Hunting the West’s most notorious outlaws and making it up as I go

call of juarez gd impressions screenshot

Sixes and sevens! Did I really beat Call of Juarez: Gunslinger over a month ago and have still not officially written more than a haiku about it? Grrr. That’s summer for you, when I can only keep my head down, power through games, scribble a slimsey attempt at Japanese poetry, and move on to my next conquest. Makes me wonder when I’ll get around to finishing that post on The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, but enough of that–today is all about one cowboy’s quest for revenge after his life became a cropper. Yes, I looked up a bunch of Western slang for this intro post; did you know folk used to call onions skunk eggs? Makes sense to me.

Fortuitously, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger arrived in my PlayStation Plus library a day or two after I rewatched Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, which is not necessarily a Western, but does star some bounty hunters and pistols being quickly drawn. Plus intense and over-the-top violence. The big difference between those two properties is not just that one is a game and one is a film, but rather Tarantino’s work is a train-driven narrative, and Call of Juarez: Gunslinger openly and playfully skirts the edge of a reliable narrator and plot. Without that uncertainty, it would be another ho-hum first-person shooter with little to it, as other entries have dabbled in similar mechanics and visual styles.

The story is as so: legendary old bounty hunter Silas Greaves enters a saloon in Abilene, Kansas, in 1910 and regales the patrons with tales of his adventures in exchange for free drinks. The patrons–Steve, Jack, and a teenager named Dwight–are amazed at first, but grow increasingly incredulous as the ludicrous stories go on and on and on, in which Greaves takes credit for the killings of numerous legendary outlaws, including Butch Cassidy and Newman Haynes Clanton. See, Greaves likes to embellish where and when he can, and this plays into the gameplay, where scenarios and events will change on the fly based on what is being told and what is being questioned. The first time it happens, mid-action, I couldn’t help but smile at the swift change of course.

I’ve never touched any of the other Call of Juarez titles–namely the first one, Bound in Blood, and The Cartel–but they sound like they share similar elements. Gameplay in Gunslinger consists of completing linear objectives to progress, and these usually involve shooting dudes who are shooting at you until they stop shooting at you because you shot them down. Occasionally, you’ll have to dodge bullets via a quick time event or act honorably–but deadly–in a traditional gunslinger duel. Those duels are a ton of fun, as you have to pay attention to multiple aspects and timers, like heartbeats and the location of your hand, and not draw too early or else you’ll be labeled a dastardly varmint. Thankfully, all villains were shot down honorably in my playthrough.

Other than that, there are collectibles called “Nuggets of Truth” to find, of which many are easy to spy as they sparkle in-game. If that’s not enough, you can unlock a perk to have them play a jingle and vibrate your controller when nearby. Still, I missed a few, but they offer some interesting tidbits about the multiple characters and legends of the Wild West. In an action-driven game, I found it difficult to steer off the main path in search for shiny doodads and playing cards.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger does a fantastic job at dumping you into an ever-changing world and giving you all the abilities to be an unstoppable force–without actually making you unstoppable. Even on the standard difficulty, I ran into some trouble, though most had to do with the few boss fights and figuring out the best way to approach them over a handful of tries. The game’s tone is outlandish in all the right ways, keeping the action frenetic and unpredictable, and my only complaint is that I wish the ending had been more profound instead of simply a twist, one played far too straight for a man like Silas Greaves.

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