels, I found myself instantly switching to the duel-wielding revolves. With great accuracy at close and long range, they are the main attraction in combat.
Unlike it's predecessors, Gunslinger contains a light RPG element. As you kill, a scoring system pops up on-screen. You could receive 150 for an headshot, or killing at long range. Stringing together multiple kills increases a multiplier, rewarding you bigger bonuses. With enough points, you'll level up. You can then purchase upgrades from three small skill trees. Gunslinger, Ranger and Trapper. Upgrades could be increasing time in concentration mode, to increasing the accuracy of long ranged weapons. There's not a huge verity, but it's still a nice little distraction along the way.
Levels are limited in scope. It's mainly a corridor shooter, but it never seems to loose it's appeal. It tries to remain fresh, offering plenty of slo-mo door breaches, quick-time events, and a few instances where you mount a gatling gun. It does start to repeat a samey pattern, but it never grows old for the duration of the game.
The slow-mo bullets are a fun aspect to combat. Occasionally, an enemy bullet with come hurtling towards you. These moments require you to dodge with the left or right thumbstick. Miss, and your dead. It can be thrilling as you successfully evade, then shoot the guy that fired it. Yet, it can be troublesome at times. If stood behind obstructive objects, such as a wall, a bullet may come flying with no visual on it. You are then left guessing which way to turn. This only happened on a few occasions, so it shouldn't pose much bother.
It wouldn't be a western game without duels, so Gunslinger provides plenty of them. Most levels end in a showdown against a gang leader. Using a round reticle, you must keep it hovered over your opponent. The long it stays, the more accuracy you receive. Then, when the heart-beating sound kicks in, you must quick-draw with the RT. Duels are fairly easy, but it's a nice way to finish off a level.
Visually, Gunslinger is a striking colour palette. Everything, from the cel-shaded objects, to the backdrops. It all looks vibrant and crisp. It all holds up well too, with no sign of screen tear. The presentation is impressive for a digital title. This is the Western of Borderlands.
The Story mode takes around 5 to 6 hours to complete. When your done, New Game+ unlocks, allowing you to replay the game with all your skills and level. You can also try beating the game on hardcore mode, which removes aim assist. There's also collectibles to find, along with an Arcade and Duels mode. In total, it may take around 7+ hours to complete everything, and at 1200MP, you sure get enough bang for your buck.
Call of Juarez : Gunslinger is restrictive when compared to it's predecessors. However, it's still an impressive low budget entry. After the weak Cartel, Gunslinger provides a fun dose of fast paced arcady action. It's proof that Techland still have what it takes to make a fun western. Let's just hope the fun goes back to retail.
Review by Gareth Smith