If the 100th anniversary of the Duke brought a tear to your eye, there’s a good chance Call of Juarez has a crusty wanted poster with your mug on it. It wonderfully captures the pristine and burgeoning frontier that provided the backdrop for many a brutal Western endeavor. A first person shooter that’s equal parts Deadwood and The Searchers; stagecoaches, saloons and saltier-than-thou dialogue really help Juarez nail its intended time and motif.
Bullets audibly ricochet and the ten gallon hats fly as you as you battle through America’s late 1800’s adolescence stealing, fighting, and exerting deadly prejudice against the Apache in a manner that would make the Man from Laramie proud. And for the majority of you who can’t tell a woodpecker from a Peckinpah, we’ll try to keep the fifty-year old movie references to a minimum.
Blasting across the testosterone soaked stage, you’ll play as two characters: the pious Reverend Ray and the man with no last name, Billy Candle (Yeah, that looked like a last name to us, but since The Man with no Name is frequently referred to as Joe, we’ll let it slide.) The story of revenge, greed and misunderstanding unfolds with one playable character in hot pursuit of another, allowing you to re-explore the vast and uncut Leone-esque levels via branching pathways and without the repetitive backtracking.
There’s a duel-wielding slo-mo option that’s sorta cool, plus rapid-fire mode you can enter by pressing B, where you bash the hammer with your palm in true gunslinger fashion. But for real, authentic fun you’ve got the one-on-one draw downs. Face to face with a single adversary, you wait for a countdown prompt then… “Draw!” Pulling fast with the analog stick, then carefully steadying your hand is the only thing that separates the quick and the dead. Also, in what may be a couple of 360 firsts, there’s POV oral, uh, “treats” and first-person evangelism. That’s right, you can brandish the Testament - and actually use it to stupefy enemies with The Good Word. Hallelujah indeed!
But for all its immersion, don’t go in expecting a run-and-gun blood bath. Call of Juarez’s six-shooters and shotguns don’t lend themselves that well to frantic bullet melee. So in a game that focuses so heavily on hiding clumsily, it’s strange your knuckleheaded enemies take cover under air, and will always know exactly where you are, shooting accordingly, regardless of distance or what’s between you. All the while you’re constantly running out of ammo, with your guns jamming to the point of explosion. And frequently, consarnit!
There’s a part of us that thinks Call of Juarez would’ve been a happier hombre as third-person adventure game. There’s just so many elements - like moving objects, swinging across ravines with a whip and stealth-based missions - that would’ve been better suited to a perspective where you could see what’s above, below and behind you at all times. Riding horseback is fast fun, but it too appears to be a little oversimplified to compensate for the game’s limitations.