Five years ago, the Call of Juarez series came home. After the abysmal Call of Juarez: The Cartel, the series needed something fresh to wash the taste of rotgut out of fans’ mouths. That’s when the batwing doors swung open and Call of Juarez: Gunslinger sauntered in. Separating itself from the McCall family with fast-paced, arcade-style combat and a classic revenge story full of real-life outlaws and bandits was exactly what the series needed.
Gunslinger made news earlier this year after it was removed from Steam, Xbox Marketplace, and Playstation Network at the end of March. During this time, users who had previously purchased the game were still able to install it on Steam. Only 30 days later, Gunslinger returned just as quietly as it had left. Developer Techland had purchased the game's rights from publisher Ubisoft. If you weren’t looking for Wild West games in April 2018, the disappearance and return of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger probably slipped under your radar.
In an industry focusing more on long-term multiplayer experiences, the single-player Gunslinger is a breath of fresh, mountain air. If you’ve never played it before, the game is worth downloading for its utterly unique take on the unreliable narrator. The game begins with protagonist Silas Greaves recounting his younger years in a Kansas saloon. Details turn fuzzy as the player makes choices and Silas has few too many drinks.
As the story unfolds, the environment, enemies, and even the player’s inventory change to match the narration. Early on, Silas describes how outlaws attacked him Apache-style. A misunderstanding by his audience in the saloon momentarily replaces all the outlaws with Apache snipers. Minutes later, Silas explains he hadn’t conserved bullets during the fight and the player’s ammo reserves ticks down to zero. Moments like these are fantastic at ensuring the gameplay matches the tone and intensity of the story.
As in other Call of Juarez games, Silas is occasionally forced into a showdown. Fitting with the tall tale atmosphere, players face off against legends like Pat Garret, Jesse James, and the Sundance Kid. Taking cues from Bound in Blood, Gunslinger practically perfected the pistol duel. Quantifying hand speed with a percentage paired with controller vibration helps players focus on their adversary, rather than their own hand. Silas' hand fades into your peripherals, but a moment's glace at the percentage under his holster perfectly expresses how close he is to the trigger. Similarly, strafing was replaced with an ever shrinking circle of accuracy, also described by a percentage. Fitting with the arcade-style, this encourages players to score risky headshots for additional points, rather than the forced groinshots from Bound in Blood. These little percentage bars were all Gunslinger needed to perfect the series' signature minigame.
Unlike other Call of Juarez games, Gunslinger doesn’t make you wait for the bell. Though you can draw the moment you feel confident, shooting first is dishonorable in the old west. By waiting for the enemy to draw, Silas claims he had no choice but to defend himself. This mechanic makes showdowns a nail-biting experience as the camera zooms in, the music fades out, and all you can hear is Silas’ beating heart until the outlaws reach for their pistol.
Aside from perfecting the dueling system, Gunslinger broke new ground by adding an impactful perk system. Gone are the days of choosing between slightly different characters. Each of Gunslinger's perks fundamentally change or add some element of gameplay.
There's even synergy between the different skill trees. One skill tree adds automatic headshots to standard bullet time while another grants more bullet time for successful headshots. As long as you have the ammo, these two perks effectively grant unlimited auto-aim. This gives players the short-term goal of unlocking new perks in addition to the long-term goal of finishing the level. Letting players hone their new skills on old enemies with New Game Plus and a Bulletstorm-style arcade only add to the fun as Silas mows down hundreds of cowboys and sodbusters.
If you have any interest in Bulletstorm, fast-paced shooters, or Wild West history, you owe it to yourself to download Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. The storytelling is fantastic. The run time is just long enough to hold your interest. The gameplay perfects the Call of Juarez formula while changing things up with the dramatic perk system. The time period and slightly caricatured art style make the game timeless and forever fresh. Five years later, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is a one of a kind experience I find myself coming back to again and again.