Call of Juarez Impressions

We saddle up for a lengthy demo of Call of Juarez at the Games Convention in Leipzig, Germany.

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LEIPZIG, Germany--Call of Juarez, a Western-themed first-person shooter from Ubisoft and Techland, promises to bring you all the excitement of being a cowboy without having to suffer the saddle sores. Beyond the Western theme, there are some interesting gameplay mechanics in Call of Juarez that should set it apart from the glut of other shooters on the market. We visited the Ubisoft booth at the 2006 Games Convention in Leipzig, Germany, for a lengthy demo showcasing a few levels from the game.

The structure of the story is interesting in Call of Juarez, because you play as not one but two characters. That's nothing new, but the interesting part is that the two characters you play as are at odds with one another. Ray is an older man who gave up his guns to be a reverend, and Billy is Ray's nephew, a wild young runaway accused of murdering his family. After learning of the death of his family, Ray picks up his guns once again and starts looking for Billy, who, meanwhile, is running for his life. This structure gives you two unique perspectives on the same story. You might end up playing through one level as Billy and then playing the same level as Ray, which gives you a completely different perspective on the settings, events, and characters you encounter in that level. This alternating narrative seems like it could work well, and we're especially interested to see how the conflict between the two playable characters is resolved. Of course, the developers wouldn't share that information with us, so we'll just have to wait for the game to be released.

Since Call of Juarez is a shooter, there aren't any tremendous surprises in how it plays. For the most part you shoot one bad guy after another as you work your way through each level. However, there are some variants to make it a little more interesting. For instance, each of the characters has unique weapons and special abilities, which require you to change up the way you play from level to level.

Ray is a gunslinger, so his primary weapons are his pistols. Since he is a man of the faith, he also carries around a Bible. You can approach enemies and quote scripture to befuddle them and buy yourself a moment to draw your guns. Ray also has a special ability that lets him slow down time. When it's activated, Ray draws both pistols, and the world around him moves in superslow motion. Two targeting reticles appear--one for each gun--and by using these you can easily take out half a dozen enemies or more before they even get a chance to draw their weapons. The slow-motion effect lasts only a couple of seconds, but it seems like that's all you'll ever need.

Billy is a young boy on his own, running for his life. He doesn't use guns but instead relies on his trusty whip. Using the whip, Billy can swing from tree limbs, attack enemies, and so on. Since Billy isn't quite equipped for direct confrontation, he has to rely more on his agility, stealth, and ingenuity to surmount the challenges faced in each level.

Beyond the unique abilities of each character, there are plenty of small details that, taken collectively, have a substantial effect on the gameplay. For example, the development team put a lot of work into the fire effects in the game. More than a mere visual effect, the fire in the game behaves as it would in the real world. When you shoot a lantern and it shatters, catching a barrel on fire, the fire won't just go out after a few seconds. Instead, it will spread to all the surrounding flammable items, and if left unchecked, it could present major problems for everyone in the area. There are other ways to interact with the environment as well. You can pick up items such as boxes and move them around to clear a path or provide a step up to an elevated area. We also saw Billy knock over a tree and then use it as a bridge between two ledges.

Visually, Call of Juarez meets the standards of first-person shooters on the PC, though it isn't especially impressive. However, it did run smoothly throughout the entire lengthy demo we saw, even when the action was at its most intense. The levels we saw were large and expansive, with sprawling outdoor areas as well as dark mining tunnels and dingy saloon interiors. Call of Juarez definitely has the dirty, gritty feel of old Western movies, which goes a long way in establishing the tone of the game.

Call of Juarez is scheduled to ship early next month, so you don't have to wait long to start slinging your six-shooters. If you're not sold on the game, you can check the downloads tab of the gamespace for a single-player demo. Be sure to check back soon for our full review of the game when it's released.

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