N Amer - 06/05/2007
Call of Juarez Review
That dirty-faced, tobacco-chewing gunfighter pointed his rusty old six-shooter with his finger ready to pull the trigger when the man standing in front of him quotes a passage from the Bible that puts the fear of God into this brutal killer. And as the words of Ezekiel come to its conclusion, the man known as Reverend Ray McCall lays his vengeance upon the dirty gunslinger with furious anger and bullet with is name on it. Meanwhile, a young man named Billy Candle runs for his life, knowing full well that the dangerous Reverend is hot on his trail. This is Call of Juarez, a first-person shooter set in the Old West.
Call of Juarez puts you in the boots of both Billy Candle and his uncle Ray who was is a gunfighter turned Reverend in a small Texas town. The game begins with Billy, having left his dusty hometown in search of Aztec gold rumored to have been lost during the Cortez’s attempt to claim it as a ransom for Montezuma, has come home to see his ma when he finds them murdered in their family farm. In the same town, Reverend Ray is in the middle of Sunday mass when somebody bursts in to tell him that Ray’s own brother and his sister-in-law were murdered by his nephew Billy. Then all hell breaks loose in town and Ray, strapping on his guns, steps out with Bible in one hand and a colt pistol in another and proceeds to dish out his own brand of justice. And the Reverend becomes the hunter and Bill becomes the hunted and in the middle there’s the lost gold hidden somewhere in Juarez.
The game, told through a series of “episodes”, alternates between the two characters who play differently. Billy is young but weak and has the ability to make use of a whip as well as a bow and arrow. Reverend Ray, on the other hand, is a tough hombre who can dual wield two guns or his trusty Bible and a gun. He can also kick a door open and pick up heavier objects exactly the same way you do in Half-Life 2. As I mentioned above, the Reverend also carries around his Bible and reads verses that oftentimes petrify enemies within earshot and thus giving you enough time to fill them full of hot lead. With two very different characters and different gameplay styles, the game isn’t short on variety. Unfortunately, this is not always a good thing.
For one thing, while it’s easy to get wrapped up in Billy’s narrative and his determination to prove his own innocence, his levels follow a less action-packed path and more of a stealthy one. Now, I have nothing against a level that requires stealth rather than shooting your way out of a situation, but Call of Juarez handles stealth in an almost nonsensical manner. Take, for instance, the time Billy must sneak through a bandit camp near a mine. He has the cover of dark on his side but a lightning storm lights up the area ever so often. Now I can accept that a bandit can catch a glance of him when lightning lights up the area but why can they see him through boulders or even a tent? Secondly, Billy’s levels have a platform gaming feel to them that would have been good if the platform jumping was handled right. Here, it’s awkward trail-and-error platform gaming at its worst and even the occasionally cool Indiana Jones-styled whip swinging will leave you frustrated.
The game really picks up the pace and the action when you take control of Reverend Ray. He’s the type of man who takes no sass from bandits and will easily plug that dirty sinner of a saloon owner without a moment’s hesitation. He’s the type of man that will throw an oil lamp on a guy and watch him burn to death. Since he was also a gunfighter, Ray can go into Concentration Mode, which allows him to slow down time to draw down on his enemies like you do in Gun (yet another Xbox 360 western). There are also Duels in the game that is much like the duels in the stellar western Red Dead Revolver. Yep, Ray’s levels are violent, full of action and quite possibly the best part about the single-player game. There’s also better variety in Ray’s portion of the game, some that will take him through a mine and a number of other areas filled with killers.
While the single-player game isn’t perfect, the game’s online (and System Link) multiplayer mode certainly is gaming perfection. The game modes - all six of them - have their own gameplay styles that do justice to the western theme. There’s a team deathmatch-styled mode called Skirmish and a capture the flag-styled mode called, well, Capture the Bag. By far one of the most enjoyable of the six is Wanted, a mode where you team up with other players to kill a single player on the run. Just imagine 15 players on horse back trying to kill you and you get the picture. There’s also a game mode that is inspired by real Old West events. The game also includes Extra Levels you earn after completing the main single-player game and you can go back and duel against enemies from the main game as well.
When it comes to the graphics, Call of Juarez sports some decent Xbox 360 visuals that might not be amazing but they do the trick nicely. There are times throughout he game where I did stop to admire the scenery, taking in the beauty of the wilderness as the great lighting effects cast sunlight on a body of water. Then there were times when I simply sighed with disappointment at the flat textures on the hundred or so wooden crates you encounter often in Call. Some of the game’s character models are actually decent while others look slightly distorted. There are also some interesting visual effects in the game that go beyond the usual explosions and gunfire. After you fan the hammer of your colt, you’ll see smoke come out of the barrel and focusing your attention on an enemy blurs the background. These are nice touches but the Xbox 360 can do better than this.
The sound is handled somewhat better and that’s thanks to the cinematic score and the excellent voice acting. As far as the soundtrack is concerned, it’s dramatic and does the western theme right to the point that it could have easily been featured in an actual big screen western. The voice acting is great and both Billy and Ray do come off as different as night and day. In fact, Reverend Ray sounds mighty scary to the point that you’ll understand why some bad guys will shudder when he starts reading off Bible verses. As for the sound effects, they’re nicely detailed so you’ll hear birds chirping out in the wild and the blacksmith hard at work when you’re in town.
Call of Juarez is a surprisingly enjoyable first-person shooter that’s not quite perfect but still able to do justice to the western theme. While Billy’s levels are pretty tame, playing as Reverend Ray more than makes up for it with his over-the-top violent brand of justice. On top of that there’s the excellent online multiplayer portion that stands out and will, no doubt about it, be the reason gamers will play this one long after the single-player mode’s ending credits roll. If you’re looking for an amazing western shooter for the Xbox 360, you’re in for disappointment but if you’re looking for a somewhat decent action game then this one might just surprise you.
Review Scoring Details for Call of Juarez
You won’t get to play as one character but two of them in a game filled with all the things you’d come to expect from a western. Unfortunately, this means you’ll have to put up with some weak platforming moments as Billy to get to Reverend Ray’s bloody bullet-fueled levels. There’s online multiplayer and it rivals the single-player game with its leather-slapping action.
The game’s graphics aren’t a gorgeous as it could have been but what is featured here isn’t bad at all. The environments look really good in some spots while interiors look pretty dull. When it comes to the character models, the game does faces decently enough but they don’t go down as realistically as other games.
The score has a wonderful western feel to it and it’s actually very cinematic. There are some detailed sound effects in this here game but when it comes to the voice acting you’ll find that the actors do a great job of bringing the era to life.
You’ll often find yourself up against a great number of dirty varmints and no good gunslingers and you’ll often find yourself catching a lot of lead as a result. Some duels are actually challenging enough to keep you on your toes. The only real annoyances come during Billy’s platform gaming action.
You get to control two very different characters (one who dispenses justice with the Bible in one hand and a six-shooter in the other) and there are fierce gunfights aplenty. There are duels, saloons, horses and a good variety to the levels. There are extra levels to unlock in the game as well but the real thrill will come from playing against others in the game’s addictive online multiplayer mode.
Gamers will most definitely answer the call of the game’s enjoyable and addictive online (or System Link) multiplayer mode that will have up to 16 players gunning for each another. There are team-based game matches as well as a match called Wanted where everyone tries to collect the bounty on a single player. All of this plus horses equal a passel of fun.
The west is wild again but Call of Juarez for the Xbox 360 is a so-so first-person shooter that makes due with the cards it was dealt. Playing as Billy isn’t bad but you’ll start feeling like Reverend Ray should have been the real star of the game. In the end, the single-player game just doesn’t hold a candle to the enjoyable online multiplayer.
Call of Juarez is a surprisingly enjoyable first-person shooter that’s not quite perfect but still able to do justice to the western theme
Reviewer: Eduardo Zacarias
Review Date: 07/02/2007