Call of Juty
The Call of Juarez series has had its ups and downs but has never been considered truly exceptional. There were two pretty great western games, one mediocre (although not quite as bad as some people make out) modern take on the same ideas, and now Gunslinger. Gunslinger is a return to the Western roots, but with a twist. Rather than following a usual narrative you are instead playing through the recollections of the life of a bounty hunter, as told to some strangers in bar. As you can imagine, things get a little ridiculous.
As you tell the story, the embellishments are sometimes called out on. Often this will just lead to a witty answer as you narrate your own story, sometimes the story will change in defense. This reveals itself in game as enemies disappear or buildings change around you. As the bounty hunter changes his story, the game you’re playing changes too. It’s a neat effect and works really well, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the story that’s being told to you in the same vein as Bastion, but thanks to the captive audience there’s a few laughs as well. One of the people listening is some young guy who laps up everything you say, while another is incredibly cynical and doesn’t believe anything. It leads to some funny MST3K (if you don’t know what that is go do some Youtubing and thank me later) moments and is genuinely compelling.
The gameplay is fairly standard Call of Duty-esque first person shooting. You progress through largely linear corridors decorated as woods, towns, graveyards and… corridors, shooting the men who pop up. Western guns are always a lot of fun to use and the gunplay is fairly tactile and satisfying. Enemies rarely take more than a shot or two to drop and there’s some lovely detailed reloading animations, even when you’re carrying two pistols. As a little twist to the norm you get a kind of bullet-time and you also get to level up, adding new abilities such as being able to shoot dynamite out of the air easily or being able to reload a revolver while the chamber is spinning. They don’t make a huge difference to the way you play the game but it does mean you get a couple of new tricks every thirty minutes or so to avoid the combat getting too stale. If anything the only downside to the gameplay is that we’ve seen it all before far too many times this generation. It’s perfectly well executed, and the scoring system that gives you more for headshots etc is a lot of fun, but it’s nothing particularly new or exciting.
The game looks really nice in places, but isn’t particularly consistent and for some reason there’s a ridiculous amount of contrast throughout the game, to the point where the Gunnar glasses we’re testing at the moment really came in handy to tone it down a little. It will hurt your eyes after a while. There are a lot of fancy effects such a sun-rays coming through the trees and some pretty ripples in water, but if you move around quickly you’ll realise how these are all smoke and mirrors and at times they can be quite jarring. If anything the graphics look better in screenshots as they lack those disorientating effects.
For your money (£11.99 currently on Steam) you’re getting about five hours of gameplay, with no multiplayer and limited replayability. There are a few collectables per map entertainingly labelled ‘nuggets of truth’ that tell you a little about the ideas that the game are based on, but it’s hard to imagine you’d play through the whole game again just to find them.The campaign is fairly brief, but within this time it starts to get a little repetitive, particularly around the half way mark. It does pick up after that though with a few refreshing changes to the scenery and the story picks up pace right near the end, going from a series of seemingly unconnected tales to something a little bit more coherent. The addition of real notorious cowboys to go up against makes it a little more exciting if you’re into your westerns.
If you’re planning on buying this game, it should be for the writing and the novelty of playing through a tall-tale. As a shooter it’s simply satisfying enough to serve the script, which is funny in the right places and adds a new layer to a fairly typical campaign.