→ MAY 23, 2013 No single part of American history is more intertwined with legend and lore than the post-Civil War west. As more settlers ventured towards the Pacific coast, so too did tales rise of roadside bandits, shantytowns full of outlaws, and bold robberies of mythical riches – making it an amazing period to explore in a game. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger jumps into it guns blazing, weaving an interesting story that rarely takes its exaggerated history or borderline comedic violence seriously. In fact, one of the best things about it is how it readily embraces its main character’s falsehoods and turns them into a part of the gameplay. That, combined with its surprisingly pretty cel-shaded art style, allows Gunslinger to successfully stand out in a crowded genre primarily full of military shooters.
When old bounty hunter Silas Greaves stumbles into a saloon and finds some folks willing to listen to long-winded, exceptionally well voice-acted retellings of his exploits spanning decades, we flash
MAY 22, 2013
COLIN MORIARTY SAYS
Great Tales with Multiple Endings:
back and act out self-aggrandizing versions of his adventures. These stories often include the most infamous actors in these anarchic lands, like Butch Cassidy and Jesse James, and they play out in enjoyable bursts of grueling firefights interrupted by well-made comic book-style panels – and inexcusably long loading times.
Then Greaves is called out for a lie by his audience in the bar, and in a clever twist of gameplay, the actual action is affected around you. Enemies appear and disappear mid-story, new avenues through a stage open up as the narration demands, and you even go back to the beginning of certain missions to see how it actually went down. For instance, while exploring a mine Greaves’ narration describes how he passed through an entrance lined with dynamite, so we have to do that too. But it afterward turns out that never actually happened, so we’re returned to the beginning to see how he actually broke in. Greaves is your typical unreliable narrator, and Gunslinger’s clever approach to telling its story keeps the five-to-seven hour campaign fresh and fun, even when it repeats itself with more truthful variations of the same levels.
Thankfully, Gunslinger’s action is a lot of fun, and its gunplay is extremely satisfying. Enemy AI – whether we’re talking about fellow outlaws, Indians or other inhabitants of the West – is intelligent and aggressive enough to keep things interesting, but also vacant enough that clipping consecutive foes with well-aimed headshots is fairly simple. This is in no way a serious or hardcore shooter; it readily emphasizes its arcadey feel. But there's also depth to be found in is its addicting leveling system, with XP bonuses that reward headshots, unique kills and general carnage at a constant clip. This experience, in turn, is morphed into points that can then be spent in one of three skill trees that give you specialization bonuses spanning each pistol, shotgun, and rifle in Greaves’ arsenal, an uncommon and welcome addition to a shooter such as this.
Regrettably, Gunslinger’s mandatory dueling system is borderline nonsensical and immersion-breaking. The idea is to focus a reticle on an enemy while maneuvering your hand to draw your sidearm quickly. But it seemed to play out randomly each time, with diverging outcomes even when I utilized identical technique, and accidental success feels as unrewarding as unavoidable failure is frustrating. I’d rather face a dozen of the more traditional boss fights, in which a powerful enemy with a health meter and a special weapon or skill comes at you. At least there I could win if I shot well.
Apart from its story-driven campaign and its two separate endings – giving you a reason to play through the final mission a second time, should you choose -- there are two other modes for you to mess around with in addition to finding collectible cards chock-full of fascinating historical information strewn about each stage. One mode is aptly called Arcade Mode, a score-driven romp through the campaign’s stages where the idea is to kill as many enemies as you can as quickly as you can to generate a high score. That one's good. The other, unfortunately, is based on the dueling, and is thus a waste of time.
Gunslinger has no multiplayer functionality, but it doesn’t quite need it. It understands what it is – a fun distraction to acquire on your downloadable service of choice – and in no way expects you to spend more than a few days with it. And that’s totally okay.
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Call of Juarez: Gunslinger has a lot of charm in its short but appropriately wild Old Western campaign, with an excellent storytelling twist and fast-paced arcadey gunplay against wily black-hats. Why it puts such emphasis on its broken dueling mechanic is confounding, and its ludicrous load times and occasional crashes are marks against it, but the good beats out the bad and the ugly.