Techland is a developer that has shown us it has two sides, a good side with Dead Island, and a bad side with Call of Juarez the Cartel, but rest assured that with Call of Juarez Gunslinger Techland once again shows their good side. A downloadable title set in the Call of Juarez universe may very be arguably one of their best games to date. I was a huge fan of Dead Island and it is easily one of the best zombie games on the market but I had never played any of the Call of Juarez games until this one and was left very impressed with the whole package. It’s a well-made first person shooter with some highly addicting and polished gameplay along with a comic book/cell shaded art style reminiscent of Borderlands. Whoever wrote this game is clearly a big fan of Old West outlaws as it features encounters with famous figures from from Billy the Kid to Jesse James. It also feels a little like a history lesson along the way, though wildly skewed of course, as plenty of pickups are accompanied by real life facts on a wide variety of Wild West topics.
The story is set up as the self-proclaimed bounty hunter tells his side of his depiction in the dime store novels written about him about his quest for revenge against his brother’s murderer. The story is told through flashbacks that involve some really unique scenarios. Although the game isn’t very long and some areas are revisited multiple times ( it feels like the developers reuse assets to lengthen the game), the gameplay experience is rationalized through voice overs. One of my favorite things about the game is that several times during the story a scenario will play out the way listeners thought it happened and then the character telling the story will correct themselves causing the scene to rewind and played through the "right" way. It’s a really effective and unique storytelling device that gives the game a standout quality among its peers. The story itself is also quite good and involves all the kind of Old West tropes you’d expect to see, full of twists and betrayals accented with some six shooters.
The gameplay is well polished and highly addicting. There are four weapon sets to choose from that are mapped to the D-Pad, two of which are always a pistol and dual wielding pistols, but you will also have a rifle weapon and dynamite. There isn’t a wide variety of weapons but that comes with the time period. Regardless, all of the guns you get are great and fun to use and the combat is compelling enough to make using old fashioned weapons entertaining. As you take down enemies, numbers will fly out similar to Borderlands and play into the leveling system. When you level up, a point can be placed into three different play styles depending what you are more comfortable with, be it with two pistols or using a rifle and a pistol, or maybe you like close encounter fighting with shotguns, it’s up to you. There is also a slowdown focus mechanic similar to bullet time that yields more points when used.
An interesting highlight of the game are duels. Throughout the game you will encounter multiple outlaws and lawmen from history that you will have to duel in a quick draw match. Duels are some of the weak moments of the game but they are a cool and interesting feature. You control your hand with the left thumb stick and your aim with right, focusing on the opponent and best position your hand over your gun. With the right placement it’s fairly easy to win and I only lost a couple times. After finishing the story there is much to do including playing through an arcade mode which has you going through story levels for a high score, or you can play a duel challenge that pits you against all of the main game's duel sequences in a row.
The cell shading gives the game a Borderlands-esque art style that invokes the comic book style that Gunslinger is aiming for. The game runs great on the PC and holds a solid frame rate the whole time. There’s a lot of bright color to the game so it looks just outstanding on a computer monitor. There are also just some amazing frontier environments that look beautiful, especially in the forest and mountain stages. The cut scenes offer a heavily stylized graphic novel design that works well with the overall comic styling. Aside from the graphics what really stands out is the voice acting which is legitimately great and the writing to go with it is up to par. The game uses the story telling mechanic better than any game I have seen since Alan Wake and even manages to be really funny at the right moments. You'll never forget that while the man talking is a grizzled killer, he is also an uneducated Neanderthal which leads to some great moments.
Call of Juarez Gunslinger is Techland at their best and the most fun I have had with a western experience since Red Dead Redemption. It’s kind of a shame to know that their A team was working on this while Dead Island Riptide was thrown together but I’m grateful that Gunslinger exists because it’s a solid and fun first person shooter with some great hooks in it. Techland has shown that with a small downloadable title they can shine with the best and I can only hope that this game will serve as a template for the next proper Call of Juarez game because what they've done here is working and I would love to see it blown up to a full retail game. For fifteen dollars you can’t go wrong with Gunslinger.