Saturday, December 27, 2014

3 days of...Call of Juarez: Gunslinger!


Westerns are a touchy subject for me. I never desired to marathon through spaghetti westerns or the American classics involving smoking guns in the title and the action sequences. I was lost when actors donned makeshift rope and cast iron armors at high noon. As a matter of fact my introduction to the setting was Red Dead Redemption on the PS2, so naturally my critical eye was ruined with a glorious example of how a Western SHOULD be made. 

Even though it's a few years old, the game still looks great.
Yet those precedents didn't prevent me from enjoying Call of Juarez: Gunslinger by developer Techland. I hadn't known many of the historical outlaws that were referenced, and was not familiar with the character tropes that scattered the mythology. I was good at arcade shooters though, and by the time I was done, I was thoroughly engrossed in the story of Silas Graves. Playing the part of a great mercenary and involving myself in the legendary stories made everything feel larger than life. 

There are a great many details that are paid attention in Gunslinger, but few stand out as amazing decisions on the developers part. The well balanced combat, bullet time feature, duels, and arcade style all stood out to me as the best part of the game. The rest of the game was very well put together, had a quality finish and a narrator that was very entertaining. The narrating is done by the main character over a game of poker and a few drinks, so while you're shooting away at outlaws and Apaches, you may be stopped to make corrections in the story. Set pieces fly from the sky, the ground opens up, and enemies are replaced or multiplied on a regular basis. This keeps you on your feet and makes the game much more interesting than most story-based shooters that I've ever played. 

The narrative can be both engaging, and erratic at times.
That being said, the quick bait-and-switch of the narrative combined with the quick reaction required to create combos makes for frantic game-play. It is not constantly frantic however. The fights are placed well apart so the attention required to create massive combos is staccato and focused in intense portions that are manageable. Narrative is delivered mostly in the slower gaps between combat so you don't miss any important story elements. Still though, the combination of arcade gameplay and the constantly changing landscape and narrative is fresh and personally I laughed every time my slightly sloshed memories were changed.

There are likely 2 ways that you might approach Gunslinger. The game encourages long-distance cover to cover sniping, and quick running reactive close-range game-play. The best part is that both are viable, and you aren't incentivized or punished too heavily for choosing one over the other. The bullet time feature is one of the ways they balance this. There is both a bullet time feature for combat, and a final bullet survival dodge that is activated when you are about to be hit for the last time. So you don't have to worry while your bullet meters are filled when you can run and gun. However you are risking life and limb once you dodge the bullet (literally) and need to recharge those meters!

These duels really make you feel like you're racing to draw.
This design choice both makes the stories more faithful to the stories of larger than life personalities and makes sniping and close-range combat both rewarding and effective. Instead of applying MORE armor like most games do, they increase or decrease these bullet-time features to give closer-combat more flair and effectiveness.

After playing this game for just a few days, regardless of how high I am on the leader-boards, everything becomes smooth and natural. Bullets fly, enemies fall, and my tally increases. I am not the best in the world, but it feels as though I am the best in the world I am playing in. This feeling that the game bestows on it's user is unique and gratifying. The only word I can use to describe it is "bad-ass". Yes, I feel like a bad-ass after playing Gunslinger. 

You'll like this game if: You want to be John Wayne and Clint Eastwood on steroids, mix in a bit of matrix, and a dash of space-invaders. Cook at 350 for 4 hours, and consume like nails at breakfast because you feel like such a beast.

(If you had a different opinion or a new video game to suggest, leave a comment below! If you want to recieve regular updates, follow me on Twitter @SimonGolden. )

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