June 10, 2013
Gunslinger is not meant to be savored as a fantastic narrative. In fact, it's conveyed as an old fashioned dime store novel turned game. Old man Silas Greaves visits a bar in Abilene, KS and recants to its patrons his life story of the climb from outlaw to bounty hunter, during the turn of the century, in his hunt for the men who murdered his brothers.
Silas's history is accompanied by much bloodshed and numerous encounters with the legends of the Wild West. The tale he spins is often questionable and stacks in contradiction, but such is the fact that the history of the West, despite silver screen hyperbole or subtle passages in history books, was all recorded per hearsay. This concept is played upon as the game scenarios take place within the crux of memory and information space. Terrain and situations alter and readjust in surrealistic conjunction with the narrators' capacity to remember or debate details.
With each foe felled experience is earned, more points for headshots and combo kills. There's also the option to seek out and find game secrets in the form of fact cards that educate on the era's history. Even if you don't care much for that, it's still worth obtaining them for extra experience points. Upon leveling up, a single skill point is earned and can be allotted towards a skill permanently. Even if you don't fill them up in one go, there's always New Game+.
Along with a majestic soundtrack and Borderlands-esque visuals, Gunslinger is immediately identified as a title you want to love, but this is mired by much of its technical letdowns. It can be assumed that the PC version holds up better in this faculty, but the PS3 version apparently drew the short straw. Aiming is a random cause as despite having foes well within your sights there are times when you inexplicably miss. Misfiring doesn't stop there as enemies at times seem to camouflage themselves well within the sharp edged background of the great outdoors. Despite whatever upgrades you've obtained along the way, these occasions can still happen. The use of Concentration (Bullet Time) seems to only exist to remedy this tribulation by highlighting enemies from the background.
Gunslinger adds a new feature to the series called Death Sense. There are moments where certain enemy gunshots tear through at you in epic slow-mo, demanding that you dodge in the opposite direction lest you succumb to instant death. Sometimes, based on the angle, it can be tricky to decide which way to dodge outright, and nothing sucks more than being on a roll gunning down adversaries only to be instantly killed just because you messed up a bullet dodge. The inconsistent, and often out of place, executions of Death Sense also makes it more unnatural than streamlined and may have been best left out or kept for only one particular section in the story.
The series' Dueling System returns but is just as random as any of the technical flaws. This involves the use of the left analog to position your hand over your piece for dictating draw speed while the right analog is used to keep your opponent within a reticule to raise your focus. Drawing your gun before your opponent and winning results in a dishonorable kill, while waiting for the moment your enemy draws is deserving of extra XP. Even after setting things up as best as possible, dishonorably or not, the results are irregular and frustrating usually caused by the fact that the crosshairs that appear after drawing tend to materialize and stray off target stubbornly. Victories achieved feel like plain dumb luck, losses do not provide much in learning and occasional draws where both sides go down, stop being funny after a bit. This makes the option of engaging in Duel Mode negligible which should've been the case when deciding upon traditional boss battles versus a misplaced sense of the Western experience emulated.
This approach applies even to gunplay. Despite upgrading your reload speed, it takes twice the amount of time to refill your barrels, much more if you're dual wielding pistols which easily impedes the flow of combat as it forces you to find cover. The normal quickshooter and rifle are the most sensible as they have the lowest reload speed and if it boils down to using default weapons over the upgraded ones for the sake of convenience, there's obviously something wrong. By the way, no one appreciates a protagonist who takes the time to hold up his weapons to his face in admiration every now and then without player permission, while moving no less. After all, realistically nobody walks around cropping up their own view as they head into a fire fight.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger comes in knowing what it wants to be: a simple Western themed shooter that like many films of the genre, is only there to help its audience pass the time. But even for such a simple notion its flaws are great from its realism obsessed gameplay mechanics, to the option of squandering its solid art on mirrored outdoor environments (not enough saloons) and even non-responsive QTE inputs and run commands. It's a step up from The Cartel but that's a novelty that's not unique onto itself.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger was reviewed on the PlayStation Network. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.