It’s been a while since the Wild West served as the backdrop for an arcade-style first-person shooter. It really is one of the best settings for a shooter given its lawless, gritty and dusty atmosphere. A six-shooter carefully wielded by a sweaty cowboy eyeing the town’s rough criminals sets the scene for classic fables of America’s notoriously violent western past. The whiskey was strong, the high-noon sun was hot, and the men were brave behind their guns. This setting is absolutely perfect for a videogame and perhaps one of my personal favorites for first-person shooters.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger follows the series’ western tradition, but thankfully returns to the classic Wild West instead of the new west from The Cartel. This time around we play as Silas Greaves, a successful cowboy–if you consider the ability to shoot baddies as a success. Silas essentially narrates and retells his life’s journey at a saloon, drinking with a captive audience of local drunks. He recalls his encounters of famous western gunners and his journey for revenge.
The story is retold comic book style, with clever cell-shaded cut scenes, witty dialogue, and even a few (predictable) twists and turns. At some points your audience in the bar will pick up the story and recount the more legendary, more glorified version of your tale. You actually play through these versions of the past, but Silas will quickly correct the bar’s patrons and tell the true version. This rewinds your gameplay (literally) as you play through the same area once again as it truly happened.
Through your campaign you’ll meet famous outlaws and even fight alongside the likes of Billy the Kid and the Sundance Kid. The story frequently brings these iconic figures in and out of levels thanks to Silas’ foggy memories. The story is told really well and it’s really worth playing Gunslinger if only for the brief and entertaining campaign. That is not to say it’s a really good story or captivating. In fact, it’s quite comical in its predictability. If you don’t take it too seriously and accept you are here for the arcade-style gameplay and some cheap laughs through the story, you’ll be rewarded.
At times I forgot I was at home on my HD TV and not in an arcade, pumping money into an old-school game machine. That is a good thing considering the gameplay and level designs are straight out of classic arcade shooters. Levels are diverse but extremely linear, with enemies popping in and out of cover like cardboard cutouts at a local carnival shooting gallery.
Silas is a killing machine and wastes hundreds of baddies in his adventure. Combat is rewarding and entertaining, but extremely simplistic. Unfortunately I found the aiming mechanics to be a bit poor, but I suppose you could make the argument that old guns weren’t as precise as they are today. In fact, to follow that old-school feel to the game, the reloading animation is refreshingly slow as Silas tries his hardest to slide in bullet after bullet into his six-shooter.
The game uses an XP/combo system that rewards you for chain kills, headshots, and even hitting enemies on the run. That XP can be spent on an upgrade tree system that gives you abilities for short and long range combat, increased reload speed, and even more ammo. The skills tree feels quite realistic, so don’t expect random alien-like superpowers. The only thing here that feels out of place are your slow-motion abilities. The more you kill, the more you fill your slow-mo gauge. Activate it and you’ll go Max Payne style slow-motion. You can even dodge bullets in slow-motion. I can’t say I used these abilities all that much–though you can’t escape the slow-mo bullet dodge when you have a lethal shot headed your way. Gunslinger also has out of place QTE events, but luckily they aren’t all that frequent so they don’t really slow down the fun of regular combat.
Since combat is fairly enjoyable, it’s a shame that enemy A.I. isn’t so great. Some enemies literally stand and take your bullets like you hand-wrapped them a gift for their birthdays. Others run around looking for cover but never settle on a location. There are baddies that will charge you and hide behind cover, but they don’t offer much of a challenge. The game even features boss-like encounters, sometimes putting you against waves of enemies or other times forcing you to take down baddies behind Gatling guns. These encounters can be tough and frustrating but they serve up an enjoyable challenge.
One part of gameplay that Techland gets right is the quick-draw duels. Here you have to use your two analog sticks to focus your sight on your opponent while holding your trigger hand in close range to your gun. There is a mode focused specifically on duels. Another mode, arcade, features timed levels as you’re tasked with earning as many points as possible. This puts the bread n’ butter gameplay forefront and allows you to have that stupid fun of chaining kill shots to earn big scores. There are online leaderboards for both duel and arcade modes, giving you reason to constantly attempt to better yourself against the world.
Gunslinger took me by surprise and if you approach it as a basic arcade shooter, you should share that same enjoyment as I did. Don’t expect too much from the story and look past the occasional hiccup and you’ll find an addicting shooter with terrific Wild West atmosphere. This is a solid PSN game that any fan of arcade shooters or the Western theme should check out.