STAFF REVIEW of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger (Xbox 360 Arcade)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013.
by Brent Roberts

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger Box art When you think of settings that would make a great video game, one of the time periods that always find its way near the top is the old west. Days of stagecoach robbing, horse riding, gun dueling, bank robbing and more all provide our imaginations a taste of what life would actually be like in the Wild West. Like a classic western showdown, there have been games that hit their target with pinpoint precision and those who have missed so wildly that their demise isn't a question of "if" but "when". Now enter Techland who has been responsible for the western franchise Call of Juarez. This series has had a rocky history from the beginning but if Call of Juarez wasn't playing second fiddle to Red Dead Redemption, it was pushing up daises with their most recent retail release Call of Juarez: The Cartel. Seeing this backward trend starting to form, Techland very wisely decided to take gamers back to the roots of the series by releasing Call of Juarez: Gunslinger on the Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 MSP ($15). So does this new fps western game dominate the Wild West and ride off into the sunset in a blaze of glory, or does it loose its grip on its gun and get mowed down into a grave of mediocrity? Grab your spurs because it's time to find out.

One of the key features in any Wild West game that must hit its mark is the story behind it. Stories of this day and age are filled with legendary tales of mammoth gun battles, wild fist throwing brawls, rebel gangs without a care, and the iron clad lawmen who rule with compassion but enforce with an iron fist. With such a wealth of storytelling at its fingertips Techland has done a great job with Call of Juarez: Gunslinger by delivering a classic old west feel with a hefty amount of classic western celebrity name drops. The story begins with your character Silas Greaves who begins to recount his tales at a saloon to a troop of young'uns who are enthralled by witnessing a legend of the west right before their eyes. This method of storytelling fits perfectly as the backdrop for the various levels you will play through and when you take into account names like Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Pat Garrett and so on, you know that whatever happens, this is going to be one entertaining ride.

As you progress through the numerous levels you will notice that as Silas' years have grown, his memory has been drowned in the bottom of the glass and details remain a bit 'fuzzy'. During these tales you may experience things such as barns materializing out of thin air, bodies dropping out of the sky, trees magically appearing in different colors and so on. This is the game's way of having you experience Silas' stories while adhering to the idea that, like today, people still exaggerated their stories even back in the Wild West. It's times like this when you go from experiencing a few stagecoach robbing bandits to what Silas would call an army of hostile savages with nothing but bloodshed on their minds. While these changes in recollection do tend to slow the pace of the game down at points, it does help you realize that this isn't some Discovery channel biographical portrayal of characters in the wild west, but more of a comical and entertaining story told by an old drunken bad a$$ bounty hunter who has rode with the best and fought the worst.

While you are going through the story Silas will have the opportunity to utilize a varying amount of weapons. Weapons such as ranger pistols, quick draw pistols, sawed off shotguns, long range rifles and even dynamite can be used to unleash the cold steel justice of the west. Being that this is a western fps game, it does go without saying that the levels are fairly linear and when you get the stones to try and wander off, the game gives you a pop up menu warning you that you're breaking off from the story, and if you push it, the game will actually reset you to where you started, thus forcing you to stay on the predetermined path and kill everything on it. There were moments, especially when switching out weapons that are on the ground, where the control scheme doesn't feel as refined and ends up feeling clunky and somewhat unresponsive. This was felt the most in the dueling sections because the aiming circle which you have to line up moves very, very sluggishly and even after you have stopped moving the control stick, the aiming circle continues to move on. This is incredibly frustrating given the fact that your opponent moves both left and right before the draw. When you have less than a second, making sure you're able to hit your target becomes a matter of life and death and when you have a sluggish and unreliable aiming procedure to go through, things can go very, very wrong, very, very fast.

That being said though, the majority of the joy will come when you level up your character and you get the ability to upgrade your stats, learn new abilities, unlock improved weaponry, and eventually become a dominating legend of the old west. If throwing one stick of dynamite doesn't bring a smile to your face, then upgrade the ability and not only can you shoot it out of the air, but you can also split the stick into three parts with your bullets to increase the damage radius and overall lethality.

These gameplay mechanics makes the story sequence of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger a very fun experience, but where the replayability of the game takes shape is in the arcade mode. Think of this mode as going through multiple timed levels where you have to go from point A to point B and kill everything in your path. There is no story to worry about here, the only thing you should be concerned with is creating the largest kill combo streak you can. Taking your time to pick off individual enemies won't net you the coveted three star rating; however, rushing into the fray with guns smoking from the fire will grant you the much needed points. This is where the bulk of your time after the story will be spent as you look for new ways to string larger kill combos and ultimately become the fastest gun in the west. Speaking of that, Gunslinger's weakest mode, by a mile, is the Duel mode. In here you will be able to relive all the classic duels from the single player story and, just like the ones in the story, they will be over in a blink of an eye. The short and sweet of Duel mode is that it's there if you want to practice and perfect your dueling, but outside of that, serves no relevant purpose what so ever.

Even though there may be a few blemishes in the game, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger does pull it off in a beautiful Borderlands-esque, cell shading style that makes the environments around you not only detailed but stunning to behold. Rays of sunlight creeping over the crest of a mountain, cascading through the tall trees and casting shadows all around is just a taste of the visual eye candy that blankets all facets of this game. The same can also be said thankfully for the soundtrack and sounds of Gunslinger. Classic gun sounds blend perfectly with iconic western music to give you a feel that you have immersed yourself back into the year 1910 and go a long way to secure Call of Juarez: Gunslinger as a great western arcade game.

So ultimately has Techland produced a game that delivers an incredible and defining example of quality western video games? Sadly, no. Have they produced a game that blends beautiful linear levels with classic first person shooting action and a fantastic storyline? Undoubtedly yes. While Call of Juarez: Gunslinger won't be a groundbreaking western game, if you think of it in terms of Call of Duty meets Red Dead Redemption, the enjoyment factor is absolutely immense. Priced at 1200 MS points ($15) Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is a must have for any western fan, or for any fan of great storytelling and enjoyable games.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.9 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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