As a series, Call of Jaurez has had no shortage of ups and downs. After a decent first title and the flawed but good Bound In Blood, the developer Techland made the inexplicably bad The Cartel. A game which succeeded in not only alienating fans by abandoning the traditional Western setting and characters, but had a horrendously inaccurate, highly offensive plot. Many thought that would be the end to the series as a whole, but now we have the £11.99 Call of Jaurez: Gunslinger. An instalment which returns to its roots but with a few distinct changes.
Is this the final nail in the coffin for what was once a promising series or a return to grace? Let’s find out.
In a first for this series, the ultimate strength of the title comes from the plot. Not the story itself, which is fairly average and more often than not clichéd for the setting, but the exact way in which it is being told. The framing device for this story is protagonist Silas Greaves telling events of his long and bloody life in exchange for free drinks. As with all legends of the west, the events of his existence have suffered exaggerations and new details from miscommunications and as a result the narrative shifts even as you are playing it.
This is made clear from the very beginning in which the tutorial teaches you the various mechanics. Playing out events as the legends have been told, but then starting over as Silas corrects them and explains what really happened. This can effect everything from fourth wall breaking gags to changing enemies, the environment or even basic aspects of your status at that time. One particularly infamous moment of this is when a corpse plummets out of the sky and onto the ground in front of you with the words “That’s when something miraculous happened. Like manna from Heaven!” All the while they are punctuated by John Cygan’s Silas (AKA Dash Rendar, Canderous Ordo etc) who proves to be a match for previous protagonists Billy Mendoza and Ray McCall. Giving a classic accented narration which helps to sell the setting and provides a strong voice for the title.
This being said, the game does not take itself all that seriously and is very much arcade in its play style. With each mission being separately broken up and some fairly direct combat going on throughout the game. Being on foot the entire way through and very much a linear title, the game lacks the strengths of something like Red Dead Redemption which allowed for horseback combat and hunting alongside gunning down foes. That being said what the game does offer is solidly fun. While by no means realistic, fast loading six shooters for the win, it’s without a doubt extremely exciting to go through. Mowing down enough foes to make the average Call of Duty game seem conservative, and giving you more killing instruments than John Matrix goes to work with.
Everything from the aforementioned six shooters to old style gatling guns are available to you, each with the expected strengths and weaknesses. That being said most of the time you’re likely to gravitate towards the bolt action rifle or double barrel shotgun, each being the most specialised at long or close range combat respectively. Often being the most effective at what you need at that specific and outclassing everything else you’re carrying. The variety of killing instruments is something the game which does take into account allowing for you to spend RPG style points on skills in each of the three areas. What helps to break up the arcadey combat somewhat is the slightly different situations and boss battles which occasionally force you to do something besides lean in and out of cover shooting at people. Also the specific abilities of slow motion quick-time dodges and bullet-time focus fire, which does periodically give you an edge you need to not end up a bullet ridden corpse.
Speaking of bullets, the game has the interesting design of having the damage affect your screen. Nothing unusual obviously but unlike the usual diminishing health bar or someone smearing jam over your vision, paper-like hole punches show up where the bullets have impacted. This is done in combination with some of the more traditional damage effects but helps to present things in a much more stylised manner than usual. Fitting with the game’s overall semi-unreal tone and the ultimately exaggerated environment. Said environment consists of various cel-shaded techniques and more contemporary looks. With everything extremely sun saturated and colourful yet retaining realistic, if moderate to low quality, textures on objects. The environments themselves making use of this with a reasonable mixture of townships, valleys, greenery and such. It might not look outstanding but it ought to be enough to keep people from noticing the flaws until the game is finished.
Beyond the running battles with small armies of henchmen is the quick-draw minigame, making its return after being suspiciously absent from The Cartel. Unlike the traditional shooting mechanics, the mini-game requires players to balance between getting the best focus possible (AKA accuracy) while at the same time still having a fast enough draw to beat the other guy. It takes more than a little experimentation and it’s one element where you’re likely to die more often than not in this respect, but the campaign does allow for you to achieve dishonourable wins. In other words shooting the other guy before anything begins and being a dishonourable bastard.
The technical options for the title are more or less what you’d expect for a title of this pricing. While Techland did take the time to include them, always a nice bonus, none of them are especially extensive and some have the habit of falling back to default settings between playing the game. This is especially true with the screen options. The unfortunate problem with this is that there’s no option to get rid of the black bars which take up the upper and lower halves of the screen.
Flaws are to be expected within a title of this pricing, but given what we’ve seen of this series in the past it’s okay. Nothing outstanding but certainly above what the last installment brought us. It’s definitely recommended for someone who has been itching to get a halfway decent Western first person shooter and the narrative style alone makes this a title definitely worth looking at. If you have the time to spare and cash to spend, look this one up.