After the poor reception of Call of Juarez: The Cartel, Ubisoft had to work fast to save the franchise from certain destruction. Luckily, Ubisoft placed the franchise in the capable hands of Techland, and we are all better off for the decision. However, the game caught many by surprise, considering how poorly the previous game was received. Little did we know that our expectations were about to be exceeded. The end result is a very solid, old-western shooter that gives Red Dead Redemption a run for its money.
The scale and scope of Gunslinger has been drastically reduced from the usual full-length Call of Juarez game. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the game suffers from its compact nature; in fact, the focused nature of the game helps keep the narrative moving at a brisk pace. The story opens with Silas Greeves, a bounty hunter with a colorful and checkered past. Silas finds himself at the local saloon, gets recognized, and starts talking about his experiences. That is where the real story begins. The game is unveiled as a series of flashbacks. In order to progress the story and move on to the next flashback, you must complete a series of linear objectives.The game is rarely complicated and often involves killing an entire gang of outlaws. It may seem like this can get boring, but the story is relatively light and full of flavor. As you uncover the story, you’ll learn that Silas Greeves has been a part of just about every famous gang and hunted every outlaw from Jesse James to Billy the Kid. This may seem silly, but the game gives off a certain charm that lets you look past the story and focus on what is really important; the gameplay.
Gunslinger may seem like your typical first person shooter, and in most instances, you’d be right. However, there are a few twists that make this game more interesting than your run-of-the-mill shooter. As Silas is narrating your adventure, you’ll come to parts of the story that Silas doesn’t remember right, or he’ll get caught embellishing the story. When this happens, you’ll have to replay the section the way it actually happened. The sections are never very long, but they generally add some comedic relief to the game and helps keep the game’s light tone intact. Another interesting mechanic is Silas’ Sense of Death ability. When Silas is about to be killed, you have the chance to dodge out of the way of that last bullet. If you manage to escape, you get a second wind and return to the fray with some health. This isn’t necessarily a new concept (here’s looking at you Borderlands), but it works well in this game and plays into the way the story is told. You can just hear Silas saying “I thought I was a goner until I dodged that bullet and fought on.”
In addition to interesting mechanics, the level design in this game is excellent. There is plenty of room to run around, explore, and plan your assault on your enemies. This game could have easily reverted to a typical, closed-in shooter where you only have what’s in front of you to worry about. In Gunslinger, the environments are surprisingly vast with plenty of room to approach the battle however you see fit. Whether you want to flank your enemies using alleys and rooftops or you want to run into battle with guns blazing, Gunslinger gives you the flexibility to play how you want to play.
While the focus is clearly on the shooting in this game, there is an RPG-like experience system underneath that allows you to customize Silas to your play style. When you dispatch enemies quickly, you’ll earn experience which can be spent on upgrades. These upgrades range from turning on aids to increase your sight or reload times to more passive abilities This system works quite well within the game and allows you to make Silas play to your strengths rather than Silas having a rigid play style that you have to adapt to. It also gives you incentive to go for head-shots and kill as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Finally, what really helps make this game stand out above all others is your ability to duel. In order to beat your opponent to the draw, you must master two different elements. The first is to keep the gun cursor centered on where you want to shoot your enemy. Then you are left with a decision: you can wait for him to make the first move and reach for your gun as soon as you see them reach for theirs, or you can draw first and kill them dishonorably. However, if you keep your honor intact, you’ll get more experience points to improve your character.
All in all, Gunslinger is an excellent downloadable title. It manages to take the first person shooter concept and mix in enough unique gameplay mechanics to make it interesting again. The game really makes itself stand out with the dueling portions; the system isn’t perfect, but it is new, and with time, it can only get better. Unfortunately, the game is also on the short side, since it is a downloadable title. We really feel this deserved the full-length treatment. Either way, if you purchase Gunslinger, you are treating yourself to a light-hearted, technically-sound shooter that will bring you several hours of fun. For the $15 dollar price tag, it is well worth the investment.
This review is based on a review copy of the PlayStation 3 version of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger developed by Techland, published by Ubisoft