With the current gaming market saturated by first person shooters, a game only gets notice if it has some sort of originality, mind-blowing visuals or contains the word “duty” somewhere in the title. While the latest Call of Juarez title doesn’t shout anything from the rooftops in any of these categories, it’s still an enjoyable romp through the Wild West with a narrative which is interesting enough to keep you interested until the final showdown.
With a Borderlands-esque cell shaded set of visuals, Gunslinger doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. This isn’t competition for the Call of Duty, Battlefield and Crysis crowd, nor is it going all out with massive online modes to keep you hooked in for the next twelve years. Instead we have Silas Greaves, an ageing gunslinger reciting tales of his life to a group of drinkers in a bar. This in itself provides an interesting story model as you play through the various tales while he tells them, with several sections changing as he realises he’s missed bits out or gets something wrong. It’s a well executed concept which allows the game to jump around all over the shop without ever bewildering the player into having no idea what’s going on.
Each story is, in effect, an excuse to fight your way through waves of enemies until you reach a boss shoot-out. The shooting sections are more fun than you’d expect, with a neat XP system rewarding you for headshots, killing several people in quick succession and taking out people who are running for cover. Weapons feel good too, letting you go nuts with pistols, rifles and shotguns which each pack a punch in the right situation. With that done and dusted, it’s onto a pistols-at-dawn showdown with one of the main bad guys from Weld West history. These force you to think about several things at once – the left stick moves your hand around your holster (affecting the speed you draw your weapon) while the right stick controls an ever-shrinking target on your opponent which determines how focused you are. While you’re keeping an eye on all of this, you’ll also need to watch out for your enemy drawing his own gun. As soon as they do you need to get to work before they get a shot away. It’s a fun, if not occasionally frustrating, mini-game to end each chapter of the story.
The bad guys aren’t the brightest bunch, and will regularly hide behind cover, still leaving their head sticking up over the top. Others will just stay rooted to the spot in the middle of a wide open space, making life far easier for you to stick your head up and take them out or fling a stick of dynamite in their direction. More often than not thought their strength comes in numbers, and picking a suitable hiding place is pretty important if you want to avoid taking one in the face yourself. Another trick up your sleeve is the concentration mode – a meter which fills up as you kill folk, and can be unleashed to slow down time for a few seconds and highlight enemies to make them easier to see, easier to shoot and easier to kill. There’s also a 3-option upgrade system for when you level up, allowing you to enhance various aspects of your fighting ability. It’s enough to keep you interested through the 5 or 6 hours campaign, and may even warrant the inclusion of the new game+ option, letting you start over with the same skills and upgrades you chose first time round.
Once you get bored there are a couple of other modes – one option plucks the showdowns from the main campaign and lets you face off against the main bad guys, the other gives you some arcade scenarios, scoring you on your combos, time taken and so on. It’s a nice diversion but won’t keep you hooked for long.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is, then, a fun arcadey shooter. While it may not have the longevity of a bigger budget title, it also carries a price tag far more tempting than the big boys. It’s an enjoyable romp through the Wild West with some decent weapons, an enjoyable storyline and a fairly decent challenge. While a competitive online mode might been nice the leaderboards do a sufficient job at keeping you on your toes against your friends, and you’ll find reasons to come back a few times after finishing the main game even if it’s not a long term fix. If you fancy shooting some cowboys, it’s definitely worth a closer look.
Reviewed on PS3