An Excellent FPS With Charm and Craft
This is a nice little shooter; undoubtedly the best of the Juarez games. Aside from a hiccup here and there caused by some design decisions unwisely plucked from the Call of Duty style of shooter-- namely the tendency to be shot at by hitscanners you can't see. The game seems to recognize its problem with hitscanners since it has a sort of reverse-VATS mode where the game goes into slow motion and you can dodge any killing blow. This system works most of the time, but if enemies manage to get the drop on you from the sorts of wacky places AI likes to get to it can be either awkward or impossible to judge which way you're meant to lean.
Gunslinger is meant to be a wild n' crazy offshoot from the previous Juarez games by focusing on high scores and combos, except it unfortunately stays its hand a bit and refuses to be as creative as something like Bulletstorm. I'm not saying they needed buttshots, but the best skillshots they could come up with instead is "headshot" or "blow up with dynamite" or "shot explosive barrel". The points feed into a level-up mechanic, but the way the skill trees are set up are highly restrictive. There are basically only two branches per tree, so you're going to have to take a bunk ass perk here and there in order to unlock access to one you actually want later. It's always a bummer to hit a level up and then realize you don't have access to anything you want.
Like the second-most tolerable Call of Juarez game, Bound in Blood, Gunslinger has a dueling mechanic. I can see why people tend to hate these, as it turns climactic boss fights into something of a simple minigame far removed from the core mechanics. On the other hand, it's a cowboy game, and not having something in there to replicate those standard movie showdowns would feel a bit off. In BiB these duels were a huge mess of sloppy control. Here they feel tight and well realized as you adjust your hand position with A/D and your slowly tightening 'focus' with the mouse. And this time if you hate the duels that much you can straight up cheat and blast fools before they're ready, although you miss out on experience points for doing so. The duels aren't exactly a highlight of the game, but they are certainly tolerable this time around and easy enough that no matter how you feel about them they won't impact your enjoyment too much.
Bound in Blood had a kind of "Hollywood western" motif going on, and Call of Juarez 1 had a "what the fuck is this Polish garbage" vibe. I think Gunslinger rises above both by playing up historical accuracy a bit more. It's obviously a pretty fictionalized 'Forrest Gump' approach to late 19th-early 20th century America, but the broad details slide into place and collecting secrets rewards you with little factoids that tell you the true history behind all the stuff you encounter. Their research went beyond streaming 'A Fistful of Dollars' on Netflix and it shows.
The campaign sets itself up in series of flashbacks told by an old dude in a bar to a handful of people who routinely comment on what is going on. They wisely only put the protagonist within the proximity of the real famous stuff to allow themselves more creative leeway. For example, one level takes place in the situation that would eventually lead to the Shootout at the OK Corral. And when it does stray from historical fact the listeners at the bar will often comment on it just to let you know that Jesse James wasn't really shot by the protagonist.
The whole frame narrative stuff is used to varying degrees of cleverness by having the story change the gameplay in real-time. For example, often you just have your progress blocked until you kill all the dudes, at which point the narration goes, "...and then I saw a ladder!" As he speaks, a ladder suddenly appears to help progress. This is the basic form of the idea, but there are some much cooler ideas on display here:
- At one point you are lead down into a cave, at the end of which you get killed complete with a Game Over screen, prompting the narration to say, "...which is why I obviously didn't go THAT way!" You then go back halfway through the level and take another path
- The hero notices one of the bar patrons has gotten bored so he starts contradicting his own story as a test to see if the patron is paying attention. This is reflected in the gameplay.
- My favorite and probably the most creative: A whole level that is structured after Rashomon, where different characters retell the same scene to suit their own viewpoints: The bartender says he was there and inflates his own role in the story, the naive kid tells the hyped up version he read in a pulp novel, and then the hero says the "true" version.
I'm not going to list every example, but I hope this gets the point across that there are some fun ideas at work. The campaign is surprisingly robust for a $15 game. It's not crazy long or anything, but you get the sort of single player campaign you'd get from a $50 game. The final level is weak, but that's mostly just story wrap-up with some gameplay bits scattered around.
The graphics have a pseudo-cel shaded style that looks very nice, although all the stylized foliage everywhere can make things a bit cluttered at times. The game runs very solidly as well. This is weird because it uses the Dead Island engine and that game was both ugly and ran like shit. Unlike Bound in Blood which had some issues on the PC side (especially with controls) the PC version of this is great, though I recommend going into the cfg files in order to disable the weird border and increase the FOV.