Welcome to Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, a surprisingly thrilling shooter experience with tons of charm and great presentation, despite being a bit on the short side.
Platforms: PlayStation Network (PS3), Xbox Live Arcade (360), Microsoft Windows
Genre: First-person shooter
I went into Call of Juarez: Gunslinger with rather low expectations. I’d never taken the Call of Juarez games to be worth much, despite never playing them, but thanks to PS+, I got to try this one out for free. Аnd what I found was much different than what I expected to find.
Gunslinger returns Call of Juarez to the American Old West, after Call of Juarez: The Cartel decided to visit an urban setting (much to the dismay of critics). You follow the fictional bounty hunter Silas Greaves as he recalls his time as, quite literally, a gunslinger. His story is interwoven with fictionalized and exaggerated versions of the true stories of many infamous outlaws, including Billy the Kid and Jesse James. There are three modes to be explored: the main story, the arcade mode, and the duel challenge.
After spending enough time with Gunslinger to complete two playthroughs, complete arcade mode, try out the duel challenge, and get all of the trophies, I can say that I had more fun with it than I would have ever expected to. While it is not without a few flaws, this installment of Call of Juarez holds up just fine and excels where many other shooters fail to succeed at all.
+ Gunslinger features some of the best shooting that I’ve experienced in a game. Each shot and each kill is so satisfying, and the kill combos encourage fast paced play, making the gameplay alone incredibly thrilling.
+ The leveling system is well structured and very rewarding. It’ll take two playthroughs to unlock every upgrade, so if you’re only planning on playing Gunslinger once, you’ll have to spend your points wisely!
+ Concentration is a great mechanic, and it’s very well balanced, as spamming it will never allow you to have too much of it. You have to work for your concentration meter to fill up, and then it doesn’t last for too long. However, making the best of what little you get will help you out quite a bit.
+ It also has a great story, filled with tall tales only possible in the Old West and topped off with a great plot twist at the end. Some say that the twist was predictable, but I didn’t see it coming and it left a lasting impression on me.
+ The plot’s presentation is very unique. Everything is narrated by Silas and the bar crew, and as the story is told, the world around you changes. Sometimes, you’ll even go through the same section twice, as two of the characters tell different sides of the story, and the environment changes as the story is told. This method of storytelling adds comedy, depth, and atmosphere to Gunslinger’s narrative.
+ Believable and highly enjoyable voice acting performances breathe real life into the well-written dialogue. Silas’ voice actor, John Cygan, gives a particularly impressive performance.
+ Other aspects of the sound design succeed with flying colors. The gunshot sound effects and music not only perfectly mesh with the setting, but also enhance the gameplay. Yes, you read that right. The SFX add to the satisfaction of each shot and kill, while the music keeps you engaged and immersed.
+ The environments truly stand out and pop thanks to the cartoonish graphical style of Gunslinger, which also adds a lot of character to the western setting.
+ The game gives you interesting statistics after each mission and duel, which isn’t necessary to make the game great, but it is a nice bonus that is much appreciated.
+ The arcade mode offers more quality content, as you run through levels from the story mode to try and rack up huge kill combos and get a three star ranking. There’s a good challenge here too, as keeping the kill combo up without dying gets very difficult.
+ Lastly, this is a game that BEGS you to play it twice, or even three times. Not only will you be wanting to experience more of the fun shooting that Gunslinger offers on a second playthrough; you’ll also find much more meaning in some of the dialogue between Silas and the bar crew, and you’ll also want to see what the higher difficulties have to offer (True West difficulty is worth the extra playthrough, whether it is your second or third venture into the story). Tons of replay value here.
= The dueling is very atmospheric, and there is a good system to it that takes finesse and skill to master, but controlling it is a bit of a chore, and there are some moments where it becomes frustrating.
= Load times are often a point of complaint with Gunslinger, but I don’t think the load times are too atrocious. They aren’t short load times, but they aren’t horrendously long either. If anything, they’re just normal waits between chapters.
– Gunslinger, as much fun as it offers, can only offer 15-20 hours of gameplay to do everything. Each story playthrough will take 4-7 hours, arcade mode can be cleared with all stars in 2+ hours (depending on your skill level), and dueling doesn’t add too much more. Given, this is a digital download-only title with no platinum trophy on PS3, but it still seems like a small amount of content.
– Some of the level designs end up being very repetitive, so even though you’re having tons of fun shooting everything, you will notice (especially on the train levels) that you’re going through strikingly similar stretches quite often.
– There are a few small, non-gamebreaking glitches that pop in from time to time, removing some polish from the game.
– The black bars that sit on the sides of the screen are unnecessary. You may get used to them after playing for a while, but they are a distraction at first and I’d much rather have the full screen taken up by actual video, not blank space.
– One or two of the boss fights are well designed, but the rest are lacking. They seem uninspired, and tacked on, which ends up looking twice as bad because the rest of the game is so good.
– Although the game gives you the option of being honorable or dishonorable during your duels, in the end, the morality choices don’t have much of an impact on the story or dialogue. The only difference is that being honorable gives you a higher score and more XP.
Gunslinger is not without its flaws. It’s not perfect. Yet, I find myself being able to easily excuse many of the flaws, and the strengths are too great to let a few flaws deter anyone from playing this incredible shooter. In my opinion, it succeeds in the most important areas above most other shooters out today, and fails in rather insignificant ways. Honestly, the black bar issue is completely forgivable, as are the small glitches and lack of impact from the morality choices. Definitely play Gunslinger, as it’s worth so much more than the day or two you’ll spend playing it. It’s an experience you won’t regret embarking on; one you won’t soon forget.