Western themed games have always had their own campsite in my heart. While the original Red Dead Redemption will always hold the most acreage there, that is not to say I have not experienced other titles. Whether it be Red Steel 2 or Westerado, and of course Red Dead Redemption, there is a wide offering of unique titles out there that put you in the shoes, or boots, of a cowboy. I think what intrigues me most about the genre is the ability to create a character that will most certainly have moral dilemmas. Are they a hero or a villain? Do they seek justice or revenge? Or do they just simply do whatever the hell they want and ask for nothing in return? The grit of the era allows for so much exploration of character development, but if a team doesn’t want that, the era also allows for a hell of a lot of shooting to make just a fun game. The original Call of Juarez titles seemed to blend these two aspects, having linear, narrative driven stories while also ensuring a good amount of gunfights were present. Having played and enjoyed Call of Juarez: Bound by Blood, and having played and not enjoyed the modern day set sequel Call of Juarez: The Cartel, I was always interested in CoJ: Gunslinger (just Gunslinger moving forward) but never played more than the first level, I jumped at the opportunity to revisit it on the Switch.
Gunslinger follows the story of bounty hunter Silas Greaves, as told in his own words. Surrounded by a handful of strangers that recognized him in a saloon, he takes the opportunity to down some free drinks as he recites his own legends. The story features plenty of old west legends, including Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, Jesse James, many of which Silas Greaves claims to have had shootouts and run-ins with. So while the story features real names and locations, the narrative is a fantasied one. Each new tale told by Silas takes you back to relive a chapter in his wild life, and this really allows the story to diversely flesh out by allowing you to engage new enemies and explore new landscapes over the length of the game. Not only that, but Silas’ story telling has a direct impact on the gameplay.
As you get dropped into different locales and eras in Silas’ life, you are more than likely going to be shooting your way from point A to B. The game is a linear narrative that takes you from level to level, and you can recognize ones completion as you will be presented with a chapter summary that showcases a few handy stats. In most cases, you are usually hunting down a particular person, whom you will either have a boss fight with or duel, or in some cases, both. Being a bounty hunter and all, this is how Silas puts food on the table so to speak, but he has his own motives as well due to some happenings in his past. The best part about the story being told by Silas is that he narrates as it happens, and his narrations change the world in real time. Sometimes he tells a detail wrong, and you play it out that way before being effectively set back so he can tell it correctly. Other times those listening to Silas butt in, telling the story how they heard it, once again allowing you to play it as such. It was awesome to see paths open, enemies appear, and more all in real time as the narration and story progressed, really adding a unique element to the story telling.
Outside of the story, which holds up and can be quite entertaining the further it progresses, lets really carve into the meat of Gunslinger, which of course is the gun slinging itself. The game is played from a first-person perspective and also features a very clean cell-shaded style, so playing it feels almost like a linear, more controlled western Borderlands. It is awesome. Using a small handful of different revolvers, shotguns, and rifles (and a stick of dynamite here and there), you will shoot your way across the west, growing your legend along the way. The game features both standard control schemes as well as motion controls, but I opted for the former. The game handles well, giving players a bit of aim assist when targeting that gives a soft snap towards your potential victim. This goes a long way in handheld mode, since precision in FPS titles is not always the case for the handheld style. In addition to your arsenal, you will pick up a few skills along the way. Two constants are your Concentration and Sense of Death abilities. Concentration puts you in a bullet-time-esuqe slow motion mode where you can chain some awesome combos. Sense of Death gives you a chance to dodge a shot that would be fatal, and once burned, will recharge overtime. Concentration on the other hand fills up with kills. Kills net you experience, more of which can be earned depending on the type of kill.
Experience can be used to unlock upgrades in three different skill trees. Some favor the speed and accessibility of revolvers, while other skills focus on close quarters shotgun styles or long range rifles. This gives you a light rpg style offering, allowing you to develop your playstyle the more you progress. And you will need these upgrades if you plan on seeing the end of the story. These make you more ruthless, more precise, and ultimately, more badass. Additional concentration time, active combo time, button mashing to reload faster, reloading when sprinting, and a good amount more are all present. After my initial playthrough, I unlocked just over half of these upgrades, but thanks to New Game +, you can replay the story with all your upgrades and eventually have them all. If you fancy a challenge, you can go through your other playthroughs in Hard or True West difficulties to spice things up.
Outside of the story, you can also dabble in the arcade mode and the duel mode. Arcade mode lets you play quicker, scored versions of maps from the story. The goal here is to really shown off your skills, running and gunning to keep the combo going and hit the finish line as soon as you can. This mode is intense, and is a great way to pick up and play if you get the urge to go rootin’ tootin’ shootin’ on the go. The Duel Challenge is another test of your skills. The duels featured in the story mode are fun all their own, as they test your reaction time and accuracy, and even your morals. Draw on time and get a shot off first, using the HD Rumble to have an idea of when your foe is going to reach for his gun first. In the Duel Challenge though, you have 5 lives and essentially compete in duel after duel to rack up points. Run out of lives, and your time in the challenge is up. There is more on the line here since a lost duel in the story mode just loads your checkpoint up.
Performance on Switch holds up well. I saw no texture issues, only one frame drop in the whole story during a fast moving train scene, and really everything looked great. The cell-shaded style does wonders here, again showing that a clean style can do just as much visually for a title as realistic graphics can. While the general enemies can be a little bland, the historical figures and environments look great, especially the latter. The level design is fantastic, and each section had a great view to it, and usually a few photo-op worthy stops along the way, too. I do not recall any music really sticking out, but the voice acting got the job done well and was distinct enough to keep characters sounding unique.
Though I have not played many FPS titles on Switch, this has to be one of the better options available. I haven’t had as good of an experience with an FPS on the platform since I ran through Doom 3 for the first time ever on it earlier this year. It has a great arcade style feel to it, runs and looks incredibly well for being ported over, and is just generally fun. Outside of leveling up and bonus modes, there is also collectibles here, rounding out to be the full adventure package at only $20. Silas’ story is waiting to be told, so giddy up partner, this is one of the best single player shooters available on the platform.
*Note: A copy of the title was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 8.5/10
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