Call of Juarez: Gunslinger Hands on Preview


Call of Juarez: Gunslinger Hands on Preview
Slow motion and sagebrushes for Techland's Western reunion
Back in the mists of gaming time, that’s 2006, a Western-themed shooter debuted on PC called Call of Juarez (yes games used to come exclusively to the PC). Attractive and with some unusual mechanics, it worked hard to translate some unique elements of the Western genre to the beige box – including mano-a-mano duels, Native American quests and enough dust and sagebrushes to make Sergio Leone choke.

That game made it to consoles in 2007, before a prequel story arrived in 2009 – mixing up the mechanics again and adding some bullet-spitting, slow motion awesomeness. I’ve had a lot of fun with the Call of Juarez series to date (bar 2011s undercooked The Cartel - read our review for context) and was greatly relieved when I learned that a fourth title was incoming that was set to return to the Western mould. Say hello to Call of Juarez: Gunslinger and read on for my thoughts on the couple of hours I spent with a preview build.

For Gunslinger, the story focuses on the new character of Silas Greaves – an aging bounty hunter with a storied past full of daring adventures with some of the most famous figures of the Old West. The framing narrative, set up through gorgeous comic book panels rather than game engine, sees Greaves arrive at the town of Abeline, Kansas in 1910 and take a seat in a bar where he spins yarns of his past to his small audience.

It’s not the most original hook but it does have some interesting applications in Gunslinger, mainly through the use of an unreliable narrator. Greaves is old and doesn’t always remember things correctly at the start, while there’s also a suggestion that he might be wilfully stretching the truth as the narrative unfolds.

In game, this means details might suddenly appear out of nowhere – like a stand of trees he has suddenly recalled, or a change in the appearance of enemies or even a reversal of recent events which don’t necessarily chime with recorded history. It’s a nice mechanic which adds a little something extra to the telling of this tale and looks set to become more integral as the story continues.

Gunslinger also sets itself apart with an unusual presentation – a vaguely cell-shaded world looms out of the recesses of Greaves’ mind, filling in detail where appropriate. This stylisation is further enhanced by the angular enemies and deft touches like the slow motion sprays of viscera which accompany a kill shot (a neat visual cue that they’re no longer a threat). And the presentation has a sometimes hyper comic book aesthetic which sees fit to introduce every new character with their own eye-catching panel, with the same approach to a new weapon, flying around the screen in slow motion.

Personally, I thought it was all a lot of fun – building up the sense of style to sell the mythic quality of these characters and their deeds.

These elements naturally feed into the gameplay, which is also heavy on the slow motion and, like other Call of Juarez titles before, builds in some slightly unique gameplay elements. So you’ll find a readily available focus mode (for more accurate bullet-bashing) as well as quick time event shoot outs, quick draw moments and frenetic door breaches. You even have the ability to dodge bullets at certain moments in a nonchalant fashion that I found inexplicably hilarious. And Gunslinger brings back those one on one duels, with a ticking clock and the need to be fast and accurate if you want to survive.

I got to sample a handful of levels spread across the campaign, each of which revolved around a number of famous individuals like the Dalton Gang, Pat Garret, Billy the Kid or the Wild Bunch. Greaves’ interactions with these characters are all window dressing for his main mission, a trail of revenge which I didn’t get to find out much more about. The gameplay itself was mostly straightforward – running and gunning in familiar settings with six shooters, rifles and shotguns – plus the odd stick of dynamite. There were no vehicles or horses to play with, nor any significant diversion from shooting cell-shaded enemies in the face.

Effective or stylish face-shooting earns points which can be spent on upgrading your skills, breaking down into offensive and defensive options. There’s nothing ground breaking here, with skills making you tougher, giving you more concentration or improving your weapon-slinging abilities. These skills become even more important in the games Arcade mode which throws you into a densely packed level full of enemies and charged you with murdering them as quickly as possible while racking up points. You’ve got three different profiles to choose from (essentially sixguns, rifles and shotguns) and each can be upgraded separately to give you an edge over your friends for online bragging rights. It’s like a rather more grounded (and less fun) Bulletstorm.

The menu also features the chance to go back and play out any of the duels from the campaign, again no doubt to compare with your friends, but this option was blacked out in our preview code.

I had a lot of fun during my time with Call of Juarez: Gunslinger – the art style is attractive (bar some texture pop in) and the over the top style appeals to the part of me which never quite got over a love of unnecessary slow motion. There’s some potential for enjoyment in the revisionist story-telling too, though too much undermining of the central revenge plot could make it all seem inconsequential. The gameplay on show is a little repetitive but the shooting mechanics are slick enough and with a little more variety this could be an enjoyable downloadable number from Techland.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is coming to PSN, Xbox Live and PC from the 22nd of May 2013 for around €15.

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