Pat Garrett wrote about shooting Billy the Kid, exaggerating his accomplishments to make himself more heroic. Buffalo Bill went around the East Coast and Europe selling a wild west show, a romantic version of the truth. Then you had your dime novels about frontier life making heroes out of outlaws. You had Roy Rogers and Gunsmoke and Have Gun — Will Travel, morality tales with men in white hats. Then there were the Peckinpahs and Leones to make morals muddy, with heroes not much different than the bad guys, and the landscapes oppressive and bleak.

The story in Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is muddy too. Is the man reciting it to the patrons at the bar really famed bounty hunter Silas Greaves? The story he tells is one that keeps shifting, making Greaves a hero and an outlaw. At one point, I was shooting Apaches on top of ridge, as Silas narrated their attack. "Apaches? What happened to the cowboys?" asks somebody hearing the tale. Greaves stresses that they weren't Apaches, but attacked Apache-style. The game fades to black and when it cuts back the Apaches are replaced with cowboys.

This trick happens a lot. Greaves will remember that there's a route previously unseen, and it will appear in front of the player. The patrons of the bar will describe events and have them play out. One of the funniest parts of the game has Silas describing an entire plan that ends in the player's death. "That plan would've been suicide. Here's what I really did." Time rewinds and we play the correct version of events. In a book, that kind of narration wouldn't work. There are too many rambling asides, too many shaggy dog stories. As a shooter, it keeps the action going, and it provides a sense of life behind the game. The narration serves as a guide for what to do next, a passive hint when stuck, but usually Silas's narration acts like a senile game developer controlling the action. When the game gets into weird territory, we can chalk it up to the narrator.     

John Cygan as Silas gives the game a lot of charm and necessary life. The only thing that really hurts Gunslinger is an opaque dueling system. The player is asked to balance two things: their focus on the target and Silas's hand position. It's not quite clear how useful each is and how it works. This led to a series of frustrating deaths. I did not want a game this enjoyable to stop dead in its tracks.

Techland is an Eastern European developer, from a place geographically removed from the myth of the western. But they seem to understand how mutable and porous the form is. Gunslinger places Silas in some of the most famous stories from the Old West, from Butch Cassidy to the OK Corral to Jesse James. Each story is shrouded in a layer of truth that the developers and Silas play with and warp to their purpose. Techland understands that how we tell a tale is as much about the story as it is about ourselves.

Rating: 4/5
Developer: Techland
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PS3

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