Cowboys And Injuries: Call Of Juarez – The Gunslinger

By Adam Smith on September 7th, 2012 at 7:00 pm.

It’s back to the Old West for Call of Juarez, following an ill-advised visit to the drug-fuelled foul-mouthed world of today that every one of us recognised in The Cartel. It was a documentary of our times, like looking out of the window, but Gunslinger returns to the escapist mythopoeic dust of the Old American West and it might just have enough aces up its cowhide sleeve to erase all memory of its immediate predecessor.

Guns will be slung, that’s for sure. In the tutorial level that formed the live demonstration I watched at Ubisoft’s ‘Digital Day’ yesterday at least a hundred men must have been shot down in what was an astounding display of violence: barrels, conveniently loaded with TNT, sent bodies pirouetting through the air; bullets punched through fence posts and then straight through the gut of the lawmen cowering behind. It’s almost a shooting gallery with targets popping up so thick and fast that the revolver has to function like an automatic weapon to put them all down, and unlockable skill trees do allow for lightning fast reloads.

Somewhere along its route back to the ghost towns and gold mines of the wild frontier, Juarez seems to have picked up a few tips from Bulletstorm and The Club. Stringing combos together sees experience points and words floating out of the dead – “headshot”, one might say, or “running kill” as a fleeing gun for hire is shot in the back. Those experience points allow the player to purchase skills, including a hammer reload option that causes rapid button-pressing to throw bullets into the chamber at an impossible rate. The ‘concentration’ mode is back as well, slowing the action, but that’s a skill that doesn’t need to be unlocked and recharges with each kill.

There’s another meter to charge as well, taking the form of a pair of lucky dice. Called ‘sense of death’ it’s a literal lifesaver, causing any potentially lethal bullet to trigger that same slow motion, although this time to perform a dodge. The bullet hangs in the air for a second and it’s possible to lean to one side or the other in an attempt to survive with nothing more than a graze. Absolutely ludicrous but in a way that suits the game’s arcade sensibilities. It looks to be a very silly and entertaining take on the well-worn tales of the West and the most interesting feature is directly related to the storytelling rather than the gunslinging.

As well as Bulletstorm, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bastion has been the talk of Techland in recent times. The story shows both sides of the law, in and out, but all from the perspective of a single character who spends the game sitting in a saloon rather than wandering the trails, gun in hand. A crowd gathers around the old-timer as he tells his shaggy dog stories, including the tutorial, which tells how he was side by side with Billy the Kid when the young upstart was hiding out in a farmhouse, under siege by Pat Garrett and an army of hastily recruited bounty hunters.

When you meet these legendary characters in game their traits flash up on the screen as the world becomes a saturated cartoon, more Borderlands than Badlands, fitting with the graphical style of the cutscenes that show the saloon and its motley denizens. They chip in from time to time, interrupting the story as you play it. This doesn’t stop the action, it just cuts into the flow of the gruff narrative and it’s the main character’s voiceover – and the occasional dialogue between him and his listeners – that hooked me more than the admirably overblown violence.

I could be mistaken but I immediately made a connection between this grizzled drunkard’s tales of glory and the unfeasible events that take place in the actual levels. He’s bullshitting, right? Did he ride with Jesse James and later turn bounty hunter and bring in some of the most famous names of that time? Did he really kill more men than the bubonic plague? These are heavily embellished memories or outright lies, just as much as a make-believe modern war, and I hope that the writing and concept are sharp enough to play with that idea. As it is, the tutorial level seems to show that the narration will react to the player’s actions, whether he chooses one route or another, and the approach he takes to certain fights.

It helps that the voice acting for the lead is strong, although the supporting cast aren’t quite as convincing. An inquisitive youngster in particular is a little too reedy, but maybe that can’t be helped when he’s locked in dialogue with a man who quite possibly gargles with gravel every morning after downing a bottle of sour mash whiskey to break his fast.

The release date is Q1 2013 so hopefully it won’t be too long before we’re allowed to play for ourselves, but Gunslinger already looks like a step in the right direction for Juarez (not difficult considering its last entry), although the combos and kill streaks make it something different, not simply a return to yesteryear’s Western. I expect it to be a lean game, all muscle, gristle and lead, compact and tight. There’s a weight to the shooting, a declaration of the power of the gun in a land in which it was law, and the way that the fairly small introductory map transitions smoothly between objectives – defend, assault, escape – is impressive.

Also impressive is the reasoning behind releasing the game only in digital format, which doesn’t mean a great deal from a PC perspective but means it will be less than ‘full’ price on consoles, appearing on PSN and XBLA. Whether that reflects on the size of the game we won’t know until we have a better idea of how much is included, but when asked we were told that the decision had been made because there was no desire to add a multiplayer mode or any other girth that would distract the team from making the best version of the single player campaign possible.

Based on the short section shown, it’s possible that Gunslinger will attract the sort of folk who enjoy score attack modes and the plotting of perfect routes and aim, but there are also likely to be slower paced levels ahead. It’s an intriguing and unexpected game though, and if the narrative has half as much playfulness as I’m hoping, should entertain even a lackadaisical trigger-finger like my own.

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23 Comments »

  1. Paul says:

    Bah. Call of Juarez 1 and 2 were very good atmospheric western shooters. I was hoping for just as atmospheric, but more open next game, instead I got Cartel and now some weird scoring game. Sigh.

  2. Quarex says:

    As someone who skipped Bound in Blood and The Cartel entirely because it felt like they were either not different enough from the original or just completely insanely irrelevant (respectively), I have to say this game already sounds like it might be not just an amazing return to form, but even better than the first game.

    Mainly though, this preview has me realizing just how exciting I find the idea of the unreliable narrator in gameplay, given that was also my favorite part of Dragon Age 2.

    • LionsPhil says:

      It sounds more like #1 to me, yes; the two-character thing makes me think of Ray and Billy’s interweaved campaigns.

      With the huge caveat of throwing off the western mood with neon killstreak scores, yes.

      Man, CoJ1 was a really good game. It’s a shame 2 was such a step down (I lost soon interest after they used a horse-drawn cart to batter through walls like it was a huge truck—very disappointing after the first game and its horses that actually felt like something other than a motorbike or a speed powerup), and then the Cartel…eeesh.

      Argh. I just remembered the section with Billy in the caverns full of tarantulas. Guess I’m not sleeping tonight.

    • TwwIX says:

      You should really give Bound in Blood a try. It’s a highly underrated game imo. They really nailed down the western feel and it also gives a lot of backstory to the original game. The story is again told from two perspectives and the gun mechanics are just as good if not better. The Cartel was utter shit, though. I don’t know what the fuck they were thinking. I just hope that the PC version for this upcoming game is a better port than Dead Island was.

  3. Berzee says:

    But if Call of Juarez isn’t about modern-day police officers anymore, how can I justify linking to “Whiskey For My Men, Beer For My Horses” every time a post comes up?

  4. Eclipse says:

    combo, streaks and points for headshots to unlock skills? this sound worse than the cartel

  5. Zenicetus says:

    Combos, kill streaks, and XP points floating out of people’s heads, huh? Well, crap… that’s not what I’m looking for in an immersive Wild West game. I was worried more about it being another on-rails script fest like Bound in Blood, but it looks like I was worrying about the wrong things. I know I should wait to reserve judgement until it’s out, but so far, this just sounds like a bad cartoon.

    Oh well, I guess it’s back to my duster-wearing, revolver packing gunslinger in New Vegas. Even with mutants and lasers, it’s closer to what I’m looking for, in a Wild West fix.

  6. RegisteredUser says:

    This series has constantly been marred by bad ideas, “console things” and just generally feeling like its trying, but just not getting there. Mediocrity, blandness and repetitive nuisiance(hello impossible high-noon draw-your-gun-at-bell-sound shootouts e.g.).

    We can do better than this series, I would think.

  7. Mrs Columbo says:

    The original CoJ was the best multiplayer fun I’ve ever had. I am right in thinking from the above that there’ll be no MP in this new game?

  8. Paul says:

    Techland have so much talent, it is a shame they also have some stupid ideas and are intent on executing them.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      This is sadly true.

      Though I like Dead Island Cartel can go die in a fire though.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      My dog has more talent.

    • The Magic says:

      I’ve been playing Dead Island, and while it is a pretty decent “game”, it’s not much more than that. Their attitudes seem to fit that of devs 10 years ago, where it’s mostly first person shooters, clumsy narrative and a game-y-centric focus, rather than the more modern approach of crafting an experience. That said, at least this seems to learn from more interesting ideas, which is a step in the right direction.

  9. Nixitur says:

    Cartel was awful. Absolutely abysmal. Not only is the singleplayer bland, horribly scripted, the AI is horrible and the story is, frankly, insulting, oversimplifying the whole drug war and often even outright lying to support American patriotism, but the co-op doesn’t really work either.
    Sure, the whole “hidden objectives” thing is neat and all, but there is literally no reason why you would want to stop the other players from, well, getting more powerful. It’s co-op, why would you want to stop the other players from getting better?

    Compared to The Cartel, I am actually rather looking forward to this game. No, it won’t be realistic, but who cares? Not only does it play in the mythical wild west, but also mostly in the memories of an old guy in a bar trying to tell an exciting story. So, why shouldn’t the game have dramatic showdowns, improbable dodging maneuvers and stylish kills? It fits absolutely perfectly.

  10. Noise says:

    Call of Juarez 1 is an amazing game. The rest have never lived up to it.

  11. Monkeh says:

    On a related note, does anyone know why the hell the first Call of Juarez costs twice as much as Bound in Blood on Steam?

  12. Shooop says:

    At least they’ve got the setting right this time around. Not sure how I feel about the pinball popups though, I’ve seem way too many of those lately.

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