• Originally released for PC late last year Call of Juarez went on to receive critical acclaim but flopped at retail. Merging a market-flooded FPS with the under-established Wild West genre was an interesting choice for developers Techland to make and with publishing rights now snatched up by Ubisoft for the 360 release, Techland will be hoping that lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice.

    Call of Juarez tells the story of half-Mexican hombre Billy Candle who returns home to his mother and step-fathers’ farm only to find them both savagely butchered. At the same time Reverend Ray, Billy’s step-uncle, just so happens to wander over to the farm just in time to see Billy standing over his parents’ massacred remains. Billy runs, Ray pursues and thus the Old West adventure begins as Ray attempts to bring Billy to justice whilst simultaneously seeing off any hoodlums and outlaws that stand in his way.

    Playing as both characters the game intertwines the two stories between each level, with each offering up very different styles of play. Billy’s story very much plays out as a stealth platformer, navigating ravines and creeping past outlaws in order to try and stay alive, whilst Ray’s is an all out shooter, blasting through levels hot on the heels of Billy’s path. It’s refreshing for both styles of play to be offered up in the same game, sneaking through a level as Billy and then charging through the same area as Ray blasting those who you previously worked so hard to avoid. Obviously many players are going to prefer Ray’s levels for their sheer Rambo-esque gunplay and it would be fair to say that on the whole you’ll get more enjoyment from Ray’s character, but that’s not to say that Billy’s levels are boring, far from it in fact, with the two styles of play complimenting each other well.

    Call of Juarez

    Admittedly Call of Juarez is extremely linear, but it needs to be in order to stick to the tight narrative of the story. There’s no open-ended gameplay and no room for improvisation, just a tight march through each level from beginning to end. The game’s also pretty strict when it comes to moral choices forcing an instant game over whenever innocents are shot and completely restricting shots altogether when pointing your gun at anything not considered to be an enemy. Take that as a good or a bad point, but in an otherwise extremely gory and violent game it’s an odd design choice.

    What impressed me the most with the 360 release was the amount of tweaking gone into the fluidity of the graphics. When Call of Juarez released on PC, unless you owned an absolute beast of a machine you’d be treated to nothing more than a glorious slideshow. For 360 Techland have managed to push their engine to its limits and whilst the game mostly runs at an impressive 60fps there can be some slight slowdown when wandering through the busy towns and village areas. Post-processing effects like depth of field and HDR are put to great use and whilst there’s the odd bit of poor texturing within bars and other interior locations, the graphics generally look gorgeous and are very reminiscent to something like Call of Duty only with a sun-drenched Western twist.

    Similarities in the name and graphics aren’t the only things Techland have seemingly borrowed from Call of Duty and lifted straight into Juarez. The health system, as is being seen more and more in games these days, is one much like that made famous in the Call of Duty games. When injured the screen pulses red with blood, your heartbeat pounding audibly in the background, and unfortunately it’s something you’ll grow used to in Call of Juarez.

    Call of Juarez can be quite frustrating, most particularly within Billy’s campaign and often as a result of game mechanics not being implemented quite as well as they should be. A lot of Billy’s levels are based around platforming and in first person it just doesn’t work. Take for example the chase out of town early on in the game; on foot and unarmed with bandits in hot pursuit, Billy’s escape is intense but it’s also made frustrating by being forced to swing across ravine after ravine using a whip Indiana Jones style. Not only does this require the player to walk right to the edge of each cliff in order for the whip to make contact, but then you have to judge as to when to release the whip and try and land safely the other side, all whilst still being shot at. The whole escapade is done still using the first person camera making it very difficult to judge your timing and more often than not it’ll result in a quite visceral death as Billy plunges down the ravine.

    A few of Billy’s sneaking missions can also get quite irritating as being spotted often results in an instant level restart. It’s a shame that a game of this generation still relies on restarts rather than allowing the player to get out of the situation how they see fit, and what with Billy being on the run in the Old West and all, it seems quite appropriate that there’ll be a few tough situations. Fortunately the game auto-saves fairly regularly, so although you’ll be playing the same section over it’s not as if you’ll have to replay long areas to re-attempt it.

    Thankfully Ray’s all out shooting levels more than make up for where Billy’s sometimes fail, and whilst there can be a few issues with AI, the over the top Wild West shooting fares well. Ray can also enter ‘Concentration mode’ aka bullet-time to dispatch of his foes, with the left and right triggers acting as the gun in each hand. Granted it’s nothing new but it works remarkably well and looks extremely impressive.

    The story will take most players around 9 hours to play through, and even with the extra single-player modes considered you’re not looking at much more play-time than that. Whilst Juarez is thoroughly entertaining to play through the first time, there’s no reason why you’ll want to play through again unless you’re looking to pick up those elusive achievements you may have missed the first time.

    To boost the games longevity there’s an online multiplayer mode included but it’s pretty much a standard online affair consisting of class-based Western variants of Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, King of the Hill and Assassination. It’s well balanced if nothing special and whilst I’m not going to recommend Call of Juarez being worth a pickup on the basis of multiplayer alone, it does the job, allowing you to vent some of your frustration when the single player gets too much.

    On top of the multiplayer there’s also a one-on-one duel mode, instantly recognisable from classic Westerns, as well as bonus missions that unlock once the game’s complete. Whilst the duels provide a good bit of fun neither of the extras last very long and are merely bonuses rather than anything more fulfilling to add to the games longevity.

    Launching at £34.99 Call of Juarez could be considered a budget 360 title, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Whilst playing Call of Juarez I couldn’t help but think of Clint Eastwood classic ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, not only as a good representative of the western genre but also at how appropriate the title seemed. Whilst there’s a very good narrative and story to Call of Juarez, it’s spoilt by some badly implemented mechanics and, at times, ugly texturing and slowdown.

    The game offers up a great piece of entertainment for your money but it’s lacking that extra polish that you’d expect to see in a full price 360 game and on top of that it doesn’t provide much once the story’s finished. It’s good that Ubisoft recognised this and released Call of Juarez at a lower price, but in a game of this magnitude you can’t help but ask why more development time couldn’t have been given to try and build Juarez into a classic. As it is it’s potentially an amazing game with some real entertainment factor, marred only by a few unpolished sections and under-developed mechanics.

    Obviously to anyone thinking of purchasing, Call of Juarez is a fairly genre-specific choice and whilst some appeal may be lost to those without an interest in the Western genre, don’t just completely disregard it based on that fact; it may be clichéd but it’s still great fun, and is something greatly underrepresented within videogames. Sure it has its problems but the overwhelming atmosphere and intensity of the game all but make up for it, and launching as a budget title its hard not to recommend it. Fans of the Old West rejoice, for Call of Juarez is the Wild West king of the videogame world.

    Score: 7/10

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