Call of Juarez has undeniably been one of this generation’s most turbulent franchises. The original title was an interesting yet malnourished experience, while the sequel Bound in Blood, was a fantastic old west experience unlike any which had been seen before. The third title however, was a step too far, not only attempting to recreate the winning formula in modern times (which would have been a creative idea had it worked) but also neutering the enjoyment. Call of Juarez had climbed from respectable to top tier and fallen into disarray in just three outings; exactly where it would go from here was anyone’s guess.
Thankfully publisher Ubisoft saw fit to give the development team at Techland another crack of the whip. This time however, Call of Juarez would return to the old west, picking up Bound in Blood’s mantle and pursuing the comparative freedom that the underused period offers. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger isn’t a sequel however: it’s done away with the Mendoza’s and McCall’s, with religion and lawbringers, instead opting for a fresh start and a brand new tale.
Playing a character called Silas Greaves, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger takes the route of a bad guy gone good. Not through any truly humbled motivation or ‘seeing of the light’ mind, but rather as a combination of revenge and potential wealth. Greaves is out for his own, and isn’t ashamed to acknowledge it.
The adventure the player embarks upon on Call of Juarez: Gunslinger has actually already taken place. Walking into a bar at the very start of the campaign, the player is informed that the whole lf the videogame is actually a story being told to any who will listen. This invites an interesting narration to the gameplay: Greaves will make both scripted and emergent prompts based on your progress and the way in which you tackle objectives. Such design has been attempted before, but rarely has it been accomplished in a fashion as remarkable as Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. There are flaws here – the narration will occasionally reveal what’s ahead before the player is ready simple because they stepped over a designated line, or even be entirely disparate from the on-screen action – but on the whole it’s a significant boon to the gameplay. First-person story delivery is a tricky thing to master, especially in a videogame that’s more intent to deliver memorable action than pacing, but here in Call of Juarez: Gunslinger it’s been given a fresh touch of invention.
The core gameplay experience matches this overlay well, offering an experience that is suitably tense and enjoyable throughout. The player will often be outnumbered and outgunned, with only their hard earned skills to aid them. There are three skill trees to progress through – one for each of the core weapon types – and doing so will improve many aspects of your abilities from damage inflicted to ammo capacity. A key ability which has made its way into Call of Juarez: Gunslinger from previous Call of Juarez titles is that of the Concentration Mode. A quick press of the RB button (R1 on PlayStation 3) will allow you to slow time and highlight any enemies on-screen, providing the meter allows. The Concentration Mode meter is filled by killing enemies, but fills quicker with skilful shots – headshots, multiple kills in quick succession etc. – as does the XP meter that allows you to purchase new skills. It’s an intertwined system that encourages you to improve as you play, both when fighting against the ill-trained gun hands and the several bosses the campaign throws at you.
In addition to the Story Mode comes Arcade mode, infusing the core gameplay of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger with a more immediate experience. Relating to the scoring system of the story mode, the player must traverse a set area taking down enemies as quick and stylishly as they can with a limited inventory. The orchestration of these levels is reminiscent of The Club, with the scripted placement of enemies allowing the player to replay each level, learning the layout and achieving a better score. Of course, the Arcade Mode is complimented by a series of online leaderboards, further enticing players to become more in tune with the shooting mechanics.
The visual quality of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is a highlight, merging realistic design with cel-shaded environments and black blotted distances to create a very unique look. This aesthetic emblemises the substance of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger fully, with an appearance that is familiar and yet manages to stand out from the busy crowd. The voice acting is of a high standard also; had it not been the Story Mode would’ve surely fallen apart at the seams.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is inventive and enjoyable; mirroring the success of Ubisoft’s other blockbuster digital release, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Both of these titles have managed to hit a sweet spot that so few first-person shooters manage these days: while every second title coming onto retail shelves aims to be Call of Duty or Halo, here are two titles carving their own paths on the digital storefront. If Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and Call of Juarez: Gunslinger are a sign of things to come, then the next-generation digital distribution services may well be the first place to look for innovative videogame experiences.