I'm astounded at how few cowboy video games are out there these days. You'd think a game that purports itself to let you play an awesome gunfighter picking fights and blasting bad guys in an Old West setting would sell like hotcakes! But for some reason in the last decade I think only two have come out, and only three decent cowboy games have come out since... well, ever.
Most gamers of course know of Red Dead Redemption, which I do concede is pretty fun and is one of the few games where I enjoy online play. Also you feel like a supreme bad-arse when riding about and have the Tremors 4 theme playing on the computer. ;)
But it isn't as strong on the whole gunslinging part due to the third person nature of it. Granted, it's really frigging hard to do decent ingame horseback riding or checking out your cool outfits from first person, but it's just a plain better medium for shooting.
When in absolute desperation a good many moons ago I picked up Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, and while a lot of the shooting was a bit clunky, it had a very strong Western feel and the story was amazingly compelling and still stands out to me even today. So of course the developers jumped onto the Machine Gun bandwagon and came out next with Call of Juarez: The Cartel, completely ignoring the whole cowboy game market that they sort of had pretty well pinned at the time and seemed to wish to compete with every other mindless shooter in existence.
This... did not work out well. Even I didn't check out The Cartel. Then, in an astounding case of a developer realizing what a stupid mistake they had made and deciding to not force a dumb sequel of a game nobody liked down our throats, went back to their roots with Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. Obviously made on a pretty tight budget, I was ecstatic when I first heard about it and was eager for news. I was encouraged by some signs, such as when they released walkthroughs for three entire levels for onlookers to check out. A wise-ish man once said that when viewing game footage from a developer ask yourself "What don't they want you to see?" Usually they give you three minutes of a prototype level that you won't actually get to play, so what I found was darned encouraging.
Not to mention that this was a game at about sixteen dollars only! Now that is pretty darned good considering every other shooter I see is priced at sixty! And it was worth every penny.
To get right into it, this is by far the best cowboy shooter out there. You feel like an awesome gunslinging boss blasting away with revolvers, rifles and shotguns at poor fools standing in your way. While the gun loadout is sadly small, each has a unique feel and usage. The Ranger revolver feels like a real hand cannon, bucking sharply with every shot and giving a satisfying blast every time you stroke the trigger.
The cell shading is pretty good and gives the game a very gritty appearance where almost everything pops, and the baddies don't feel like the same clones coming after you one after another. There is no multiplayer, which I didn't mind, and the development team focused everything on the story, campaign, and two other small game modes.
You can also level up your character by performing special shots or stunts, which gets you more points and allows you to get new skills or tricks. This gives it a pulse pounding, adrenaline stoking arcade feel where you try to make use of every single bullet and make each one count in order to have that kill multiplier get even higher until you feel as if your thumbs are about to burst! They succeed magnificently in actually making the act of shooting the bad guys unspeakably fun! It's not gimmicky and you get exactly what you ask for, which is saying a lot in this gaming era.
The story is actually surprisingly good. Not as good as Bound in Blood, but still better than Red Dead Redemption. We follow the recollections of a man claiming to be a notorious bounty hunter by the name of Silas Greaves, and the voice actor gives an awesome gravelly delivery. Part of what is so much fun is that the gameplay takes place according to the perception of whoever is telling the story, which can make it seem unrealistically awesome or hilarious. It's actually quite clever how you think the fighting is going to go one way, but takes an abrupt turn that you aren't expecting.
In fact, the ingame audience listening to this often have direct input to the story which changes a few things. Unlike some games this one isn't afraid to have a few good jokes and knows to not take itself too seriously. They actually poke fun at some of the game design itself along with some of the supposed plot which I find to be quite endearing. Silas even makes fun of you if you happen to die, sometimes saying things like "Wait, I didn't die then! I'm sure of it!"
It's nice to have a game that isn't trying to be like The Dark Knight and is willing to take it easy at points. Quite relieving actually. There is a twist in the story which I shan't spoil, but I really liked it and it left me with a very strong frisson and instantly wanted to play it all over again, which I've done multiple times now. Silas is a load of fun too, as his stories seem to change tone as he goes through his adventures. It does take a bit too long to get to one of the focal points, seeming to wander for a bit, but the game is good enough where I don't mind it too much.
At first Silas seems like a humble man who is worn out by the years and trying to play down his exploits, then it seems as if he is trying to play himself up as a hardcore warrior of legend. As he gets more booze in him over the course of the stories it then looks like he is too drunk to keep the story going straight and is just making stuff up for free alcohol. After that you start to wonder if he's just jerking everyone around for laughs, trying to tell absurd BS stories just waiting for everyone to call him on it. And then it takes a dark tone where you wonder if the poor man is actually quite insane. This isn't inconsistent storytelling, but rather taking you through lots of twists and turns to keep you interested and enjoying yourself.
There is a heavy element of "This is what really happened" story, which some fans of history may find grating. Although a big student of the Old West, I myself didn't find it very grating, partially due to the fact that the game itself sort of points out that some of the ideas are pretty silly and even when it's over sort of keeps you guessing.
I know that the writers did their research however, as they add a "Nuggets of Truth" collection game which gives you real historical info on the events they talk about. Obviously the versions we deal with are highly romanticized and overly dramatized, but I think that adds a bit to the overall charm.
Overall the game is just plain fun! In a day and age when 99% of new releases don't even make me blink, this one shines out as an example of a team focusing on what is important, perfecting the crap out of it, and then selling it at a reasonable price. It's a tactic I think more game companies should follow, trimming down the gimmicks and focusing more on the core gameplay at a rate that your average consumer can afford.
Techland, if you're reading this, know that guys like me appreciate the crap out of this game and hope that you make another in the future! This is a franchise I'm just waiting to throw more money at.
If you're a fan of the Old West or just want a shooter game that is actually worth the money you spend, then look this game up. It's available for download only, so for you console gamers you'll have to make a transaction or two with a sturdy internet connection. For PC guys, here's a link up right here!