If there’s one setting that feels somewhat underused in the world of video games, in my mind it’s definitely the Western. For every rootin’-tootin’-shootin’ good time to take place in the Wild West we’re spoilt with an avalanche of adventures that take us into space, the future or some sort of fantasy world. In fact, Red Dead Redemption 2 aside, I have a pretty tough time remembering what the last entertaining Westerner I played actually was. Then Call of Juarez: Gunslinger showed up on Switch and immediately reminded me.
Originally released on the Xbox 360 and PS3 back in 2013; Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is a single-player no-nonsense, action-packed shooter focused on linear levels filled with gunfights aplenty. It definitely has that ‘shut your brain off’ popcorn-flick kind of vibe about it – and I don’t mean that as a criticism – which in a genre targeting sprawling online multiplayer, microtransactions and Battle Royales feels like a true breath of fresh air.
You play as Silas Greaves, a once-famous bounty hunter who crossed the paths of many legends like Billy the Kid and the Sundance Kid back in his heyday. Now an old man, he recounts to a few bar patrons the story of his quest for revenge after his brothers were killed by a gang of outlaws. Essentially you are playing through his story as he tells it. While it’s neat to see real-life legends pop up along Silas’ journey, what really stands out most is the game’s use of its storytelling concept. Since Silas is much older now, his memory of certain events is a little hazy resulting in some clever and often humorous moments.
One example involved taking a detour through a dynamite-filled mine, one that would ultimately lead to our unavoidable death. Old man Silas would then claim this to be the reason he chose not to take that route rewinding back to the outside of said mine and shepherding us toward an alternate route. Throughout the game, Silas will narrate and comment on certain moments as they happen whether it’s small observations about the environment or gameplay changing ones that influence how a gunfight or duel might play out. It’s a clever mechanic and one that takes an otherwise familiar story of revenge and gives it a refreshing twist.
As for shooting your way through Silas Greaves’ countless stories, there’s rarely a dull moment to be found. Each chapter is packed with wild gunfights in a mix of both tight and more open spaces. While your repertoire of weaponry is limited to pistol, shotgun and rifle, each feels especially punchy and ever so satisfying to shoot, I never found myself growing weary of using any of them. Dual-wielding two revolvers, in particular, is great fun as you run through a crowd of enemies picking them off one by one. Overall the gunplay feels among the best of any shooter on Switch at the moment. It’s snappy, responsive and satisfying.
As you’re tallying up kills you’ll slowly fill your Concentration meter that when activated slows down time. This then allows you the chance to pull off a manner of slick-looking and accurate shots. Silas’ Sense of Death ability meanwhile will also grant you one last chance to avoid an early demise should you find yourself taking too much damage. Entering slow motion once again you’ll need to hit the control stick left or right in order to dodge the finishing bullet. Succeed and you can carry on, the Sense of Death then on a cooldown.
Every kill and collectable found – the latter of which awards the player with some neat factual information on the American frontier and the legends themselves – will earn you experience. Accumulate enough and you’ll be able to unlock skills for one of three different playstyles including close-quarters, long-range and pistols. It’s pretty standard stuff like increasing how much ammo you’re able to carry, steadier hands for rifles or bigger explosions but it at least offers the feeling of working toward something for your character.
Another big feature of the game are the duels; one on one showdowns that see you trying to keep a floating crosshair over the opponent whilst also steadying your hand over your holster ready to fire. Using both control sticks simultaneously to do this is no easy task and proves to be a reliable area of frustration in the game especially with latter enemies. It’s a cool take on Western duels – even allowing you to draw dishonourably before the enemy – but one whose execution feels clunky and too fiddly.
While you’re able to work your way through the game’s duels in its own mode, you can also compete for the highest score in individual levels in Arcade mode. Here it’s all about trying to string together combos and landing headshots as quick as possible. Like a time trial in a racing game repeated playthroughs will gradually reveal the best course of action be it routes to take or where enemies are going to appear. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to compare your efforts with others online.
If you previously owned Call of Juarez: Gunslinger then there’s little in the way of new content for the Switch release outside the addition of HD rumble and motion controls both of which underwhelm in their implementation. The former didn’t feel much different from standard rumble while the latter paled in comparison to good ol’ tradition buttons and sticks. Visually the game is starting to show its age – the use of static images during cutscenes, in particular, feels dated not to mention budget – but runs smoothly in both docked and handheld mode.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger takes you on an exciting journey back into the heart of the Wild West. Whether there’s any truth to what Silas Greaves is telling his listeners or if he’s simply lying through his teeth, I had a great time shooting my way through the winding story he wove and taking down legendary bandits along the way.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Techland