|System: PS3*, Xbox 360, PC|
|Release: May 22, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, Suggestive Themes, Strong Language|
by Josh Engen
In 2011, the folks over at Techland inexplicably decided to unhinge their most successful franchise, Call of Juarez, by uprooting the series from its classical western setting and clumsily dropping it into modern-day Los Angeles. But Call of Juarez: The Cartel is so uncontrollably obnoxious, that anyone who plays the game manages to develop his own unique set of complaints. Cheat Code Central's own Robert VerBruggen summed his complaints up thusly:
“It's depressing to think that Techland took a popular franchise, came up with some brilliant ideas for a new entry, and then botched the execution—but that's exactly what happened.”
Obviously the setting isn’t the only problem, though. The title is criticized for its overt racism and insensitivity toward things like human trafficking and drug abuse. Plus, the game is plagued with technical problems, which still haven’t been entirely resolved.
But here we are two years later and things have taken a turn for the better. And even though I'm not willing to call myself a Techland fanboy just yet, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger proves that they've definitely learned from their mistakes.
Our alcoholic readers are probably familiar with the mantra, "the first step toward recovery is admitting that you have a problem," and Techland has obviously taken the first step. Gunslinger returns players to the Old West, which means that fans of the series can put away their pitchforks. However, the return brings with it a newly minted, Borderlands-eque aesthetic. Though, the stylistic choices actually make more sense in this game given the storyline, but we’ll talk about that later.
When you first meet Silas Greaves, it's in one of those stereotypical western bars. You know the ones that I'm talking about. They have swinging doors, self-playing pianos, and prostitutes. Greaves is a semi-famous bounty hunter who, supposedly, ran with folks like Billy the Kid and Jesse James. I say supposedly not because Silas Greaves seems like an unbelievable character, but because he's a liar.
A big liar.
The story is told almost entirely from Greaves' perspective through a series of serialized flashbacks. And as the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that Silas isn't being entirely truthful. In fact, as the narrative dips into the supernatural late in the game, you start to wonder if anything that he’s said has been true.
Techland has done an incredible job using this device as a vehicle for clever storytelling. As the game progresses, the graphical elements physically change to support Greaves' account of the story. If the character suddenly "remembers" that a ladder was in the room, one appears. If he narrates himself into a corner, he throws the story into reverse and retells it to suit his needs. This is the type of interactive storytelling that video games should be known for, but developers are too often stuck in linear narratives that follow the same formula as television and film.
Gunslinger's controls are simple and intuitive. And, happily, they're not afflicted with the same kinds of problems that plague The Cartel. Even though, at times, they do feel a little unpolished, it's really hard for me to complain about sticky controls on a $15 game. Especially when the rest of the game is so well executed.
Fans of the series will recognize the game's return to form with regard to the control scheme as well. Players are given two meters; the first allows your character to enter Concentration Mode, which is similar to Max Payne's Bullet Time mechanic, but enemies are also highlighted for easy targeting. The second allows you to dodge bullets when your health is particularly low. The gunplay is quick and responsive, but poorly mapped textures can often cause problems with targeting. Even if you can see an enemy's head peaking out from behind a rock, it's not always possible to shoot him.