The feeling of power for a budget price.
The Cartel... Man that was embarrassing. Techland is a Polish video game company that has been around longer than most people would presume, making their first impact in the states with the original Call of Juarez back in 2006. Since then they have expanded on the Western series, created the Dead Island series, and created various off-road racing titles. People would say that they have a very strong hit or miss ratio for their games with low points being Dead Island Riptide and Call of Juarez: The Cartel. It is totally understandable that people would underwrite the Call of Juarez series after that game but I am here to say that The Cartel was an anomaly and not an indicator of where the series wants to be.
Returning to the west post Civil War era, the game starts off with the character you play as, the bounty hunter Silas Greves, walking into a saloon and after introducing himself to the bartender, is instantly recognized by a young buck sitting at one of the tables conveniently reading a dime novel about his tales. Upon confirming the young man buys Silas a drink in exchange for him to tell a couple stories from the man himself. This setups how a low budget game contends with those damning restrictions, but gives itself enough room to accomplish what they set out to do. The game is narrated with Silas talking to the boy and several other people in the area which gives the game the flexibility to jump around to different environments fairly quickly and provide storytelling and exposition in an immersive manner. With all the heat surrounding voxophones and notes left behind in modern games that break immersion in the world, Gunslinger shows a prime example on how to get across that same information, in a organic and interesting way.
Through this they are also able to extend out certain parts of the game through having an unreliable narrator. Several times throughout the game, Silus will correct himself or expand on a part of the story which will cause a rewind over a scene. This is sometimes used to expand time on a set part of the environment which could be seen as padding out the game, but it is not abused and is even used to expand a level in multiple directions. Even with this you will see some environments reused in different missions but is explained away via narration. I think all of this shows great ideas from the development team on how to create a budget game by reducing cost in certain aspects in a way that does not inherently become apparent in an intrusive manner.
With those concessions the game still shows well with a slightly cell-shaded look over interesting characters and backdrops. Animations and sound effects feel solid with western Zaaangs! and Pings! from bullets over animations of the hands in front of you quickly loading revolvers and double barrel shotguns. In a world of shooters where you only reload via clips and magazines, the contrast of reloading single bullets into a spinning chamber revolver might be one of the most interesting facets of the game.
As a shooter the game feels great (arguably the largest point.) Being able to pick someone off with a single revolver at a distance feels excellent and the game rewards you as such. There is a typical bullet time mechanic which by itself doesn't have anything unique about it, and a Last Hit like mechanic from borderlands where a possible fatal bullet slows down extremely slow and you have to choose to dodge left or right. Choose incorrectly and you will dodge face first into the path of the bullet, ending your life. There is an arcade style xp system which encourages extravagant run and gun play over conservative heavy cover survival. With every level you gain a point to spend in one of 3 skill trees which improves default shooting stats and automatically unlocks engraved upgraded versions of the game’s six weapons. Reloading single bullets still happens very fast and unlike with a magazine, if someone surprises you from a corner, you can stop reloading and fire off what you managed to load back in. The reason why this game breaks out of mediocrity into something really fun is due to these mechanics.
Almost all first person shooters now have modern military settings with an overall slower and more tactical feel. Built in cover mechanics and regenerating health slows down game play so that you find yourself constantly in cover waiting for opportunities to take shots to appear. I’m not hating on that style of game play, Rainbow Six: Vegas had such a great feeling from taking snapshots from cover while sticking to that same slow and tactical formula. Gunslinger however discourages you from resting when there are more enemies around you. Because you don’t have a set animation time for reloading, you should always be reloading when you have the window. Once you get into the flow of quick switching weapons and constantly reloading between enemies the game creates this real feeling of being a gunslinging badass in a fluid manner that few other games could accomplish. Playing on a Keyboard and mouse is next to required because running around the battlefield without stopping, switching weapons, reloading, and using the time mechanic is all handled by all 5 fingers working together akin to flourishing a spinning a revolver around your hand. This conveys such an important feeling of enjoyment by transferring the skills Silas has over his environment and weapons over to you. The powertrip is a huge factor in this game and it successfully makes you feel powerful not by handing you progressively larger weapons, but by giving you the tools to feel like a real gunslinger.