There’s an old proverb which goes something like this, “if it’s not broken don’t fix it”, but apparently people in charge of Call of Jurez series never come across it. Techland, the Polish developers, who brought us games like Dead Island and soon to come Hellraid and Dying Light are behind this first person shooter series which got quite a good start back in 2006. The first installment of the game was based in the old west and with decent graphics and gameplay (by 2006 standards of course) and having the distinction of first game to utilize direct X10. The second part called “Bound in Blood” made some improvements over its predecessor in the graphic / gameplay department, but still stuck with the old west theme and was a decent success. The third part called “The Cartel” however proved to be an abysmal disaster even though Techland tried to bring the game in the 21st century and extended it to support three players. And now that Techland have churned up yet another part, Call of Jurez Gunslinger, but I was very hesitant to give it a try, because Cartel really tarnished the entire experience for me. What compelled me to try the game out was Techland’s decision to revert the game back to its old western settings. However, publisher Ubisoft’s decision to make it available for platforms like XBL, PSN and steam really baffled me! Oh well you can’t have butter on both sides of the bread as they say. The first thing that struck me (and pleased me) was the cell shaded art style, which makes the game look quite retro coupled with framed narrative, that really shows the developers and publisher's commitment to make this installment significant.
Call of Jurez Gunslinger’s plot is actually an old bounty hunter named Silas Greaves reminiscing about his past exploits sitting in a dusty saloon. Turns out that the old geezer is a legend around those parts and people in the saloon are all eager audience just thrilled to be listening about his adventures. Players would be stepping in the boots of old Silas as he narrates each of his adventures. This may sound like nothing new and novel but occasionally people from the audience find enough courage to challenge and contradict the narrative. This may vary the course of narrative and provide a new twist to the plot as it's revealed that Old Silas has a habit of twisting certain facts and historic information to make his narrative more appealing. Famous old west outlaw figures like Sundance kid, Billy the kid also make appearances but not in the true historical context; their roles get altered to fit in with Silas’s rendition of the story. Even then the plot concludes in a predictable way, which is a letdown considering the aforementioned twists and turns.
Gameplay wise Gunslinger has all the elements that one looks for in a FPS. The shooting is highly entertaining and would definitely satisfy the cravings of the most ardent of fans! There’s nothing like experiencing a bullet spewing forth from your colt peacemaker in all its glory (the ear splitting gunshot echo and the smoke) and hitting its target with a resounding splat. There is a cover system but nothing very sophisticated and on par with the likes of Gears of Wars, but it perfectly suits the crazy fast paced shootout sequences. The AI is decent and keeps throwing enemies at you which requires being vigilant and steadfast, as it’s very possible to get overwhelmed by their share numbers. The scoring system is very impressive which bestows more points every time player scores a headshot or manages to hit a running enemy. Quickly killing enemies is also rewarded in form of a score multiplier which remains active as long as a player can keep the killing spree going. There’s a slow down feature a la Matrix style which significantly slows down the pace and highlights the enemies in glowing red color for easy pickings. The slow down meter however gets depleted but can be recharged with each successive kill. My favorite ability is however the one which allows dodging bullets which would otherwise make a beehive out of old Silas’s head, this ability takes time to recharge and should be used only in very dire circumstances.
The arsenal at a player’s disposal in Call of Jurez Gunslinger is also impressive. There are new, more lethal and accurate guns that can be unlocked and each level is littered with new weapons just waiting to be picked up. You won't be finding any weapon that would make you feel over-empowered or invincible, but you can fine tune the ones at your disposal resulting in some nifty shootouts. For people who like to keep their enemies at a distance the rifle is the weapon of choice, for those who like to get in close for the kill the sawed off shot gun is the ideal tool. Of course, there are secondary weapons like your trusty six shooter or hand canon like ranger revolvers. Being bothered by some pesky enemies hiding behind cover? Lob a stick or two of dynamite at them and see them being blown to smithereens!
What old west game would be complete without the famous one on one shootout! Call of Jurez Gunslinger offers minigames where you face off against some of the most notorious quick draws of the old west. The shootout mechanics for this are the same as found in the “Bound by Blood” where you have to fiddle with directional sticks to draw your gun speedily and focus when it’s finally out. The entire sequence is wicked fun, precise and provides a change from the fast pace shooting from hip that’s a part and parcel of the main game. Graphically, Gunslinger is a triumphant return of Techland as the visuals are of good quality, and the cutscenes are crisp. The soundtrack and voice acting are very well done. The rough and gruff southern accent of Silas is very likable and there are times when you actually develop a fondness for the old fart!
Apart from the predictable ending that you can see coming and the boss battles which tend to get a bit one sided, there are no gaping or jarring shortcomings of Call of Jurez Gunslinger. The weak premise is totally overshadowed by the excellent and over the top fun shooting, well designed levels and very innovative combo mechanics.
Techland have certainly done their homework on this one! They have successfully avoided the elements that made their last offering “The Cartel” a disaster. Call of Jurez Gunslinger is a tight, massively entertaining arcade style shooting game which is highly addictive. The quest of topping leader boards and maxing out on scoring multipliers endow it with replayability while avoiding monotony. I personally loved scoring headshots and watching my enemies go down in a shower of blood and gore (call me sadist but I like it). Gunslinger is what a shooter out to be in its purest essence! The almost cel-shaded graphics and the detailed levels make you feel like you are smack in the middle of old west and gets the adrenaline pumping. I would score the game a massive 8.9 out of 10 and would like to congratulate Techland and Ubisoft for not letting the series die on us.