by Marko Susimetsä
previewed on PC
Once upon a time in the gritty Wild West
America's Wild West has always been a major inspiration for film makers, authors and kids in the playground, but games set in this same genre seem to be few and far between. This is especially so, when we look for that real and gritty Wild West, in the style of Deadwood and Unforgiven. In this Wild West, the baddies don't always wear black hats while the good guys wear white. And this is not simply because the good guys have decided that black is more stylish, but because there is no clear way to categorize anyone as good or bad. It may be telling that it is a Polish company, Techland, teamed up with Ubisoft and Focus Home Interactive, that is coming up with this title instead of someone closer to the home of the Wild West. The release date is set on September, so the wait is getting shorter by the day!
The basic set-up of the story is simple, but promises more depth than most other first person shooters. There are two main characters that the player will control, Reverend Ray McCall and Billy Candle. The former is a retired gunslinger who attempts to make up for the mistakes of his earlier life by spreading the word of God. He then learns that his brother's family has been murdered, and decides that the killer must be his brother's stepson, a young man who didn't get along with his new stepfather and is seen bloodied on the scene. Ray decides that it is the God's will that he should pick up his guns again and seek vengeance over his brother's murder. Billy Candle, on the other hand, is the rash young man whom Ray seeks. His chosen mission is to find out who framed him on his parents' murder and grow up as a man in the process. In short, Ray is the good old gunslinger on a holy mission of vengeance, while Billy is a sneakier, troubled young man who is more likely to use a whip than a gun. The characters will change over the course of the game and when they finally cross paths, there's no knowing what will happen.
In addition to the single-player storyline, the game will offer the usual fare of FPS multiplayer modes (Deathmatch, Team-deathmatch, Capture the flag). This will ensure that the fun will continue even after one has beaten the game down on all difficulty settings and blindfolded. It remains to be seen how much the game will allow us to personalize the characters that we play in the multiplayer mode, but I'm hoping for a lot!
Bringing the world alive
Call of Juarez aims high as far as first-person shooters are concerned. The voice actors include Mexican and Native American actors and the environment is graphically very detailed and reminiscent of that Wild West feeling familiar from all the movies. In addition, there is the usual assortment of balls of dust, butterflies and birds flying around, as well as occasional showers of rain etc. that affect the gameplay and enhance the atmosphere in their small way. But on top of this pretty, but relatively basic ware, Call of Juarez introduces a great new effect, called the depth of field, that brings a new level of reality to the gameplay. Basically, it means that when you focus on a scene (a slight zoom effect), and turn around slightly, the graphics focus on the details that are centered on your screen. In practice, this means that when you are looking towards a tree, you will see the bark in great detail, but when you turn away from the tree, the focus will shift onto the background ? for example to some far-away meadows on the other side of the river, while the tree bark simultaneously shifts out of focus. It's hard to explain, and difficult to show in static screenshots, but makes for a very realistic effect when you see it in action.
Much of the environment can be manipulated by the player: either of the main characters can lift stuff up, throw it aside, move it around, or break stuff up by shooting, punching or kicking it. Many minor puzzles in the game involve the character moving crates around, for example to build steps in order to reach some target that would be out of reach otherwise. Likewise, Billy can use his whip in Indy fashion in order to swing from one outcrop to another. One can also set stuff on fire and it appears that the game code simulates the propagation of fire and smoke very realistically, as well as the quenching of such fires needing several buckets of water.