Call of Juarez: Gunslinger Preview: Putting The Horse Before The Cartel

The ornery first-person shooter returns to its roots.

Let's not talk about The Cartel, eh? Let's wipe it from our minds, like a storm cloud on a summer's day or a drunken tumble down a very long flight of stairs. Instead, let's mosey over to Gunslinger. I say mosey, of course, because I'm a useless cretin, and because the latest Call of Juarez game takes the series back to the Old West where it belongs. Varmint.

It also takes it to download services, with a streamlined campaign that drops you into the dusty shoes of a grizzled and ancient bounty hunter. He's been all over the wild plains, by the looks of it, and the game's central conceit sees him washed up and doddery in a bar, telling his life story to a bunch of whores and vagabonds. (Maybe he's in Sittingbourne?)

Luckily, you only play the good bits, leaping into his memories whenever he mentions a famous - and pleasantly copyright free - hero from the golden days of fightin' and fumin'. Cameos will include the likes of Butch Cassidy and Billy the Kid, and you'll either be going after their hides in the name of frontier justice or blasting away at marshals alongside them in the name of slightly more complex frontier justice. Either way, frontier justice will prevail, which is good news for everyone.

Billy the Kid's the first mission, as it turns out: Pat Garret's got him holed up in a farm house, and you're busting in to liberate him with the help of some hot lead. You've also got a decent bullet-time move, too, thankfully, which highlights enemies in red for just long enough to bring back horrible memories of Dead Island.

Push those memories aside! The guns are loud and raucous, the skybox is huge, and the colours are vivid. A barn and a water tower make for a pretty good shooting gallery to wander around, and the game's score-based focus sees you earning bursts of points for each kill, and getting multipliers if you can blow someone's head off or plug them in the back.

You'll level up as you play, picking between a series of skill trees that boost your melee, dual-wielding, sharpshooting and special abilities, and there's also a handy little last-chance twist thrown in called Sense of Death, which gives you the option to dodge a terminal bullet if you move real quick.

A range of environments are promised. Don't expect an ice world and a lava world, though.

More on Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

It's hard to get much of an insight into the pacing from the first mission alone, but it certainly moves along briskly enough, letting you sneak up on baddies and club them for the first few encounters, before things get a little more hectic and you end up cornered in house with Billy, taking enemies out from a high window. Billy's dressed like Liberace, incidentally.

The whole thing's noisy and messy and pleasantly rough around the edges: the voice acting ranges from not bad - the narrator - to absolutely hilarious - everybody else - and the Old West schtick is layered on as thick as you like. You'll collect cards that fill you in on the histories behind the famous names you meet, for example (did you know that Billy the Kid had a thing for Liberace?), while elsewhere somebody used the word "passel" in conversation and at one point I even saw a tumbleweed roll past.

Call of Juarez is looking comfortable back in the past, in other words, and this should be a breezy knockabout blaster. Will that be enough to forgive everyone for The Cartel? Maybe. Just maybe.

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