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The Amazing & Astonishing RPS Advent Calendar: Day 14

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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.

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The all-seeing eye of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the voice of many-as-one.

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