I’ve played through most of old-west unreliable-narrator on-rails pistolero party Call of Juarez Gunslinger. I am now prepared to tell you all of the things you need to know about it.
Q: Is it pretty?
Oh, hell yeah, it is pretty like a sunset. It is so pretty that there were more than a few times when I just stood there, you know, virtually, taking in the beauty of the Rugged Western Vista, rays of buddha peeking over some craggy peak, flocks of birds wheeling in the middle distance waiting for a birdy bandit buffet in the trail of corpses I was inevitably going to leave in my wake. The world is spectacular and edges just the right amount into magical realism, and the graphical fidelity, with a powerful enough computer machine, is as good as you’ll see anywhere for current-gen games. Here, marvel in the prettiness:
Q: Does it sound cool?
Yes, it does: chunky and convincing weaponry booms and kapows, atmospheric and period-appropriate music, and spot-on voice acting. I’ve seen a few people say they were less than impressed by the voice work, if willing to give it a pass because this is ostensibly a budget title, but I thought the voice-overs were convincing, just the right level of over-the-top, funny, and appropriate to the genre and the surprisingly well-drawn characterizations. Old-timey old-timers are fun, and they are MY PEOPLE.
Q: Do things go whoosh bang kaboom in satisfyingly dramatic ways?
Yes, they do. Bullets whistle by and smack with satisfyingly visceral ultraviolence into stinky cowboy bodies, and explosions explode explosively with much sound and fury. It’s all very meaty and special-saucy, in a good way.
There are a whole passel o’ clever gunfight mechanics built in to the game, from the sparingly-used quicktime events that serve to punctuate rather than distract, to the end-of-episode Duel With The Big Bad (more on which, later), to the time-slowing bullet-timey focus mechanic that puts a nice spin on an aging FPS trope. It is abundantly clear that the focus here was to make the actual core activity of shooting the shit out of tons of bad guys as fun as possible within a strictly limited scope and scale, and they pulled it off magnificently, I reckon. When things were going right, I found that I could get into that coveted ‘flow’ state when I was right there in the world, rather than being aware through the artificiality of interacting through mouse and keyboard that I was playing a game. That’s some good sauce right there.
Q: Are there exploding crates and/or barrels?
You bet your sweet ass there are.
Q: Is there a captivating story written by adults for adults or at least relatively clever children?
There really is, and this was one of the big surprises for me coming in to this game with no expectations. Without spoiling anything, the framing device is a grizzled outlaw resting his dogs in a saloon, telling tales of his storied career, playing up his adventures in return for drinks. It becomes a little less clear as the stories pile one atop the next and the whiskey flows how reliable he is as a narrator, and there are some truly amusing reversals in the course of playing through the various episodes he relates, magically altering the story even as you play through it. It’s clever, it’s well-written and acted, and it elevates the Shooty McShooterguy action in a way that a narratorless game could not.
Q: If I like shaving german shepherds and rubbing my cheeks on their necks, will I like this game?
Well, sure, weirdo. But more to the point, if you like to shoot old-timey virtual guns at about 11000 bad guys, if you don’t mind being led on rails through beautiful environments where your sole duty is to dial in on your arcade-style reflexes and accuracy while leveling up your weapons and abilities to shoot even more bullets at your adversaries, you’re probably going to love it.
Q: What are the inevitable Annoying Bits?
Others may differ, but the Duel With The Nemesis at the end of each chapter was about as annoying to me as it was fun. As the game progresses and your BadAssness grows (at least according to you, the narrator of the tale in the Future Saloon), new mechanics and scenarios for the showdown duel are introduced, and even though I acknowledge the cleverness of their implementation, I found myself failing repeatedly without a clear idea of why I had failed or how to do better. Like me, you may have to reduelerate each Big Bad a few times before you move on to more stupendous cowboy mayhem, but it’s not a huge hardship.
There’s also some slight dodginess that comes into play, at least for me, when the story turns to blasting away at Native American adversaries, rather than your fellow scruffy salty outlaw scumbags. It’s appropriate to the fiction and the lack of seriousness of the whole endeavour, perhaps, but it’s… less than sensitive, shall we say.
Q: Is it fun?
My word, yes. It is one hell of a lot of fun. It may be — given my predilection for first person shootery — one of the most consistently fun things I’ve played this year. It’s not a long game (though there is replay value in the arcade mode, which is all about honing in on outlaw perfection), but at the price ($14.99 retail, but on sale on Steam and elsewhere occasionally), the length is just about perfect. Call of Juarez Gunslinger delivers the Fun, but doesn’t linger long enough to outstay its welcome. You’ll probably blast through the story in a few days, and it will leave a pleasant memory, like that summer you first started drinking beer or dressing deer carcasses. I admit that may just be me, though.
And so ends this installament of my important internet opinions.
The Bottom Line on Call of Juarez Gunslinger
- $14.99 on Steam