The Amazing & Astonishing RPS Advent Calendar: Day 14

And then I opened the advent calendar door, and this massive explosion erupted from behind it, sending out fireballs all around. I was quick to dash about, rescuing the innocent children, before single-handedly stopping the fire from spreading to the puppy orphanage… Well, okay, it wasn’t quite like that. Um, let’s try again.

It’s Call Of Juarez: Gunslinger!

John: I had absolutely no expectations here. Not having played all the previous Juarez games, and not having hugely enjoyed those I had, I approached the game with no suspicions it would be a game of 2013. It sure was.

First of all, it’s not a Call Of Juarez game. It’s nothing to do with the previous three, doesn’t take place in Mexico, doesn’t have any Mexican characters, and certainly no one called Juarez. They may as well have called it Far Cry: Gunslinger, or Tom Clancy’s Gunslinger for all it had to do with the Ubisoft licence.

Second of all, everything is wrong about it. It’s a linear corridor shooter, where you’re not allowed to wander too far off route. There’s no quicksave, you’re limited to two weapons, and it features quick-time events. By rights, we should be sighing this one away. But oh by crikey, that would be a mistake.

Gunslinger is a ton of fun. It’s a smart, witty action game, with more inspiration in its little trigger finger than any number of Calls Of Honorfield. Here you play bounty hunter Silas Greaves, a delusional old man who lives in a fantasy world of Western classics. He believes he met all the greats, Butch and Sundance, Jesse James, and so on, and was superior to them all. You play through his memories of those times, as he tells them through liquor-soaked anecdotes in a bar. And they’re very likely not a bit true.

That’s where this game really comes into its own. So often scenarios become increasingly unrealistic, even to the point where what you’re playing backs the narrative into an inescapable corner. At this point Greaves’ audience might cry foul, and he’ll be forced to correct himself. From your perspective, that might see events rewinding in front of you, or even better, the scenery rearranging itself about you in order that his fancy may continue its contrived nonsense. And if that doesn’t make you want to play this game, then we can’t be friends.

At its very smartest, this lets the game guzzle its own cake, giving it room to embrace the more ludicrous aspects of FPS action, and then justifying itself as the fantasy of its narrator. Endless waves of enemies, seeing you single-handedly wipe out the Native American population, offer excellent gaming fun. And they’re ironied away as exactly what they are: bad storytelling. Glorious, even snarky, commentary on the genre, while still offering the fun such gibberish provides! Techland should still be highfiving themselves seven months on.

It’s so funny, so crafty, and strikingly good looking. (But enough about me.) There are faults, abrupt endings to stories, and shoddy cutscene art, but none of it spoils a genuine surprise: an action FPS with wit, brains and dumb shooting fun. Oh, and all this without being bloody sanctimonious about it.

As I’ve said before, it’s a hole in the universe that there isn’t a more open-world version of this, the scripted missions taking place within locales on a wider map. I’d sure like to see Techland and Ubisoft Montreal team up on such a project, while maintaining the same inherent sense of joy and silliness. But for now, and for just £12, this is by far one of 2013’s most splendid games.


  1. stahlwerk says:

    I agree, there’s fun in them there gorgeously painted mountain backdrops. What I really liked was how Silas and co. change their tone from the harmless bragging to the melancholic / existentialist the later the game gets, just before hitting the clever twist. Very much like a real night out.

    • Kobest says:

      Exactly! There’s that part closer to the end where Silas sings that song…it was quite haunting but beautiful at the same time.

      • stahlwerk says:

        Yeah, wasn’t it “o death”? (Checks Wikipedia) yes, it was. Damn, already forgetting the details, I really should be doing a new game+ when I have a few hours to spare.

  2. basilisk says:

    I very much agree with everything here. It came a bit out of nowhere, but it’s one of those games where everything perfectly fits with everything else, achieving exactly what it has set out to do as efficiently as possible. It’s lean, focused, smart – and the shooting is a ton of fun, too. My personal goatee in the “lightweight” category.

  3. Maritz says:

    Yep, I had a great amount of fun playing this. Credit to them as well for releasing it at an outrageously low price – I picked it up for £8.99 on release day. As it says in the article, why oh why can’t there be an open-world version of this?

    • DanMan says:

      Why oh why does everything have to be open-world nowadays? As if it was a requirement to be any good. It’s NOT. It’s just ONE way of building a game. It’s not THE way to build a game. I’m getting old – I don’t have the time to wander around aimlessly in games anymore.

      Sorry for rant… I’m not picking on you specifically. I just read those comments everywhere, and they annoy me.

      • soldant says:

        Totally agree – this game works because it’s linear, it’s story-focused (even if that story is the ramblings of an old man yet with a startling purpose) and there’s no freedom. You’re playing through a story as events happened, by necessity it’s linear.

        I don’t know when “linear = bad” became a thing, because games like Half Life or even Portal are as linear as a straight line when it comes to progression and boundaries, yet are lauded as industry greats.

      • Lambchops says:

        Yup, I enjoy an open world game from time to time but on balance I tend prefer a tighter linear experience or a couple of nice hubs to help sate my exploratory side.

        That’s why I reckon, while both were fun, Arkham Asylum was marginally better than Arkham City. Just felt more cohesive overall.

      • Zenicetus says:

        I don’t think every game has to be open world, but we’re not exactly swimming in open world games set in the Wild West. I think that’s what many gamers would like to see (well, I would anyway).

        There was a brief interlude in the middle of the 2nd Juarez game that wasn’t exactly open world, but you could roam around a bit, and do some minor side missions. It was a nice break from the rest of the game’s on-rails scripting. I could use some more of that in a Wild West game.

      • Maritz says:

        I wasn’t saying having an open world makes games better. Hell, games like Minecraft, Mount & Blade, Terraria et al have given me some of the most tedious gaming hours I’ve experienced. I’m generally no fan of the open world format, preferring more scripted games, like this one. But we have a paucity of wild west games as it is, and in my view the setting would be great in a more open type of game. Even if it was just a Bethesda RPG-lite style one.

        • Imbecile says:

          I quite like a focussed experience, but I’m not so fond of linear ones. One of the reasons I play games is that I like to feel I have some control over the timing and direction of events. I appreciate I’m sometimes in the minority here, as its one of the reasons I didnt particularly like the last of us. But theres room for both types of game, and I think we still see both types.

          Edit: Was supposed to be a response to Danman

      • The Random One says:

        I have to agree. The only moment when the linear path was a problem was in the very last level when it tells you “You’re wandering from the story!” and kills you outright if you don’t stay where you’re supposed to. I didn’t get that anywhere else on the game and I feel it’s better for it – it’s a dude telling a story, after all.

      • tasteful says:

        and what about smartphones

  4. golem09 says:

    Oh wow, I never looked into this game at all, but it sounds pretty fun. Might pick it up one of these days.

  5. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    Just after giving an exam, and then having to go through a tiring commute, it’s nice to sit in front of my PC with food and RPS articles.

    Gunslinger has been recommended by several other sources as well; I should get around to playing it.

  6. Kobest says:

    Absolutely agreed, this one was one of my GOTY’s for this year.

    It might not be a long game (in fact, it encourages a second playthrough and some arcade modes), but man, was I very surprised how enjoyable and witty this game was!

    Highly recommended for everyone who enjoys good shooting with a memorable way of telling a story.

  7. LionsPhil says:

    I absolutely, absolutely loved this game. It kept a grin on my face and made me laugh out loud more often than anything else I can think of this year, save perhaps the rewarding tensions of getting the Mun landing crew back home safely in KSP.

  8. BLACKOUT-MK2 says:

    I really enjoyed Gunslinger, the gunplay was fun and the concept of playing as a guy who sounds like he’s making up the story as he goes along was really entertaining. It’s brilliant for the price.

  9. airtekh says:

    Some of the most clever integration of story and gameplay I’ve seen in a while. Gunslinger was a very entertaining diversion for me during the Summer.

    I must say that this year was a particularly good one for Ubisoft. I thoroughly enjoyed their ‘B Team’ offerings, including this and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon; and their bigger budgeted games – Assassin’s Creed 4 and Splinter Cell: Blacklist are among my personal games of the year.

  10. Paul says:

    Really really great game. But rather than Gunslinger 2, what I would like Techland to make is proper open world western FPSRPG that would challenge Red Dead as the best western game of all time.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I don’t know; have they shown any particular proficiency at open world?

      CoJ2 had some hub parts that I thought were generally not considered that great. I honestly can’t remember much of that game. What they’ve done well, in this and CoJ1, was mostly-linear narratives. (CoJ1 was a bit less on rails, which worked better for secret-hunting—the level where you’re playing the boy climbing a mountain was great—but probably would have hurt the flow of Gunslinger too much.)

      • DrGonzo says:

        I thought the hub parts were some of the strongest moments in it. I don’t want them to make a Red Dead, but deus ex with cowboys would be great

  11. SuicideKing says:

    Why is wiping out the entire native american population fun? Sounds a bit racist, really.

    Though i guess if that’s the very point they’re making (commentary on Call of Shooty and the likes), then it’s different, i guess.

    • LionsPhil says:

      It’s just hyperbole for “shooting a lot of dudes”.

    • basilisk says:

      Nah, I think John was referring to the fact that Silas tends to get carried away in his narration, and particularly in the one level where Native Americans are present you get to kill an absolutely ludicrous number of them. The game is extremely self-aware in moments like this, though I’m not sure I’d classify that as commentary on anything except old Western clichés.

      • Muzman says:

        That was the bit that caught my eye in the Totalbiscuit impressions. There’s a bit where Silas is talking about fighting hoards of Apaches hiding in the dirt and up on ridges, and you are fighting hoards of Apaches and they just keep coming and coming. Then after a while Silas remarks on this and says something like “I had no idea where all these Cowboys were coming from”. One of the guys in the bar says “Wait a minute. I thought you said they were Apaches?!” Silas says “No, I said I thought they were Apaches. No way they could be if there was this many of them ” (or something) and all the enemies change into Cowboys right in front of you.

        • SuicideKing says:

          Ah. Interesting. I think i’ll pick this up, then.

          • Lusketrollet says:

            Good to know the game lived up to your superior moral standards, SuicideKing.

            It’d be horrible if it didn’t.

          • soldant says:

            There’s also a great part where Silas goes off to take a piss, leaving the game in a loop until he returns to keep telling the story. There are lots of moments like this where the game is driven by Silas’ ridiculous storytelling.

            Then the big ending comes up. Is Silas just an unreliable historian, or did he know what he was doing all along?

  12. amateurviking says:

    I finally got round to playing this just last week. It’s really great. Really great. Also goes to show that having your narrative inform your mechanics (especially the more gamey ones) can really enhance the experience. Even if it’s as simple as ‘because unreliable narrator’ rather than ‘because games’. That sort of thing was a big part of what made Dark Souls so special for me.

  13. derbefrier says:

    Bought it during the steam sale and yes its quite fun

  14. Carra says:

    It’s an excellent game that’s surprisingly cheap for what it offers. More of these 5 hour diversions please :)

  15. Masrap says:

    “First of all, it’s not a Call Of Juarez game. It’s nothing to do with the previous three”



    The most obvious connection between each game is the ancient Aztec coin macguffin. While the less than obvious one is the fact that the three killers worked under Juan “Juarez” Mendoza.


    • Vandelay says:

      True, but those really are just surface details to serve as some connection to the series. The name dropping of those bears no real purpose in the story.

  16. PopeRatzo says:

    I hope Shadow Warrior gets an honorary mention. It was a similar game from the same outfit, I think. And good!

    • Wedge says:

      Nah, Shadow Warrior was the guys that did Hard Reset, which I think were ex Futuremark devs or something.

  17. Vandelay says:

    I’m just going to post my entry for this in the RPS community “Best Games Played 2013” poll in the forums (hope you all join us in the voting.)

    “This game is just pure fun. After being stuck with so much seriousness in our shooters (excluding Serious Sam 3) for so long, it was a welcome change of pace to have a game that can be so enjoyable, yet actually clever with the way it plays with this interactive medium. It was a true master stroke to have the game play out as a drunken tale, complete with false starts and corrections, that it is a wonder that we have not seen more of this (I won’t say it has never been done before, as I am sure it has, but it is surprising that it is not more frequent.) And that is only half the game, with the arcade mode offering some amazingly fast paced shooting fun for those who enjoy a score attack mode. The strength of this mode highlights just how solid the mechanics are and demonstrate that the game is not just a bunch of clever narrative tricks. I don’t know if this is the best FPS of the year (not played Shadow Warrior or Rise of the Triads,) but ever so often a FPS comes along to remind me why I always loved the genre and this was this year’s for me.”

    John doesn’t mention the Arcade mode above, but it really should be highlighted. I loved the story mode for all of its wonderfully choreographed moments, but the fact that the Arcade mode works shows how good the actual gameplay is.

  18. Lambchops says:

    This slipped well under my radar but sounds like, while it’s not a classic, it might actually be a hell of a lot more fun than some of the more po-faced FPS games that are sitting barely played in my Steam library.

    Plus, apart from puzzle/adventure games, average but enjoyably silly games is something that I trust Walker’s opinion on (would never have sampled the glorious daftness of Disaster Day of Crisis on the Wii if it hadn’t been for him).

    On my ever burgeoning “to buy” list. Damn you advent calendar, you’re adding to it almost every day!

  19. Gnoupi says:

    You can get it today for less than 5 euros, btw: link to

  20. DanMan says:

    No Uplay? Guess I have to put that on my wishlist then. I kinda enjoyed the demo.

  21. Cybert says:

    I didn’t think the gunplay in this game fit with the story. When you shoot a gun, he automatically pulls back the hammer, but you can shoot again before the animation has even finished, meaning that the animation is pointless and the game might as well take place during ww2. No fanning either which is a disappointment.

    • Hidden_7 says:

      The guns being single-action isn’t the only difference between the way combat would work if this were a WW2 game. Weapons are for the most part reloaded one cartridge at a time in this, versus the presence of clip loading systems. Number of bullets loaded at a time tends to be much lower, there’s no automatic weapons. Even firing as fast as you can and your enemies doing the same there’s far fewer bullets in the air at once than you’d have in a WW2 game.

      Of course, it would be nice for there to be a fanning animation when you rapidly fire your gun (cause mechanically that’s what you’re basically doing) but I can see why they didn’t put one in as it could be kinda awkward with the iron sights. It’s a concession toward gameplay, but a pretty minor one considering it’s just one animation. It still plays far different from a WW2 game, or other shooters with more modern weaponry.

      Besides, the hammer readying animation serves as a good indicator for when your gun is accurate again, so I wouldn’t say it’s completely pointless.

    • Wedge says:

      I don’t think simulating realistic western gunplay was even a consideration in the game, considering the ridiculous level up buffs, slow motion kill streaks, mid-air dynamite shooting and dual wielding half the weapons.

    • Ringwraith says:

      Echoing other senitments here, yeah, it’s not quite as ‘realistic’, not even as much as the first two games, which at least the first of which had a dedicated button to not dual-wielding and instead fanning the hammer of one revolver, but the whole thing is a ludicrous story set within a story anyway, so it hardly matters.
      Besides, having to reload almost every revolver one round at a time was always enough of a shock to begin with, I remember scrabbling in the first game to find quickloader ones whenever I could, except when the really good quality ones show up, I will take better accuracy over reload speed, but they were so slow…

      • LionsPhil says:

        I got the fast reload perks as soon as I could.

        • Hidden_7 says:

          I loved how the reloading worked in this game. So many games make it so quick and painless that they may as well just not have it. It’s so minor an interruption to the constant flow of bullets from your gun that you don’t even need to duck into cover while you do it. The slow reload time in this ads a wonderful bit of tension as you truly do run dry and need to duck into cover for what can feel like forever in the heat of the moment. Or more interestingly swap to another gun as that’s quicker than reloading. A lot of time I used the dual wield option just as a second loaded revolver when my first ran dry.

          Heck, even the fast reload perk make things delightfully tense by requiring input on the part of the user, mashing that button all “come on, come on, load faster.”

          Really, more games could benefit from slowing down reloading some (provided it’s done consistently to player and enemies).