Wednesday 13 September 2006
This first-person shooter's unannounced surprise brilliance is actually a very Wild West thing. Picture the scene: the PC saloon at midday. Prey on the honky-tonk piano. Quake IV downing whiskey at the bar. Someone walks in. The place freezes: a stranger. Everyone considers him. "Hey," sneers Gun, "your wolves look mighty funny." The stranger turns... and blows the GTA-with-cowboys game away. "Who the hell's that?" someone whispers. It's Call of Juarez. It's the best cowboy game the PC's ever seen.
It borrows from many major FPS trends. Occasionally it even feels a little old-school. It has little time for the exactly crafted, scripted firefights of Call of Duty. It's got a graphics engine that can deal with sprawling levels, but mostly chooses to create linear, contained ones.
It's impressively brutal yet refuses to let you do the post-GTA slaughtering innocents thing. It's got bullet-time, but gives it a big twist. And - this is the key to its appeal - it has an idea then, rather than milking it, uses it and moves the hell on to something else.
The idea that the game hangs off is its use of dual leads: gunman-turned-preacher Reverend Ray and roguish outcast Billy. Billy is on the run, wrongly accused of the murder of his parents. Reverend Ray is his main pursuer.
The game alternates levels from each perspective. When playing Billy, for the most part it's akin to the Lost City level in Thief: The Dark Project - a cross between a stealth game and an exploratory game like Tomb Raider. Hell, for the majority of the game your only weapon is a whip, which is more useful as a climbing device.