Since the incredibly popular open-world Western title Red Dead Redemption released in May 2010, there have not been many games set in the wild wild west during the 1800s. Even before then, Western titles were as barren as the deserts the games are often set in. In 2006, the Call of Juarez series spawned with its first game for the PC where it and was later ported to the Xbox 360 in 2007. While they are not necessarily the most critically acclaimed or incredibly popular titles, many who have played the games have found them to be enjoyable experiences, myself included.
In July 2011, Techland, the developers behind the franchise, decided to drive down a different path with Call of Juarez: The Cartel. Not only was it generally shot down by critics, but it departed from the 1800’s Western set pieces and traveled to modern-day Mexico. Fast forward to May 22, 2013 where Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is released and cowboys are roaming the plains in the old West once again. Analog Addiction’s Vlad “The Mad” Pintea was assigned to review Gunslinger and highly praised the game in his written review, giving it a gun-slinging nine out of 10. Ubisoft was kind enough to send me a copy of the game as well, so Vlad and I will take this time to discuss our thoughts – good and/or bad – on the game.
Robbie Key: So tell us Vlad, as a first-person shooter, what separates this title not only from past entries in the franchise, but other shooters as well?
Vlad Pintea: Call of Juarez: Gunslinger’s main attractions are not only its beautiful vistas, the fast and fluid shooting mechanics, but also its narrative.
If I were to compare it to past entries in the series, I would say it’s more akin to playing as Billy from the original game and Thomas from Bound in Blood. Gunslinger’s gameplay is fast, fluid, creates a certain tension (especially when the screen is full of cracks) and it’s challenging as well. I am still astonished by how drastically different Gunslinger is, gameplay-wise, compared to The Cartel, in how the first one is miles better than anything the latter could achieve. It’s like two different developers made these games.
Now, what separates this FPS from the others is the way the story is told. I love the fact that Gunslinger creates different scenarios based on Silas’ supposed biography, which are different to what really happened. In this way, players will experience different outcomes to scenarios, which is a cool feature. Add paranormal activities to that and you’ll be left wondering if Silas isn’t exaggerating a bit. Nonetheless, exaggerating is good because it only makes the game more fun to play.
Robbie Key: I was actually quite surprised they went with a cel-shaded aesthetic. It looked as if Techland combined Borderlands’ visuals with Call of Juarez’s. It went quite well with the game though, particularly with how the story is told using comic-book style still pictures used to tell the story when Silas is in the bar.
I actually really liked the cracks on the screen as you were getting shot to hell and back – and there are a lot of those moments in Gunslinger. It was also great to see how they would appear differently every now and then. If dynamite blew up in your face, the cracks would appear to have little burn marks around them. It’s a small, but nice touch to the game. I agree with how challenging the game can be. As someone who is experienced with shooters, I found the game to be challenging at times, even on normal difficulty. I never got around to playing Cartel, but it seemed to receive generally negative reviews. The visuals looked oddly watered down, too.
You know, I was actually quite surprised at how engaging the story was in Gunslinger. I love how Silas is narrating the story as you are playing the game because he not only tells it in a typical fictional – nearly exaggerated – manner, but it makes the game feel like a much more immersive experience as a result. It was also hilarious when Silas would make a mistake in telling his story and the game would literally make you go back and play a part again with differences in what was there before.
Vlad, out of all the different gameplay mechanics, which hold a surprisingly sizable number for a downloadable first-person shooter, what was your favorite part?
Vlad Pintea: As a whole, the game can be split up into two sections: shooting your way out of tough situations, and dueling. There’s nothing else in-between to stand out. To be honest, I don’t particularly have a favourite part. Still, if I were to choose one which stood out more than the others, then it would be the last mission in which Silas is haunted by his past victims. It brings a nice supernatural vibe to the game and it’s also quite challenging.
Robbie Key: I agree with what you said about the last mission. It was not only unique and went along with the story well, but it was tough-as-nails.
Although it took me a while to get the hang of it, I ended up really loving the dueling. Constantly needing to keep an eye on where your hand is in accordance to your pistol and marking where you will be shooting your target to have a focused shot was a great and fun challenge. I also loved how there was, in a way, a good and evil system present with the showdowns. If you draw your weapon at the right time – and win of course – you would get an “honorable” kill, but if you drew it too early, it’s considered to be sneaky and you would lose experience points from the battle.
The main thing you seemed to criticize the game for in your review of Gunslinger were the generally uninteresting characters in the game. If you could tell the Call of Juarez developers to perhaps change something about the game if a sequel rolls out, what would those changes be and why?
Vlad Pintea: The one and only thing I would like to see in the next Call of Juarez, regarding its characters, is more personality to them. As I said in my review, having all these familiar faces of the wild west is a great treat to gamers, but not when they are just a few generic shooting targets. We need to know what motivates these enemies, maybe add a more tragic aspect to some. The same thing goes to the protagonist. Revenge is one thing, but it can get pretty boring. I hate to make comparisons, but John Marston was motivated to save his family instead of the usual revenge, which made him a much more loveable character. We need to see more emotions.
Robbie Key: Well said Vlad. I agree with you there, but I also think they need more weapon variety and they need to fix Sense of Death, which gives you the ability to possibly live on the brink of death by allowing you to dodge the last bullet before you die. Sometimes I would be behind an object such as tall grass where Sense of Death would active, but I couldn’t see anything and therefore, couldn’t dodge the bullet, which resulted in several of my deaths.
Still, Vlad thought it was a great experience by giving it a nine out of 10. Personally, I would give it an eight out of 10. Overall, it’s a great game and anybody who likes first-person shooters and western settings should definitely check it out, especially when the game carries a $15 price tag.
Vlad Pintea: Exactly! I think after the not-so-successful Cartel, Ubisoft wanted to see if the franchise is still relevant, so it gave its developer a smaller budget (hence the price tag). Ironically, Techland got out a game miles better than its predecessor. Here’s to more wild west tales from Call of Juarez!
But we would like to know what you thought of Gunslinger if you played it. Did you have as much fun with it as Vlad and me did? Do you think Techland should move on to something else? Give us a “Yeehaw!” in the comments section below and let us know.
Robbie Key is a “Reviews and News Editor” for Analog Addiction, Entertainment Editor for the Pine Log newspaper at Stephen F. Austin State University, and blogger for IGN. Follow his completely relevant Twitter updates, watch his awesomtacular YouTube videos, and view his LinkedIn profile.
Vlad Pintea is a News-and-Reviews Editor here at Analog Addiction, and sometimes he even speaks his own mind. You can contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, My IGN, on Skype, Steam (all at the same name: vlad94pintea) or Facebook (Vlad Pintea). Have a good day, and remember: stay calm and keep on gaming!