Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
Life is like a Box of Bullets

By Seán O'Sullivan - June 4th, 2013


Just about the only wild west cliche missing from Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is the ability to spit out a slurry of saliva and tobacco to intimidate your opponents. This standalone first-person-shooter has embraced the most outlandish myths and absurd Hollywood misrepresentations of cowboy life to deliver the purest hit of six-shooter action ever presented to gamers.

Gunslinger casts players as Silas Greaves, who is regaling some saloon patrons with tales of his exploits from a long career of bounty hunting. This setting is used to great effect: exposition is carried by voiceover, meaning there’s practically no breaks in the action, and it allows much ambiguity for Silas to Forrest Gump himself into stories with the likes of Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy.

The core combat mechanics broadly adhere to current genre expectations – Silas has a limited inventory, packing dual pistols and either a rifle or shotgun, and will shrug off gunshots if he can catch his breath for a moment. Players have limited use of a “concentration” mode (which slows down time, making it easier to line up shots and avoid bullets), as well as a “sense of death”, in which near-death players get a chance to dodge a fatal incoming bullet.

A combo system rewards headshots and quick successive kills, so the player has an incentive to play Silas as the reckless scrapper he makes himself out to be. The resulting points can be spent on additional abilities and perks, making Silas a more effective killer – yet another example of the game-play systems dovetailing with the narrative. The empowerment that comes from darting between cover points with two pistols drawn, expertly lining up headshots is tangible, and the expert sound design and generous blood spurts really sell the violent acts.

In the Old West, real men fired bullets the size of horse heads.

At preordained points in the story, Greaves will square off in duels with his adversaries. While they serve to break up the action and lend a sense of gravity to the vendettas being settled, the mechanics are quite fiddly. The player must manipulate the left stick to ready Silas’ draw, and the right stick needs to be trained on his target to line up a kill-shot. Some interesting additions come into play in later duels, but it rarely feels like more than an obligatory mini-game (not to mention how odd it is to reconcile Silas’ bumbling considering he got to this point by dual-wielding six-shooters through a townful of goons).

Each game-play segment is driven by Greave’s fantastic tales, and his seeming desire to siphon one more whiskey from his audience, and these testimonials are regularly toyed with to impact the action. At one point, Greaves feels that he is losing a listener’s attention, so he cranks up the intensity of the story, resulting in the player being overrun by “Injuns”. Occasionally, embellishments will be repealed, or other characters will share what they heard about certain encounters, and the scenario is repeated – this time unfolding in a different manner. It allows for a greater appreciation of the environments, while providing a novel technique that rarely appears in videogames.

The budget nature of the game does rear its ugly head every now and again. There are forested environments that are dense with brush and vegetation, but wander just a little off the narrative track, and you’ll find yourself in a sparse field, able to look towards the ‘tunnel’ that you were supposed to obediently follow. Once every 30 minutes I seemed to get stuck in a part of the environment, and would would try absurd, immersion-breaking exercises to dislodge myself; I even found a few occasions where stepping just slightly off the prescribed path onto a rock three feet below resulted in instant death. These are unforgivable in a game that encourages exploration to find the many collectibles in each stage.

The only way he could have been more efficient would have been to shoot the dude in front of an open grave.

At $15, Gunslinger represents a lot of value. The campaign visits the best cowboy film set-pieces from cinema history, and will take at least seven hours to get through, and proved enough of a challenge for me that I had to drop down from hard to medium difficulty about midway through. In addition to that, there’s a score-attack arcade mode that pits players against waves of enemies, and a duel-mode for those who didn’t tire of it during the campaign.

In the course of three weeks, Ubisoft have published two stand-alone shooters that expertly boil down entire film genres into highly potent action games that respect the gamers’ time, and outdo their inspiration in many ways. If this hot-streak continues, “budget” FPS may well become the only kind of shooter I want to play.

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