by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Answering the call
Games set in the Wild West are fairly rare. The reason for it is that developers and publishers know that it will be hard to make a decent profit out of them, no matter how good the game is. Somehow the theme doesn't seem to appeal much to the majority of gamers and we'd rather run around dismembering aliens and slaughtering demons than shooting up cowboys. That is not to say that all Western-themed games are duds. Far from it. Freddy Parkas, for instance, was a very enjoyable adventure and the 'interactive movie' Mad Dog McCree was not only way ahead of its time, it was also fantastically fun to play.
Developer Techland doesn't mind trying to beat the odds. Their latest game, Call of Juarez, is a Western-themed mix of First Person Shooter and Action-Adventure and regardless of what its commercial success will be, it is a great game. If you are even remotely interested in action packed and suspense filled adventuring, I would suggest you read on.
Contrary to most First Person Shooters, Call of Juarez has a pretty strong storyline. You are Billy Candle, a youngster of Mexican descent, returning home after unsuccessfully trying to find a legendary treasure called The Gold of Juarez. Or are you actually Reverend Ray McCall, once the most feared outlaw in The West but now a man of the cloth in a small town? In a most schizophrenic way, you are both.
Billy and Ray are related through marriage. Billy's mom married Ray's brother but his new stepfather is not a kind man. The abuse by his mother's husband is what caused him to run away from home in the first place and returning is taking all his courage. His homecoming ends in disaster when he discovers that his mother and stepfather have been murdered mere moments before he arrives at the ranch. At that moment Reverend Ray, alerted by the townsfolk that Billy is back in town, also arrives at the scene, sees Billy fleeing and concludes that Billy must have murdered his own mother and his beloved brother. Angered, he sets out for revenge.
The enemy is... you!
From that moment on a mad chase starts that puts you in the shoes of Reverend Ray at one moment and Billy's the next. Billy, running for his life, mostly makes use of stealth and wits to try and stay out of Ray's hands. Just when you have aligned your sympathies with Billy, you are put into the character of Ray. Ray prefers brute force, the shoot-first-talk-later kind, and feels that anyone who stands between him and Billy has to be an Angel of Darkness and as such deserves to be killed. Alternating between the two is an utterly crazy way of playing the game and will have you hesitate pulling the trigger on Billy when you catch up with him. These moments are rare however. Most of the time you are either running and hiding as Billy, or shooting at just about everything that moves as Ray.
As mentioned above, Billy uses stealth and wits more than weapons. That does not mean that he goes through life without weapons or without killing anyone at all. Playing Billy, trying to stay out of the hands of Ray, is not an easy task and you will encounter many people on your flight that want to kill you for their own reasons. Your most trusted weapon is a sturdy leather whip. A well-targeted hit with that will bring any man to his knees, but its range is limited. Compared to Ray's array of weaponry, Billy's is somewhat constrained in the types of weapons he finds, as well as how much ammo he has available. This, combined with the type of missions you will receive, forces Billy into a stealth role. If you are like me and stealth is not really your thing, Billy's missions may get a little frustrating at times but not enough to make you want to quit playing.
Revered Ray on the other hand, has no qualms about killing and he will find lots of 'instruments of death' on his quest to kill Billy. He uses an assortment of rifles ranging from sawed off shotguns to Winchester-like rifles that work better when you are shooting baddies from a distance. Ray, being a Priest, also uses his bible as a weapon. Not that he throws it at people or anything like that. No, he uses it to read to his enemies who get very confused by this, giving Ray time to kill them before they recover. Able to carry two at a time, revolvers are his most trusted allies. They are used to engage Call of Juarez' version of bullet-time which is a little different from what you will be used to; time slows down and you get two crosshairs on opposite sides of the screen. Slowly and erratically these move towards each other, giving you the ability to shoot all foes along their paths. You can only control one of them at a time as you cannot influence the distance between them. Pointing one at a target means the other crosshairs moves as well. You will need to pick your targets carefully but, despite this handicap, the bullet-time is extremely powerful and it is almost always available.
No Pros and Cons at this time