Call of Juarez Hands-on

This dark first-person shooter takes place in the Old West and features plenty of gunslinging and horseback riding.


Call of Juarez

Though it's been released in Europe already, Ubisoft and Techland plan to release Call of Juarez in the US next month. When they do, they'll also release an Xbox 360 version of the game, which is set in America's fabled Old West. The Xbox 360 version is very similar to the PC version, which we've previewed on earlier occasions, and we recently had a chance to try the former for the first time. After a bit of play, we found it to be a challenging game of gunslinging and horseback riding.

Think of any Ennio Morricone score to accompany a scene like this.
Think of any Ennio Morricone score to accompany a scene like this.

Call of Juarez is a dark tale that revolves around two characters: the Reverend Ray, a retired gunslinger with a very dark past who turned to religion for redemption, and his nephew, Billy. After Billy gets framed with the murders of his parents, he flees, and Reverend Ray, thinking his nephew did the crime, hauls his six-shooters out of storage and goes on a rampage after him. You'll alternate between both characters as you dive deeper into the story, which centers upon Reverend Ray's dark past in the Mexican-boarder town of Juarez.

As a first-person shooter, the action in Call of Juarez is based on, well, shooting. However, using 19th century firearms is a lot more challenging than being able to rely on today's modern automatic weaponry. Your basic weapon is a six-shooter, preferably one in each hand. When you're dual-wielding six-shooters, firing them is as simple as pulling the left and right triggers on the gamepad. If you're spoiled by modern-era games and their 15-round ammo clips, the six rounds in each pistol take a while to get used to. It's really easy to burn through all of your bullets in a few seconds, which means you'll constantly need to reload your revolvers throughout a battle in a process that takes precious seconds. And the hit detection in the game is crazy accurate, which means that you've got to aim carefully.

After encountering an angry mob that turns on the local sheriff, Reverend Ray has to clear out the small Western town of bandits and lowlifes. This involves plenty of running and gunning, puzzle solving, and environment navigating, as well as a couple of showdowns. The first is when Ray walks into town and a small welcoming committee strides out into the street to greet him. This is a perfect moment to use some of your gunslinger abilities, such as the draw mechanic that lets you holster your weapons and then draw both of them. Doing so causes time to slow down, letting you get off multiple shots at multiple opponents before they have time to react, which basically lets you re-create that famous cinematic moment when a lone gunslinger takes out three or four bad guys in the blink of an eye.

Then there are the major showdowns, usually reserved for boss characters at the end of a level. Like in the movies, you'll find yourself standing face-to-face with your opponent in the middle of an empty street. A counter ticks down, and when it hits zero seconds, you have to pull down on the right thumbstick and then push up on it, which mimics the act of reaching down, drawing your gun, and raising it up. How quickly and how smoothly you do this movement helps determine your accuracy, and you have to react quickly because the aim cursor jumps around the screen.


There's also a stagecoach chase during a first-person horseback-riding sequence. Basically, the bandits have kidnapped Billy's girlfriend, and you, as the reverend, have to rescue her, which involves jumping atop a horse and galloping after the stagecoach. The chase itself is heavily scripted, as you can't catch the coach no matter how often you whip your horse, so the goal is to keep up, dodge the lit sticks of dynamite being tossed out of the coach, and gun down the various bandits on horseback trying to get in your way. There's a "head 'em off at the pass" moment, as well as the challenge of riding your horse down an extremely steep grade, before it culminates in a battle at a remote ranch that plays out as a showdown with a key character.

There's a lot of action in Call of Juarez, but don't expect this to be a lighthearted game. The story and characters all come off as very dark, and the game feels inspired by such complex fare as the HBO series Deadwood and the comic book Preacher. If Westerns are your thing, or you need a change of pace from military shooters, then you might want to keep your eye on Call of Juarez. The game ships next month.

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