While we've seen plenty of military shooters, Western-themed action games that let you explore the gritty Wild West are a lot rarer. So it's interesting that Ubisoft (a French-owned company) and Poland's Techland are taking a crack at America's storied past with Call of Juarez, an upcoming first-person shooter where the good guys and bad guys don't wear white and black cowboy hats.
Call of Juarez aims to be a gritty tale in the style of HBO's acclaimed series Deadwood, and you'll get to play as two family members who are at odds with one another. The first is Reverend Ray, a retired gunslinger who turned to religion for redemption of his past sins, but when he hears that his nephew Billy murders his family, he digs up his old guns and seeks revenge. Then there's Billy himself, who was framed for the murders and must now deal with his angry uncle while also figuring out the truth. We played a preview version of the game, which had two parts, letting us play as both Reverend Ray and as Billy.
The Reverend Ray level is the same level that we've seen on previous occasions. In it, you'll get in a battle with a town full of outlaws, and this will serve as an introduction to your gunslinger abilities. And nearly every kind of shooting trick that you've seen in a Western can be done in Call of Juarez. For example, you can holster both of your six-shooters and walk into the middle of the street to face multiple opponents. When you draw your guns to fire, time slows down, and you can take shots at multiple opponents, and then, when time reverts back to normal speed, watch as they all crumple to the ground at the same time. Or if you draw only one gun, you can use your free hand to slap the hammer back while you hold down the trigger, a process called "fanning," which basically lets you rapid-fire bullets.
Though we've played this level before, we're surprised at how challenging it was this time around. It seems that the artificial intelligence is a lot better about using cover and shooting at you from a distance, which means that you can't simply run and gun your way through the streets. You'll have to use cover yourself and "peek" around corners to get a shot off at a foe. This isn't an ultrarealistic game, though, so don't worry about a single bullet killing you off. You have a health bar, which you can replenish by draining the bottles of whiskey scattered throughout the level. After you clear the town of most of the lower-level outlaws, you'll also partake in that most cherished of Western traditions, the showdown. When battling against the boss, you'll get into a one-and-one duel where both of you must stand in the middle of the street, facing one another, weapons holstered. During the showdown, you must move your mouse down quickly to emulate the act of reaching for your gun, and then snap it back up to aim and get a shot off before your opponent can blast you.
The second part of the demo features a level that we haven't seen yet, as you get to play Billy shortly after he encounters his angry uncle. On the run, Billy must somehow get to safety, and this involves wandering through the wilderness, armed only with a whip. After taking out some hungry wolves, you'll stumble upon a remote farmhouse, and you must figure out a way to sneak in and steal the horse in the barn. It's not quite that easy, though, as you'll also need to get the saddle inside the farmhouse itself, which means avoiding the farmer who lives there. You can't simply kill the farmer (well, you can, but that results in mission failure), so you'll need to do some stealth-action sneaking by monitoring his walking pattern and slipping past while his back is turned.
Once you're on the horse, it's time for a mad dash to freedom, at least for a short while. Soon you'll encounter the next puzzle in the game, as a column of smoke up ahead indicates someone's there. You'll need to dismount from the horse and swing over gaping chasms by coiling your whip around overhanging branches. After that, you'll discover a pair of Apache warriors around a campfire, so you can sneak around their camp to reach their horses. The wise thing to do is whip one of the horses so that it flees, then leap on the second horse and ride away, otherwise the Apaches will simply chase you. Or, if you were careful in searching the farmer's house, you'll be armed with a weapon that you can use to take out the Apaches. Or, if you prefer nonviolence and nonconfrontation, you can simply skulk past the Apaches on foot. So, as you can tell, Call of Juarez will offer multiple solutions to various encounters and situations, and it should hopefully reward nonlinear gameplay.
We're also impressed with the strides the game has made over the past few months. The graphics displayed a sheen that wasn't there before, and everything looks much more polished in general. The same goes for the voice acting, which previously used Polish placeholder voices. Now there are English voices, and the quality in general seems rather good, as you can really hear the voice of Reverend Ray enunciating his hatred for his nephew. Call of Juarez looks like it's really coming together, and we can expect it to ship later this fall.