Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is back off to the series’ roots with a good old jaunt through the Wild West. It starts off in a typical bar, using a motion comic style presentation for the cutscene similar to that of inFamous, with a Man With No Name (so far) being encouraged into telling tales of his long and action packed career as a bounty hunter.
The Cartel was hardly a well received game, and so it makes perfect sense to be returning to the West. It’s what fans of the earlier games want, and it’s still a fairly fresh and unexplored setting for games. Techland are also clearly fans of the setting, knowing a lot of the ins and outs of the history of the area, and having previously been able to capture the feel they’re set to get back to this track record.
The very first story mission sees you on the way to a ranch, where you’ve been holed up with Billy the Kid for a few days. The real events of Pat Garrett and his deputies hunting down the Kid and his gang lead to this huge shootout that you break in on. It drops you right in the action straight away, with what feels like a whole regiment of deputised law enforcement going at the house, whilst you try to break through to get to your gang.[drop2]
It acts as the introduction and tutorial to the game and its mechanics, so there’s a little hand holding as it shows off how to use Concentration Mode and some of the newer features. It looks pretty effective at dropping you in the action with some instant gunplay and making you feel like a near-invincible outlaw, even if you get the sense that some of these events are being somewhat embellished for his listeners by our nameless bounty hunter.
One thing that Techland are working towards is capturing that particular grain of truth to the many famous events in the game. Over the many passing years these have all turned into legends, films and twisted beyond their often far less glamorous origins. So whilst Techland want to keep the big gun play and huge shootouts, they do want to also explore the reality behind the famous people via the exaggerated action but always with that nugget of truth at its core. So many of them were living in a grey area of the law before turning lawmaker and earn a big pay check to give order to the region.
So this particular encounter between former friends, Billy the Kid’s gang and Pat Garrett’s bunch of deputies did actually occur, although Pat almost certainly didn’t bring as many men along with him and the farm may have been more of a little abandoned house. Surely this is the kind of exaggeration you’d surely expect from a renowned bounty hunter and the narration he provides over the top of the action certainly offer up many possibilities from a story telling point of view. They’re understandably cagey about revealing too much before the release early next year, but twists and revelations are certain to crop up through the game, probably including the name of our mystery bounty hunter.[drop]
All of the old gameplay hooks have returned from the previous wild West games, with Concentration Mode letting you slow down time for some precision aiming having been tweaked a bit to also add a “Sense of Death” life saving feature. It’s just a simple quick time event, but if a bullet is coming at your head and you have a filled meter, you can dodge the bullet and stave off an untimely death with a counter attack. It’s a nice tweak to the system that should keep things a little fresher, as long as it’s not overdone.
Another big new feature is the addition of a skill tree to give you further abilities beyond what you have in Concentration Mode. Things as diverse as being able to reload your gun quicker and having more health, all the way up to having an automated head-shot ability during Concentration Mode, used to great effect in the demo to jump out of a barn roof and take out a whole cluster of deputies in quick succession. Each of which, pings up an points value in an Action RPG fashion which adds to your experience reserves.
Visually the game certainly has a more arcade feel to it than previous entries in the series. With the kill score ratcheting up, and more varied kills netting you more points, this is added to the tweaked to add in a subtle cel shaded cartoon overtone and the arcade light gun style wounds appearing on screen as you get shot. So whilst Techland have felt the need to come back to the series’ original setting, they are certainly forging ahead with evolving the series in various directions, both with the gameplay and graphically.
As a downloadable title coming to PC, XBLA and PSN in the first half of 2013, you can expect it to be a more compact title than a full retail release. Having said that, being packed to the rafters with infamous characters of the Wild West and big shootouts to battle through, this could be the best way to restore faith in the series.