In the days of the Old West, cowboys and outlaws often had their stories told in dime novels. Radio was still decades away and word of mouth spread slowly, so from the 1860s to the early 1900s, these cheap books printed on pulp paper were the main reason the likes of Buffalo Bill, Jesse James and Billy the Kid gained wide notoriety.
The problem was, the vast majority of the stories in these dime novels were fictionalised. Tall tales were ten a penny in those days – not like today, when all the news we get is absolutely accurate (ahem) – so often these written accounts of that era’s household names were full of exaggeration and sensationalism. This is the general theme of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, a brilliant first-person shooter and the fourth game in the Call of Juarez series.
Before we go on, we’re going to go with the assumption that you didn’t play Call Of Juarez: Gunslinger when it was originally released in 2013 for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. If you did, here’s all you need to know: it’s pretty much the same game and performs perfectly fine, so if you’re happy to play through it again then fill your (cowboy) boots. For the rest of you, read on.
Call Of Juarez: Gunslinger casts you as Silas Greaves, an old bounty hunter whose life is the stuff of legend, partly thanks to those dime novels. When Silas enters a saloon in Kansas in 1910, a trio of drinkers asks him to regale them with tales of his rootin’ and shootin’ days. He happily obliges, but as his story – and the game’s plot – starts getting too far-fetched, Silas’ small audience begins to make their concerns known. Did he really do everything he claims, or is this yet another example of the story being bigger than the man?
Rather than limiting this idea to the game’s cutscenes, it’s played out in a brilliantly clever way during actual gameplay. Silas narrates the action throughout and is able to change the story on the fly any time his account is questioned. A good early example is when Silas finds himself trapped in an open area with a bunch of Apaches firing arrows from the cliffs above him. When one of his listeners argues that this doesn't seem realistic, he clarifies: it wasn't Apaches, it was bandits attacking him apache-style. With that, the game rewinds and the Native American enemies are replaced with gun-wielding outlaws.
Narrative gimmickry can only get you so far, of course, but thankfully the gunplay is just as entertaining. Much like its story, Call Of Juarez: Gunslinger's action is somewhat exaggerated and feels almost arcade-like at times. This is no tactical shooter where you're expected to meticulously analyse the battlefield before coming up with a plan of attack; wading in all guns blazing is just as effective, especially since when you take damage the healing is fairly quick.
That's not to say you don't have some sway in how you approach the combat, mind you. An experience system lets you unlock abilities from three different skill trees, allowing you to focus more on close-range combat (usually with your shotgun), mid-range (with dual-wielded pistols) or long-range (with a rifle), depending on your personal playing tastes. Experience is gained not just by killing enemies, but doing so in particularly stylish ways: headshots, shooting them while they’re running away, hitting them as they fall, killing them as you’re close to death yourself and the like.
The only iffy aspects of the game are the duels, which take place at various points throughout the story when you encounter notable names from history. These odd mini-games have you moving both sticks at the same time as you try to both keep your focus on your enemy and hover your hand over your gun. Your accuracy with both of these determines how quickly you’ll pull your gun out when it comes to the moment of truth, but while it’s an interesting enough idea the execution (no pun intended) is a bit weak.
Once the story mode is beaten there’s also an ‘arcade’ mode, which is where the game gets most of its longevity. This consists of 10 separate stages – based on some of the areas from the Story mode – which are stacked full of enemies. The aim is to get the highest score possible by juggling three different elements: staying alive, beating the stage within a certain time and trying to build large combos by continually killing enemies without stopping. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the Mercenaries mode in some of the recent Resident Evil games, although far less tactical.
All of this is supported by some solid presentation. Call Of Juarez: Gunslinger has an interesting semi-cel-shaded art style, and runs at a fairly solid 30 frames per second with no noticeable dips in performance in either docked or handheld mode. It’s one of the better-looking first-person shooters we’ve seen on the Switch, and certainly one of the most stable, and while the Joy-Con’s twin sticks once again show themselves to be slightly unsuited to this genre, there are enough sensitivity controls included to compensate (as well as an auto-aim option, should you wish it to be more forgiving with your accuracy).
Don’t go into this expecting a wealth of Switch-only features, however. The only additions to this version compared to the Xbox 360 and PS3 ones is the inclusion of HD rumble – which in this instance we’d swear was just normal rumble, it’s so unremarkable – and the option to use motion controls for aiming, which really isn’t necessary in this game (not to mention unplayable if you’re the type who inverts their Y-axis, because it inverts the motion controls too). These issues aside, though, this is a solid port of an underrated shooter that delivers a cleverer narrative than most of its peers.
Somewhat overlooked and underrated when it was first released, Call Of Juarez: Gunslinger's second rodeo on Switch doesn't really bring anything new to the table that it didn't already bring before. It's still an entertaining adventure, though, which does clever things with its story structure.