This one's hot and dusty and mean, and it has a neat storytelling hook. In most shooters, the player is the hunter or the hunted. In "Call of Juarez," the player is both.
The Western seems tailor-made for action games — gunplay, bandits and high-speed horse chases make for great gaming. But there’ve only been a few Western-theme games, and at least one of them felt the need to throw in vampires.
Not “Call of Juarez,” though. This one’s hot and dusty and mean, and it has a neat storytelling hook. In most shooters, the player is the hunter or the hunted. In “Call of Juarez,” the player is both.
There are two primary characters: Billy Candle, a young man whose mother won’t tell him much about his father; and Ray McCall, a massive preacher with a gun-slinging past.
Billy returns to his hometown of Hope, Texas, after spending time searching for the treasure of Juarez, reputed to be a pile of gold that was to be paid in ransom for Montezuma. He’s empty-handed and not much welcome back, and that’s before his mother and stepfather are discovered dead at their farm outside town.
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Even worse, he’s found at the scene by the self-righteous Rev. McCall, his stepfather’s brother, who immediately assumes the worst when he finds Billy near the bodies, and sets out to hunt him down after hauling an old set of six-shooters from storage and violently clearing Hope of its lowlifes. (McCall thinks he’s on a mission from God.)
The player spends the game leapfrogging through the story line, controlling Billy, then McCall, then Billy again level by level.
Billy’s levels center on stealth and concealment. He’s not able to take much damage, but he’s fast and agile, able to climb over obstacles and use a whip to swing from branches and posts, Indiana Jones-style. He has a derringer and a bow and arrows. He can hide completely in shadows and bushes, and can sneak silently around dangers.
McCall is the opposite. He has no use for stealth — he’s strong, armored and hardy. He goes through the game with guns blazing and fists clenched. He can wield pistols or a sawed-off shotgun in each hand, toss dynamite sticks, and use rifles and full-size shotguns.
He can opt to use one revolver, fanning the hammer for rapid fire, and if his weapons are holstered, he can do a focused quick-draw, which slows down time and lets him aim each gun individually to rapidly down groups of foes. He can even recite passages from his Bible to confuse enemies.
At the end of some levels, he’ll engage in a quick-draw duel against an enemy — the player dips the right analog stick down then up again, and has to quickly target a vital spot and shoot before taking too much damage. It’s a well-done take on the classic Old West duel.
Once the single-player quest is over with, there are a few additional missions unlocked. Also, completing certain levels opens up a set of quick-draw duels — decent fun to be had there.
The game also has an online mode, with Western-theme versions of capture the flag, tag and other popular modes, and players can choose from a few character types with different weapon load-outs. It won’t take the online gaming world by storm, but it’s a solid mode.
“Call of Juarez” has great sound and voice acting (McCall is done by Marc Alaimo, who played the villain Gul Dukat on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”), and the music calls to mind the score of the sci-fi Western series “Firefly.” However, the game does include Old West stereotypes and slurs in places, so be aware of that.
The game’s environments look very good, from dusty scrubland and cacti to the ramshackle buildings of Hope. The characters are less pretty when seen close up, but they’re animated well, and enemy silhouettes look just right when they’re firing from the rooftops. The effects aren’t as flashy as in many shooters, which fits with the time frame, but the game has its share of explosions.