So it seems that Call of Juarez's brief stint in the modern era is over with. Goodbye and good riddance, I say. Returning to the old west setting of its series heritage, Call of Juarez: The Gunslinger aims to bring an arcade flair all its own.
Does it actually work, though?
Call of Juarez: The Gunslinger (PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, PC)
Right now, it's too early to gauge the answer to that question -- the build we saw was hands off and in an alpha state. Here's what we do know: Gunslinger tells the tale of a yet-to-be-named bounty hunter, who after a long hard life on the open road, returns to his hometown to spend his twilight years.
As he sits in a saloon one day, he is recognized by a young man who insists on hearing all about our hero's great adventures. You see, Gunslinger places you as a member of many old western gangs, always as this same bounty hunter. As you play through the events the protagonists describes, you start to wonder how much of his account of events is trumped up folk legend.
Techland is really aiming to play around with this idea, as you play in romanticized versions of Billy the Kid's and Jesse James' gangs, among others. There is even some banter between the hero and the young man, as the young man finds plot holes and unbelievable stretches of truth in the story. If you find yourself wanting to know a bit more about where the truth ends and the legends begin, there are collectible dossiers on all the outlaws you will be running with. There are even dossiers on the famous lawmen of the time such as Pat Garrett, and other men noted for taking down outlaws.
When seen in motion, the first thing you'll notice is the change in art direction. The Gunslinger uses a cel-shaded look for all of its in-game visuals, supplemented with comic book-style storyboards for its cutscenes. An odd choice for sure, but one that is meant to sell the whole arcade tone that Gunslinger is aiming for. Apart from a different art style, The Gunslinger features a scoring system which works pretty much how you would expect. You earn points for every kill, with additional points awarded for more stylized kills, such as headshots, environmental kills, and multipliers earned for kills in rapid succession.
Though we didn't get to go hands-on, the scoring system looked rather basic. It just doesn't seem very comprehensive in terms of the variety of rewarded kills, with pretty much all kills scoring higher than the norm being headshots. Again, this was early stuff, so that could change with time.
Once you have raked in a number of points, you can spend them to unlock a variety of upgrades. The two we saw in our demo included one where you can mash on the X button to speed up reloads, and another that allows corpses to be looted for different weapons.
The upgrade shop can also be used to purchase augments to the series' staple Concentration Mode. Like in past games, Concentration Mode can be used to slow down time and take out targets in your line of sight. It is functionally similar in Gunslinger, but can also be upgraded to include an auto-aim feature to quickly snap on and off of targets.
As our demo came to a close, the final feature shown was a new mechanic called Sense of Death. Somewhat comparable to Concentration Mode, Sense of Death allows near-death players to enter a slow-motion sequence where they are given the opportunity to dodge the final bullet that would put them down. In order to avoid death completely, however, you must not only dodge the bullet, but also kill the person who fired it. Otherwise, you are left vulnerable to another shot.
Sense of Death operates on a cooldown, so don't expect to rely on it every time you are about to die. It certainly seems like an interesting enough mechanic, and if tied to the upgrade system at all, could potentially evolve in new and exciting ways as the game progresses. At the very least, it does fit well with the arcade vibe of the title.
While there is still a lot to be proved as an arcade experience, it is nice to see that Call of Juarez: The Gunslinger has returned to the Wild West where the series made its name. Series fans (if any of you are left after the last one) have plenty to look forward to; it seems to be returning to form. Personally though, I'm going to keep my excitement tentative.