Platforms: PC, XBOX 360, PS3
Release Date: 5/21/13
Rating: M for Mature
This review is based on the PC version of the game
Just a few months ago, Ubisoft released one of its most ambitious and insane downloadable games ever, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Marked at a $15 price-point and packed with more laughs and explosions than most AAA-retail titles, Blood Dragon was a creative burst of freedom that was a welcome addition to Ubisoft's library, even if the game itself lacked in a few areas. Mercifully, the Far Cry series wasn't the only franchise to get mini-sized in a downloadable title; the Wild West shooter Call of Juarez is in for the same treatment with the recently-released Gunslinger. But can Call of Juarez: Gunslinger redeem the embattled franchise's checkered past?
I can't believe I'm saying this, but Gunslinger is already one of my favorite games of the year. Players take on the role of protagonist Silas Greaves, a former bounty hunter who seems to have found solace in drinking and telling bar stories. One day, he wanders into Abilene, Kansas, and orders a few pints. The local residents know Silas's name and ask him to regale his stories. With a smirk and some stylish comic-book cutscenes, Silas begins his tale of violence, legendary Wild West outlaws, and bloody revenge.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger certainly looks like a comic book in motion, with beautiful cel-shaded graphics and lots of red matter spraying all over the place. Silas walks among his outlaw foes like a god, dispatching enemies with reckless abandon. As Silas engages everything from revolver-shooting bandits to Apaches, he narrates his story and fills in details about who he was killing and why. If someone calls him out on an inconsistency in the story, he might rewind the gameplay and tell the "correct" version. You'll get to experience the same segments, albeit with different enemies and such. It's a great little conceit and makes the extremely linear campaign feel fresh and exciting.
Silas is the definition of a grade-A gunslinger, and his skills trees prove it. Throughout the 3-5 hour campaign, Silas can upgrade his revolver, shotgun, and rifle skills by building kill combos. Kill more bad guys in rapid succession and Silas will earn even more XP. You'll also get access to Gunslinger's better gun variants, many with significant damage buffs and fancy engravings. While the upgrades are fairly basic, one major skill is incredibly useful and should be upgraded ASAP; the Focus ability. Focus lets you slow down time and dispatch baddies in cinematic fashion. Think of an ultra-gory Matrix bullet time and you'll get idea of Focus. It makes the sometimes daunting task of building a 40-plus kill-chain as easy as squeezing the trigger. I guarantee you'll feel like a kick-butt action hero, just as you should given Silas's incredible story embellishments.
I beat the campaign in about 3 hours, but there's an Arcade, Duel, and New Game Plus mode for those seeking even more content. Arcade takes out all of the narrative filler and throws you right into the combat, setting up leaderboards for high kill-scorers. Duel mode takes the familiar quick draw boss fights from the campaign and makes them back-to-back. I wasn't too fond of the duels in the story mode, but at least you can test your reflexes again. New Game Plus allows you to retain all of your previous skills, as well as unlock weapon chests at the start of each mission. Starting off with akimbo sawed-off golden shotguns is pretty awesome if you ask me.
The plot isn't particularly superb or unexpected but is presented in a fun and entertaining format. I laughed at some of the inside pokes at Wild West tropes and enjoyed the light-hearted tone the game went for. Gunslinger finally did away with the brevity of previous entries and just went haywire, building a Quentintino-esque vibe throughout the whole experience. Blood flows freely and enemies litter the ground as you rack up the kill count. Just let yourself go and the plot will seem like a distant memory as you decimate hundreds of enemies.
Visually, Gunslinger is pretty darn gorgeous. The improved Chrome engine finally brings the series into the modern age and the cel-shaded visuals are fantastic. I did encounter micro-stutters due to using a keyboard but there is a hotfix for this. The audio is also pretty solid, with convincing voice-overs for Silas and the bar patrons. You'll feel every squeeze of the trigger and the gushy sounds coming from fallen foes. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is an absolute hoot in the presentation department, featuring more polish and shine than any of the previous entries.
I have very few complaints about Gunslinger, and those that might have been a valid concern (like the missing FOV slider) are currently being patched. The game is short, but it felt like the perfect length for a $15 budget title. There's so much spit and polish that it's almost surprising this is a download-only title. I'd love to see more of this from Techland from Ubisoft, and if Blood Dragon is any indication, you can bet there'll be more Call of Juarez in the future. Gunslinger is an absurd amount of fun, more fun than it should be, and is an absolute must-buy if you like blowing big holes in bad guys.
+ Absurdly fun
+ Low budget price
+ Lots of bang for your buck
+ Very polished release
- Duels aren't much fun
- A little short
Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10)
If you're tired of the same old shooters, there isn't a reason not to try Gunslinger. It's old-fashioned, gory fun!