Video Game Rentals Delivered

Call of Juarez

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-04-16 13:33:08

Call of Juarez - Rank C

Developer: Techland
Publisher: Ubisoft
Date: 6/7/07

Also available for PC

The Western genre is incredibly compelling if handled properly, but it seems to have fallen almost entirely out of vogue. It used to rule film and television, but it's been a decade and a half since the greatness of Unforgiven, and Deadwood not withstanding, the golden age of Westerns on the small screen ended in the '60s. Westerns just speak out to me; there's just something raw and romantic about a setting on the brink of civilization, where a man's freedom is limited only by what he dares to grasp. I've been waiting for a great Western videogame, and Call of Juarez attempts to fit the bill.

Call of Juarez is a first person shooter that delivers the Western in passable fashion. It's somewhat unimaginative and cliched, but just about every touchstone of the genre is represented. In the first few segments, it presents a sexual encounter with a bawdy saloon whore, murder, a posse, bandits, quests for vengeance, gunslinger duels, and a train robbery. You play as two characters, a kid on the run trying to prove himself innocent of murder, and the grizzly old gunfighter hunting him down.

The kid is Billy Candle, who fled the scene of his stepfather and mother's murder. He's your archetypical scoundrel with a heart of gold. Being relatively frail, Billy's not much of a gunfighter. His sequences consist more of stealth and platforming. The stealth portions aren't particularly polished; they lack the drama and intensity of Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell. Billy's sneakiness segments are just tedious sessions of crouching through bushes. They aren't difficult or rewarding, just fifteen minutes of your life lost. He can use a bow for silent kills, but arrows are a limited commodity. You'll need to retrieve them after shooting them, yet another exercise in tedium. Lastly, he's required to do a lot of jumping and climbing and using his whip to swing across chasms. I never realized the Old West had so many random potholes that extend to the center of the earth, and I always hate platforming in first person. You never know precisely where your feet are, and you end up plummeting to your death, not to lack of skill, but simply because trial and error is the only available tool to gauge distance.

The other character, Reverend Ray McCall, is significantly more entertaining. He's a gunslinging fire and brimstone preacher who's so overflowing with self-righteousness that he could conceivably be a villain, except that he's surrounded by murderers and rapists that deserve the hellfire and lead of his six-shooters. He spends the entire game hunting down his step-nephew Billy, who he witnessed fleeing the murder scene of his brother and sister-in-law. Compared to Billy, he's like a tank. Ray's nowhere near as fast, and can't climb, so you chase Billy with the patient, relentless inexorableness of the Terminator. (It's kind of neat to alternatingly run from Ray as Billy, and hunt Billy as Ray.) Ray's a formidable gunfighter, able to soak up hits (seems like he packs an iron chest plate, a la Fistful of Dollars) and can quickdraw into "concentration mode", a sort of "bullet time" effect that gives you the ability to aim precisely in slow motion. In addition to firearms, he can wield the Bible! Pulling the trigger on this weapon causes Ray to quote passages, freezing evildoers in confusion and fear. This gives Ray the opportunity to freely shoot them in the face, delivering holy wrath like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction.

Boss fights consist of duels. When the timer hits zero, you have to smoothly draw your pistol by dipping your thumbstick down and back up. Instead of rewarding twitch reflexes, it's smooth and steady aim that wins the day. I approve. Call of Juarez also features horseback riding, which is terrible to control, but does allow you to satisfyingly trample bad guys. There's also a class based multiplayer mode that I would normally call "tacked on", except that it isn't terrible.

Unfortunately, much of Call of Juarez plays like a wannabe Half-Life. There are many half-assed "puzzles", like stacking crates to climb up to a higher area. The feel and visuals are mixed. You can tell that this was a PC game that was in the process of being ported to the original Xbox, before getting canceled and painted over with high resolution textures for the Xbox 360. There are a lot of solid design concepts, but the lack of overall polish and poor level design reduces their effectiveness. Worst of all, after constructing an enjoyable (if cheesy) Western motif, it degenerates into an Indiana Jones knockoff, where you whip spiders in search of legendary Aztec gold. I'll just have to keep waiting for a truly good videogame Western.

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