Call of Juarez
The film industry used to be inundated with Westerns, the genre that, throughout the 50s and 60s, just kept on giving. The best of these ubiquitous movies were the Spaghetti Westerns, hard-edged and stylish flicks filmed in Italy and Spain. However, in the gaming industry, the cash crop seems to be WWII games. While a few titles, Red Dead Revolver and Gun to name a couple, have penetrated the market, Western fans looking for games have had less options than a bandit in a noose. Thankfully, Call of Juarez is here to provide fans of westerns, particularly those of the pasta variety, with a video game fix. Unfortunately, as ambitious as the game is, it is far from perfect, and gamers who aren’t as fond of Westerns as the rest of us won’t find much to write home about.
But first, let’s get the good bits out of the way. Call of Juarez has a fantastic story, and tries something extremely difficult. The two main characters are enemies, and the story is in its essence, a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. Billy Candle returns to his hometown to find his family being murdered, and who should show up to see what’s going on than his Uncle Ray. Ray is a preacher, but one with a dark past. Seeing Billy standing over a pile of freshly murdered corpses seems to send him up the wall, and from then on it’s a chase- both characters seeking justice. As cheesy as it is, it’s a gripping yarn, and both characters are great in their own right. Throughout the game, you’ll play one area as the stealthy and nimble Billy, and then come tanking on through with Ray. This is a great idea, but unfortunately the execution just simply doesn’t hold up to the idea.
Billy is boring to play as. Sorry, stealth fans, but he’s no Solid Snake. He has no standard stealth moves, such as wall pressing, crawling, chokeholds… it’s just like playing a first person shooter, but shooting people usually fails the mission. Oh, fun. He’s nimbler than Ray, and can climb small ledges and swing from a whip, Indiana Jones style, but the fact is that he’s really just not that much fun to play with. Ray, on the other hand, is a complete badass, and playing with him is- no pun intended- a blast. Nothing beats putting six into a bandit’s hat with the revolver in one hand, and tossing dynamite out of the other. All in slow motion, of course. Ray can take huge amounts of punishment, too, thanks to the fact that he’s wearing armor from the middle ages under his jacket. For extra awesome, throw in the fact that you can read angry Bible quotes at people while you’re blowing them away, Samuel L. Jackson style. Yes, Ray is a fantastic villain, and the fact that his levels are so fun only makes Billy’s campaign seem all the crappier. Xbox Live players are treated to a fun, if bog-standard, multiplayer mode that features deathmatching and capture the flag.
The graphics are gorgeous, and there are quite a few moments that are likely to make players gasp. The levels are absolutely massive, and for the most part, you can go to every area you can see in the distance. Everything is lovingly textured, and bathed in a colorful glow that makes the game look just like one of Sergio Leone’s famous movies. Stylized landscapes like the desert of Juarez are beautiful, and its impressive to see a game that looks this nice running at such a buttery smooth framerate. The developers say Call of Juarez runs at 40fps on the Xbox 360, but you’d be hard pressed to discern it from the speedy 60fps of Forza Motorsport 2. One visual bug mars an otherwise excellent presentation, and that’s the head bob. Instead of incorporating a realistic running animation for the guns being held in front of you, Call of Juarez opts for the rather dated forward-backward animation, regardless of how fast you’re moving or where you’re looking (for an example of this, look at Half-Life 2). Other than that little complaint, this is a great looking game, and the soundtrack isn’t half-bad either, provided you enjoy the twang of Ennio Morricone-esque strings.
If there were more Western games on the market today, Call of Juarez would probably be nothing special. However, given the fact that they’re about as common as… well, new Western movies are these days, Call of Juarez deserves a little bit of special treatment. However, the frustration of the platforming and stealth in Billy’s levels is too much to go unnoticed, but thankfully the villainous Uncle Ray saves the day with his rootin’ tootin’ shooting action. Coupled with a gorgeous graphics engine, Call of Juarez is a worthy purchase for Western fans, and shooter fans in general will enjoy the action levels. Perhaps a sequel will work out the kinks in Billy’s mechanics, but as it stands, it’s still a fun game.
Seven out of ten
- Gorgeous visuals
- Entertaining gunfights
- Great voice acting
- Well-told story
- Broken first-person stealth