If it seems that the Wild West is creeping back into the public imagination, that's probably because it is thanks to the popularity of HBO's gritty drama Deadwood, as well as the high profile release of last year's Gun. Now, Poland's Techland is entering the fray with Call of Juarez, a first-person shooter set in the Old West. Techland previously worked on Chrome, a sci-fi shooter, and for Call of Juarez, the company took the latest generation of its graphics engine and adapted it to create an action game set in America's fabled past.
Techland recently provided us with an early glimpse of the game, and it looks like Call of Juarez is aiming to be more than a simple run-and-gun style shooter. The game will rely heavily on a story that will take you through gunfights in dangerous towns to Native American quests through the wilderness. Unfortunately, since most of the preview version that Techland provided us was missing cutscenes or still had Polish voiceovers, we don't have many details regarding the plot. We played as both an old preacher with a dark past as well as a young man who is lost in the wilderness. Are they the same character, only at different times in his life? Or are they separate characters who will be brought together in the end? We'll have to wait and find out.
Call of Juarez bears some similarities to Gun, though to be fair the game was in development long before Gun was released last November. Still, it's interesting to note that Call of Juarez, like Gun, features a slow-motion, bullet-time mode designed to let you capture the sense of being the fastest draw in the West. In Call of Juarez, all you have to do is holster your weapons (after all, you can't draw them if they're already drawn) and then wait for someone to make your day. As soon as you draw, time slows down, and two cursors (representing both of your pistols) slowly converge on screen, like you're bringing them to aim forward. You don't need to wait for them to align to start shooting, however, and you can start blasting away at your opponents. The effect wears off after a few seconds, but this is a good way to even the odds, especially if you're up against multiple opponents. Another feature that's similar to Gun is the fact that both games use whiskey for medicinal purposes, as you can quickly restore your health in Call of Juarez by picking up a bottle (bad guys occasionally drop whiskey when you kill them) and drinking.
It's not all about gun slinging in Call of Juarez, either. For instance, one character carries a bible that can be "drawn," though how it will be used in the game has yet to be seen. In other sequences, the character can carry a bow and arrow, and even a bullwhip that has all sorts of useful applications. Think about all the nifty things Indiana Jones did with his whip, and you'll get an idea. In fact, the preview that we played around with had two levels. The first involved clearing the town of Hope (why do these Western towns always have the most ironic names?) of mutinous miners, while the second requires you to go on quests for the mysterious Native American who saves your life. You'll hunt for rabbits with a bow, climb a huge mountain to recover an eagle feather, and so on. The nature of these quests will remind you a bit of the Grand Theft Auto and other similar action adventure games. Indeed, there's a compass on the screen that always lets you know where you need to go next, so you're eventually racing around the wilderness on horseback carrying out tasks.
As we noted previously, Techland uses its own proprietary graphics engine for Call of Juarez, and the company has some sharp looking technology at work in the game. We got a sense of that during the major gunfight in Hope, as we maneuvered through an impressive looking Western town. We even toyed around with the physics in the game, as we knocked over objects with gunfire (gunslingers will also knock over barrels and roll them out into the street to provide cover). Unfortunately, there is at least one jumping puzzle in the game, as we had to pick up and move a box so we could jump atop a flight of stairs whose bottom steps were missing. That wasn't fun at all, as you have to place the box in a certain spot and get the jump exactly right or else miss the stairs entirely, so hopefully Techland addresses that in development.
So Call of Juarez is looking like an interesting first-person shooter with a broad variety of gameplay, and it feels like it's a game that will appeal to action adventure fans. Of course, a big issue is who the game will translate over the Atlantic. In particular, we're wondering how the story, dialogue, and voice acting will hold up once the game is fully translated to English. We'll find out relatively soon, as Call of Juarez is scheduled to ship sometime in the first quarter of the year.