It’s a funny thing when a franchise can have three retail games available, the last of which is widely considered to be quite bad, and then have a fourth game be reduced down to a cheap digital only title. Now you may be asking “well what’s funny about that?” and the funny thing is the $15 downloadable title with almost no promotion whatsoever is easily the best game in the franchise. And it’s not even close.
After the horrible decision to take Call of Juarez to the present day with “The Cartel,” Techland is back with another Call of Juarez game set in the old-west. Gunslinger, however, has nothing to do with the three previous games bearing the Call of Juarez title; in fact I don’t even know why they decided to attach the name of a mediocre series to it. I know many will simply look at the title, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger and say “don’t care.” I know, because that is how I was prior to the games release. I had heard about it, but didn’t care when it was announced and it was never on my radar. Hell, I didn’t even know it had released until I checked the PS store Tuesday afternoon to see the updates.
Make no mistake about it though; Gunslinger is a game worthy of your attention, time, and money. Seriously, this is a fantastic game for the price. I don’t want to give Ubisoft any ideas for future titles, but with what some folks release as retail titles, Ubisoft could have easily packaged this as a budget $29.99 title and it would have still been worth it.
So what makes Gunslinger so different from the other entries in the franchise? For starters, this one is more arcade like and that actually makes it a ton of fun to play. There’s a story mode that will take you around six or seven hours to complete on hard, and once you beat it you unlock True West mode (a lot harder difficulty) and New Game Plus (replay the story on any difficulty, but you get to keep your level and skills from your previous game). Scattered around the levels in the story mode are collectible “secrets” called Nuggets of Truth. There are 54 of these to find, and each one contains a rather detailed look at the facts surrounding the famous characters or places/events that you either meet or hear about in the game.
The art style is cel-shaded, so it is reminiscent of Borderlands; however Gunslinger does have some realistic looks to it, so it isn’t just cartoonish. I am a really big fan of the art style used here. The game really does look great, and at times, the scenery can really make you stop and go “wow.” The graphic style isn’t the only nod to Borderlands though; the game’s three skill trees seem inspired by the game and it also introduces bosses in a similar, comical style. That’s perfectly fine though, as it works to help make Gunslinger a really good and worthwhile package.
Gameplay wise, Gunslinger is what you would expect from a Western FPS game. Due to the time period, you’re limited in the type of weapons you can have: a couple of different pistols, a rifle, a shotgun, and some dynamite. Occasionally, you’ll get to man a Gatling gun and just mow down enemies which is always a blast. Thankfully, each gun type feels good to use and each has their strengths in any given moment depending on your play style. As a result, there are three “classes” each with a skill tree but you’re never locked into one path. You have “Gunslinger,” “Ranger,” and “Trapper” skill trees and classes (although I’d really only call it a class in the arcade mode) and that simply equates to “revolver,” “rifle,” and “shotgun.”
Gunslinger isn’t a very long game; it took me around six and a half hours to beat the story on hard difficulty. Sad thing is, there are $60 retail games that have campaigns shorter than this, so I really feel bad saying it isn’t long when you considering its $15 price. And if you enjoy it, which I absolutely do, then there IS a good amount of replay value to this as I’m currently playing my second playthrough on the New Game Plus and will do a third playthrough for the True West difficulty as well.
The story is one of the best parts of the game, even though it seems like it’s going to be an annoyance at the beginning. Your character, Silas Greaves, is sitting in a salon telling his story to a group of patrons. It is an absurd story too; Silas almost seems like the most extreme story-topper ever. Take any historical figure from America’s Old West and Silas either worked with them (Billy the Kid), killed them (too many to mention), or fought against them but didn’t kill them (quite a few). His story really is a who’s who list of notable outlaws and law officials including the likes of Pat Garrett, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the James Brothers, The Dalton’s, The Clanton’s, etc. Remember the gunfight at the O.K. Corral? No, Silas wasn’t there, but he caused it to happen.
As I played through the game, I couldn’t help but laugh as one of the characters in the saloon kept voicing my thoughts by claiming Silas was making this all up and lying. In a neat game mechanic, some of the times Silas is remembering stuff wrong or talking about things he should have done, and this causes the game to open up new paths or rewind back and have you play through an area a different way or kill a different group of enemies. It’s the type of mechanic that almost seems cheap, but works amazingly because this is the only type of story where the mechanic can really work (a narration to a group of people).
The missions all play out the same; kill these guys, move up, kill these guys, and continue doing that until you make it to the boss of the mission. It seems kind of dumb to have bosses in a non-supernatural shooter (because really, why should Frank James be able to survive a bunch of headshots?) but it works to enhance the arcade like awesomeness of the game. If the bosses were like the rest of the AI, which are pretty good AI by the way, and died because of a headshot it really wouldn’t have much challenge at all. Some bosses require you to use cover to work your way towards them, some you’ll have to deal with regular enemies coming at you as well, and others are simply duels that you’ll need to be quick on. They freshen up the boss encounters enough to keep things interesting, and at times quite challenging.
Outside of the game’s story mode, you have an arcade mode and a dueling mode to offer us some additional replay value. Arcade mode is a ton of fun. You choose one of the three previously mentioned classes and play through versions of the missions shooting bad guys and trying to get the highest score and quickest time possible. Your performance is graded on a star rating system with three stars being the highest, in addition to your actual score. You can compare your scores to those of your friends and anyone else who has played the levels on whatever platform you’re playing on. If you want to just get into a game quick and start shooting bad guys, arcade mode is for you.
The dueling mode is fun and challenging, but you really need to finish the story mode before attempting it (as the story mode gradually adds more layers to the dueling mechanic to make it easier for you to understand) and also you have to enjoy the duels. It took me a while to get used to them, and they are hard, but I’ve ended up really like duels in this game. It’s the first time I’ve played a Western game where dueling felt like a challenge. And indeed it is a challenge; you cannot afford to make a mistake. If you’re not focused enough, or more importantly, if your draw speed is low then you are dead. You need to be on point when dueling, especially in the dueling mode, and that requires you to be watching both your focus and your speed which means you need to have coordination. Do a Mexican standoff and you have to switch between looking at foes to try and determine which one is going to be shooting at you. This mode is straightforward, challenging, and fun, but it isn’t for everyone.
Unlike previous Call of Juarez titles, Gunslinger has no multiplayer outside of simple leaderboards. This is a good thing, because multiplayer would have no doubt raised the price and it would’ve likely lowered the great quality of the rest of the package. Some great games have come out this year, with BioShock Infinite being the big standout at the moment, but Gunslinger is legitimately the second best game I’ve played this year. I never in a million years would have expected Gunslinger to be anything above maybe good at best, and with my actual expectations set to “mediocre.” Techland has literally “wowed” me, and I’ll never again judge a game simply because of the past installments in the franchise.
There is a demo for Gunslinger, and I highly recommend you try it. This game wasn’t on my radar at all until I tried the demo, just because it was there and it was new, but after completing the demo I immediately went back on the PlayStation Store and bought the full game. I recently bought the PS2 Classic Fire Pro Wrestling Returns, and previously said that that was the best $10 I spent on PSN since Undead Nightmare. Now, Gunslinger is the best purchase I’ve made on PSN at any dollar amount since Undead Nightmare.
Gunslinger is a fantastic little game, and I really can’t recommend any higher than simply saying that all shooter fans to purchase this gem. It’s not often a $15 downloadable title pops up from nowhere and becomes one of the best games of the year to date, but that is exactly what Call of Juarez: Gunslinger has done.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger gets a five out of five: EXCELLENT.