Review: Call of Juarez Gunslinger

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The Call of Juarez series is a much-needed one, bringing the world at least a few solid western first-person shooters to make up for the inexplicable drought. Bound in Blood was a fine attempt, weaving fast-paced shootouts and tense duels into a classic story of betrayal and revenge. But it took Gunslinger to really perfect the formula, doubling down on all the parts that give the Wild West its allure and dispensing with anything that held it back. It’s a tight, colorful, action-packed romp that only suffers for its length, because once you get wrapped up in the telling you won’t want the tale to end.

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Retired bounty hunter Silas Greaves finds himself in a quiet bar in Abilene, Kansas, drinking with some folks who’ve heard of his exploits. It doesn’t take much to get an old gunslinger talking, and soon he’s spinning tales of his time with Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy. While his story is full of Wild West celebrities it’s ultimately one of revenge, hunting Roscoe “Bob” Bryant and his gang for killing his brother long ago. As Silas speaks it’s up to you to play through his recollections, gunning down bandits and dodging bullets to give his tale a hint of veracity. And not only will you be living the story, you’ll be living the revisions and exaggerations, too.

A few games lean heavily on the unreliable narrator, and fewer still explore the interplay between narrator and gameplay, but Gunslinger does both and then some. Silas will be narrating every level as you play it, with scenery and enemies and even entire routes appearing from thin air as he remembers them. In addition, he’ll sometimes get the details wrong or have to retell a part, causing your foes to blink in and out of existence as he gets his story straight. These moments are played to great effect with the other listeners chiming in and your challenges changing on a whim, and they give the game a unique sense of immersion. I won’t spoil the most impressive scenes that result from this, but you can expect some fantastic jokes to come from his tales.

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The narration helps bookend the action, but the shooting is the main attraction and it’s every bit as good as you’d hope a game called Gunslinger would have. Building off the systems of Bound in Blood, Silas can wield pistols, shotguns, and rifles that are deadly with a single shot. You can battle it out from behind cover or go in guns blazing if your reflexes are sharp enough, and this time the game even gives you second chances in the form of fatal bullets you can slow-motion dodge with a button press. The cinematic shootouts and concentration attacks are back, complimented by a skill system that unlocks new abilities and enhancements for your play style as you level up. While it’s a little half-baked (good luck if you focus on the shotgun skills) it does add some welcome progression and customization to the game.

Duels are back as well, but they’re far more technical and can be pretty ornery to master. You’ve got to hover your hand over your gun and keep your wobbly crosshair trained on your foe, and then draw and aim before they plug you. You can draw before they do but you’ll face dishonor, which is still better than dead but an extra challenge to overcome. Outside of that you should be able to sail right through the game’s colorful, action-packed levels, though the last one may trip you up with some seriously tough fights. Story mode is the star here, loaded with secrets to turn up, but the arcade mode is great for score attacks and there’s a dueling mode where you can practice your showdowns, too.

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Honestly, Gunslinger is everything you could want in a Wild West action game. The levels are interesting, the shooting is great, there’s plenty of variety and customization, and it’s all tied together with some of the best narration you’re going to find. The only shame is that you can blast through it in less than four hours, but there are those extra modes to keep you busy if you need more. And I imagine you will, because Gunslinger sits pretty high up on the great pile of FPSes. It’s not just a solid western shooter, it’s a solid shooter overall and a damn good time for just about anyone.

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