In this week’s Breaking Down the Backlog, I went on a decades long revenge fuelled killing spree that left me an empty husk of a man when it ended.
The Call of Juarez games are really, profoundly, odd games. Outside of the fact that they are made by a solely polish developer, Techland, despite being about the Wild West and Americana, they are always weirdly ambitious and even heartfelt in ways that you don’t expect. The first game had multiple protagonists, a preacher who killed people with a bible in one hand, platforming using a whip and even stealth-mechanics. It wasn’t perfect, but it was fun. Gunslinger is much less grandiose, it is a downloadable game after all, but with that focus brings a game that is just a ton of fun to play.
The basic premise is that you are Silas Greaves, renowned bounty hunter, telling his story of revenge to a group of people in a quiet bar somewhere in America. I’ll get to how this influences the game-play later, but what this leads to is an excellent first-person shooter as you go from superbly realised locale to another shooting dudes in the face with, an albeit small, arsenal of weapons. The act of firing weapons in this game is always enjoyable thanks to the superb sound design and the way they impact your enemies. They BOOM and BANG with aplomb and, although there isn’t a lot of gore in the game, the way people crumple or fly backwards is really gratifying. Plus, Gunslinger, has a slow-motion mechanic and even three upgrade trees that make you feel so incredibly powerful. Running into areas filled with bad dudes, guns akimbo, activating slow-mo and laying waste is a beautiful thing and the game makes sure to sprinkle moments like that liberally throughout.
There isn’t much else to do beyond shoot man in the face outside of explore the scenery to look for secret items. However, there is a surprisingly deep duelling mini-game that the game even spins out into its own section. As your prey and you square off against one another, you have to make sure you hand is always close to your gun and the aiming reticule hovers over the other man. It is akin to rubbing your stomach whilst tapping your head. The mechanic takes a few goes to get used to, especially when you actually pull out the gun (always just after the enemy does, you’ve got to be honourable, right?!) which is how well you have hovered your hand and reticule comes into play. It is a nice little mini-game that breaks up the frantic combat.
The narrative of Gunslinger is in the artifice of a winding, over-blown story told by Silas as you go about killing everything, with occasional semi-animated asides to the patrons and Silas himself. It can get difficult to concentrate on it when characters are talking whilst you are playing the game, but about a third of the way through the story actually starts to impact the game-play. Silas’ memory is prone to forgetfulness, Deus Ex Machinas and extreme exaggeration. As you play Gunslinger Silas will say something like “then dozens of in’juns ran out of the bushes and opened fire” or “luckily I found a ladder” and you watch as Native Americans run out from behind trees shoot at you or a ladder erupts out of a previously thought dead-end. It is a cool narrative gimmick that never wore out its welcome. There is a great part based around Silas going to the toilet that I found highly amusing and even a section near the end where Silas’ bitterness, age and self-loathing bubbles manifests itself, in a sense and transforms a level into one of the most gruelling parts in the game. Techland didn’t have to do something like that, but I greatly appreciate it.
The graphics are very solid. Gunslinger’s atmosphere is excellent and there are some moments that are actually beautiful to look at. You can really tell that the developers know how to do the Wild West and they just absolutely nail it perhaps even better than Red Dead Redemption in some ways. There is a lot of detail in the levels, but they aren’t exactly deep or intricate. They are just arenas to shoot people in, not that there isn’t anything wrong with that. It summarises Call of Juarez: Gunslinger well, I feel: A solid game with little flourishes that give it that little bit of extra ‘oomph’ and pushes it close to greatness.
Next time on Breaking Down the Backlog: Planescape: Torment