I should come clean. I had not even heard of Call of Juarez until the day before it appeared on my doorstep. I didn’t know what it was about, I didn’t know that it was a prequel, I had no intention of playing through the first game, and I was frankly expecting a terrible experience.
After booting it up, however, I found myself having a very exciting time. …if I ignored certain things.
The game tells the story of three brothers, Ray, Thomas and Billy McCall as they first fight for, and desert from, the Confederate (Southern) side of the USA’s Civil War. Following this, the players experience their adventures while following them on the run while chasing after the titular “Juarez” Aztec gold. From the start of gameplay the game makes it very clear that these brothers are part of a close family, making it easy for the player to sympathise with each of them, and through this we see the brothers’ closeness, allowing that same player to understand that they would help and aid each other, explaining why they stay together.
During any chapter of the game, you may be given the choice to take the role of either Thomas or Ray McCall. These two characters differ wildly from each other in terms of first-person gameplay. One of them is more prone to use a pair of pistols as his primary weapons, therefore the player can expect to need to place multiple shots into enemies from close-up, whereas the other primarily uses a rifle, allowing him to aim further downrange and take out the enemy for a different vantage point.
Both of the characters’ differing styles work well to create very unique gameplay when in gunfights, but this is not limited to normal action; If the player has dispatched enough of whichever bad guy is trying to kill him, then they will build up a “concentration” metre. When this metre is full then the player may use a special ability allowing them to kill multiple enemies on the screen at once, but still requiring the player to act. Each brothers’ abilities both look and play very differently, with one merely asking you to “sweep” the aimpoint over the enemies you wish to shoot, whereas the other one requires you to pull back on the controller thumstick like the hammer on a revolver while it does the aiming for you. These different styles of play keep the player from getting too bored with one, as if they tire of it then during the next chapter they can simply select the other brother to play as.
Playing the game, it is very clear that a lot of love and testing has gone into ensuring that this game is simple to follow, easy to pick up, and a joy to control. There are a whole host of small things that the developers have added to this game to ensure that the player will not be frustrated, or are merely nice touches to gameplay, these include:
- The cursor sliding slightly towards enemies who are close to the centre of the crosshair.
- When names of important or useful NPCs are mentioned during dialogue, the view quickly shifts to look at them, reducing the necessity for a waypoint system.
- The hitboxes for various items such as fences are pixel-perfect, meaning that I was able to aim out through very small holes in the terrain, something I didn’t expect to be able to do.
- The voice-acting is a delight, easily adding character to the three brothers.
- Finally (and my favourite), characters have the ability to hide and peek around a corner without pressing a “hug wall” button, the player merely goes up to the wall and turns to look in the direction that they wish to peek.
Each of these make the game a very fun experience, so much so that I intend to go back to and play each level as the “other brother” at some point in order to get the full experience.
Call of Juarez isn’t just an encounter-based first-person shooter (although it mostly is), it varies what is happening constantly both in terms of gameplay and narrative, while keeping a very consistent story. As an example, first you’ll be shooting your way out of a war, then you’ll be performing a short quick-draw with the sheriff of a town, followed by an on-rails stagecoach ride where you’ll ride both atop, as well as inside the coach, occasionally needing to get out and perform tasks under fire. If variety is the spice of life, then Call of Juarez: BiB will certainly burn your tongue!
Now, I know that I have started this review by stating that you need to “ignore” certain aspects of the game, these aspects are unfortunately the majority of the multiplayer gameplay, and this is where the game seems to fall down. The era and setting mean that the multiplayer maps available lend heavily to long western roads and a lot of open fields, giving the sniper rifle, or simply the sighted rifle, the primary claim to the land, and while it is obvious that one should not stand around in the open in such a game, when the game gives you little choice but to do so if you want to move around the map then it becomes a problem. All of the games that I played in involved getting into a small gunfight, then being shot from across the map, usually while halfway through the smaller gunfight.
Even when in the “small gunfight”, I cannot claim to have enjoyed myself much either. Most of the time you will be firing highly inaccurate pistols from medium range or dancing around each other as you each try to reload your pistols, maybe firing shots before it reloads in order. The fast gameplay doesn’t allow the player to easily use any of the interesting cover mechanics that single-player AI allow you to, making it seem like just a poor replica of other online shooters.
Despite the multiplayer gameplay itself being bad, there is at least one good idea that has come out of it. When playing a ranked game, you must earn money in order to “buy” upgrades for the various different character archetypes you can choose you play, and you earn this money by killing other players. Where it gets interesting, however, is that if a player is doing very well then they will start to accrue a “bounty” on their head, kill this player and you will win the bounty, meaning that players given a choice will often hunt down a player with a larger bounty rather than go after the easier opponents.
To summarise, if all that you want to know is whether or not you should pick this up, then I will say yes, the single-player is a wonderful experience on its own and deserves plenty of praise, but just don’t expect much from the multiplayer, in fact, pretend that it doesn’t exist.