You know what they say, shoot first and, uh, shoot again! Ubisoft and Techland ride together to bring the latest installment into the Juarez series available for download through the LIVE Arcade. And although the experience is a bit linear, the gameplay is spot on, the action is furious, and the "alternative" modes make revisiting this "old west" retreat a pleasant trip.
You'll mount up in Gunslinger as Silas Greaves. If we're speaking chronologically, he is an old man by the time we enter the narrative. Greaves rolls into a saloon in Abilene, Kansas in the early 1900s. He tells the locals he's just "passing through," but proceeds to inform them of all about his incredible adventures as a bounty hunter. And to hear Silas tell it, the hunts were always for a "big score." Only the West's most notorious criminals interested Greaves. And his "tellings" of these events serve as the launching pad for each "chapter" you'll play through.
The main "attraction" here is Story. Comprised of several missions, it'll take most just a handful of hours to blitz through. But boy, what a wild and wooly trip it is! Each level has you running though a rustic town, hiking up mountains, spelunking caves, and even traversing deadly railroad tracks to collect the bounty from a who's who list of early 20th century outlaws like The Dalton Brothers and the baddest of bad, Jesse James. You'll also run into and even shoot along side other legends of lore, including William H. "Billy the Kid" Bonny. But the latter happenings are few and far between, as Gunslinger makes it a point to bottleneck you into blistering gunfights against seemingly "insurmountable odds." The formula for each chapter is pretty routine: you'll start a "flashback" that has you embody a younger Silas Greaves. From here, you'll shoot through pockets of resistance with typical western arms like six shooters, rifles, shotguns, and dynamite. The forces increase as you make progress until the "boss battle" is reached. A good amount of fortitude (and even some "trial and error" experimentation from time to time) will be needed to find the most efficient way to deplete their health bar. Once you've got them on the ropes, the most maligned of western rituals, a Duel, is used to settle the "dispute." I'll admit, this mission pattern isn't exactly innovative. But once you start pulling the right trigger, that ceases to matter.
Like all worthwhile Arcade downloads, the gameplay has to be solid to make up for the other inherent disadvantages. Thankfully, Techland didn't disappoint. Save sparing moments of platforming and climbing, don't expect much else other than all out gun play. Ammo is spent by the barn-load, as the landscapes are littered with plenty of thugs that have one thing on their AI minds: sending you to an abrupt grave. The shooting mechanics seem appropriate given the time period and "dated" firearms. At first I was a bit frustrated because I felt my reticle was right on target, but shots weren't hitting. Then I reminded myself that I wasn't holding a P-90 with and ACOG scope or a DMR with Promethean Vision activated. Pistols have a limited range of effectiveness in terms of accuracy. It is possible to score a "Long Shot" with a Ranger, but you may need to run though a few bullets to land the shot. Rifles work better further out, but they're also not snipers, either. Aiming becomes a game in itself. It seemed accuracy increased if I placed the iron sight just a bit above the desired landing zone. Again, it takes "some doing" to get accustomed to the little ins and outs of trading lead. But once you do, things start rolling downhill.
Gunslinger plays like a shooting gallery, most of the time. The enemy AI is quite simple, as most foes will "stand and deliver" without much regard for retreating. I can't remember any real strategic flanking or advanced movement (once the "sequence" was underway, that is). You are alone, and there are a ton of them. So treat them like hostile moving targets, and you'll begin to understand the joy that can be had. Each kill garners a certain amount of points. Basic frags net 50, headshots score 100, and so on. Chaining together kills in quick succession bumps up a multiplier, which really lights up the scoreboard. One GP feature that can help with this process is Concentration. Think "bullet time." Tapping the bumper makes action slowdown and the enemies appear in red. While I appreciate this mechanic, I do think it runs out a little quick and it doesn't seem to increase accuracy. Honestly, I used most often when my health was low and needed to make my last few shots count. These points are used to unlock an array of Skills. Upgrades are broken down into three constructs: Gunslinger (Dual Wield), Trapper (Close Quarters), and Ranger (Long Range). Each of the pillars feature add-ons that suite the kind of player you are. Gunslinger's Concentrated allows for more time between kills to keep the streak in the air, Trapper features Crusader's Armor to keep you "tough" in point blank exchanges, and a Ranger item is Steady Aim that creates an "extended zoom" after peering down range for a few seconds. These aren't chintzy tokens, either. Expect an instant and very noticeable effect the second they're unlocked. And depending on how you want to play this new CoJ, it would behoove you to chose wisely. Because these boosts are vital in later skirmishes
Duels act completely different from the normal fodder, but are just as slick. One of my favorite games from the last generation was Red Dead Revolver (and if I can confess something unpopular, I actually liked it better than Redemption). The current consoles saw its incredible sequel, Red Dead Redemption. A main Revolver and Redemption vertebrae was dueling. These were tension filled moments that measured the difference between success and failure on fractions of an inch and tenths of a second. The mechanics in Gunslinger work a little differently. When you're squared up with your foe, the HUD displays two meters. One is Focus. A wide reticle appears with 0.0% reporting. Using the right stick, you'll hover it on the enemy character model as they pace back and forth. Keep it zeroed in, and the circle begins to narrow and the percentage increases. The second responsibility is Speed. The left stick controls your draw hand, and you'll want to keep it right over your peacemaker. Be mindful of it's position, as it'll begin to "wander" on you as the crucial moment gets closer. When the heartbeat tunes up, it's go time. You can choose to draw first, and take home "Dishonorable" points or let them reach first and earn "Honorable" points. And unlike Red Dead, one bullet decides the match. Word of advice: show a slight bit of patience. Wait til your barrel is facing forward. Sounds simplistic, but pulling RT too early sends and arid shot in the air and will cost you the showdown.
Additionally from being how most chapters end, Duel is its own dedicated section. This selection features all of Story's matches in succession in a "ladder" format. Each rung gives you five tries to land the deciding pull. After a 5th failure, you "fall" from the ladder and have to start at the bottom. The third play option available is Arcade. Each chapter in Story represents a map that you can play through "on the clock." Here, speed and style is the name of the game. You'll want to dispatch the baddies quickly and with as much flair as possible, which means taking every opportunity to use "environmental hazards," like explosive barrels, whenever possible. This houses Gunslinger's replay value. It reminds me of the 2008 release The Club. The challenge isn't finishing the level (although don't expect to snooze thorugh and come out alive). It's finding the little nuances to each stage and folding those to your advantage. Discover how to extend multipliers and make those connect. Seek out new lines to shave precious seconds off the time. This is that "minutes-turn-into-hours" addiction that makes the asking price seem like a value.
The presentation of the game is a bit here and there for me. On one hand, things are really good. The whole visual package is coated with a veneer of cel-shading. I wouldn't say the look is as prominent as it is in a game like XIII, but the design is definitely noticeable. I've heard some compare it to Borderlands. That seems like a valid side-by-side. Some vistas in CoJ are spectacular. The hunt for an Indian man called Grey Wolf wraps around rocky hillside and into cave dwellings. The cave portion displayed some superb lighting and water effects when you consider the Arcade label. Others aren't as nice. A few of the wide open, dusty "plains" come across rather muddled and un-interesting. I know, I know, it's desert. But it is possible to infuse some "life" into settings like that with the building design or backdrop detail. Luckily, these places aren't prevalent when considering all the other locales. But my main beef with the design is when enemies are displayed. This game does a rather poor job with target identification about half the time. In some missions, it's very hard to literally "see" those trying to shoot you. And I don't mean they are well hid or behind cover. Sometimes they are in "broad daylight," but the character models fail to "stand out," and aren't pronounced. This isn't a constant issue, but one that I feel happens more than it should.