IGN Review of Call of Juarez
In Call of Juarez, you dual-wield the Bible. Need we say more?
Yes, Polish developer Techland made a number of interesting design choices with Call of Juarez, originally released in Europe on the PC in 2006. While the game does a number of things very well, it does not stand out in any particular area. Still, you'll probably be laughing your way all the way through this cliche-ridden, tongue-in-cheek effort that does its best spaghetti Western impression. If Call of Juarez is the prism through which the world sees our nation's heritage, it's a wonder we ever made it out alive with our leather chaps intact. Either way, you're in for one hell of a ride.
Call of Juarez tells the story of young Billy Candle and the righteous Reverend Ray. Billy has been off searching for the lost gold of Juarez, the same mythical stash that the Aztecs paid Cortez to free their captured leader, Montezuma. It is said that the lost cursed treasure is buried somewhere in Juarez. After searching without luck, Billy returns home to Hope, the small town that is about as hopeless as it gets. Soon after a brief rendezvous with the local prostitute, Billy returns home to his mother and abusive stepfather. There's only one problem -- they're dead. Sucks to be them.
Reverend Ray is a reformed gunman turned preacher. He is also Billy's uncle. When Ray stumbles across Billy standing over the body of his dead brother and dead sister-in-law, Ray takes up arms once more to become God's sword and strike down Billy Candle. And so begins the epic game of cat-and-mouse that will touch upon just about every Western cliche out there, from the wise old Indian sage to the sultry saloon prostitute to a train robbery to a stagecoach chase and, eventually, to the lost gold of Juarez.
It's a bold storytelling method. Intertwining Billy's quest to prove his innocence and Ray's obligation to track down his brother's killer opens up a lot of gameplay variety as both characters play very differently from the other. Billy relies on silence and stealth to evade his pursuers, hiding in the bushes to wait for the opportune moment to scamper away unnoticed. With Billy, you'll also do your fair share of first-person platforming, climbing ledges and using your trusty whip to swing from the trees. Unfortunately, the platforming elements do not always work perfectly and the stealth is quite often boring. Billy simply hides in the bushes, using a rudimentary shadow-meter to indicate your level of concealment. This leads to a lot of trial-and-error as enemies will spot you and you'll have to start the infiltration mission over again. Why you can't simply take your chances and blast the hooligans, I don't know. At least Billy is a crack-shot with a bow and arrow, able to slow time so that he can silently loose arrows into rabbits for dinner or into the faces of vicious Apache warriors just for fun.
Ray, on the other hand, is a gunfighter. Whereas Billy can only take a few shots before giving himself up to the Almighty, Ray can take some serious damage. He can deal it too, using his own slow-motion bullet time with a pair of pistols to take out a roomful of armed sinners. It's a strange mechanic -- you first need to holster your guns and then draw them again to enter in "concentration mode." Still, Techland pulls it off and it's a great feeling to take out five enemies with five perfectly-aimed headshots. And, of course, there's the Bible, from which Ray can utilize at any time to purify the souls of his enemies with chilling and prophetic verses. Some will become ridden with guilt from Ray's Sunday school lessons and actually freeze on the battlefield. That's when you shoot them.
Outside of their specific abilities and gameplay styles, Billy and Ray will also utilize a number of different gameplay mechanics. Both characters will ride on horseback in various episodes, a mechanic that works fairly well. You can fire while riding, although it's a challenge to hit anything unless you slow to a walk. Of course, you can simply use the left bumper to bring the horse to a gallop and trample any enemy that stands in your way. There are also a number of elementary puzzles in which you move boxes around to reach a ledge, ala Half Life 2. Although the puzzles seem to be tacked on, they do provide a break in the slow-motion six-shootin' combat. There's also some bare-knuckle boxing, although it's almost too simple to be fun. If you want fun, hit the duck button to enter Andrew Golota mode and throw low blows at your foes.
Of course, it simply wouldn't be a Western without dueling. Throughout the single player game you'll come across situations that words cannot solve. The solution: bullets. CoJ does a decent job with dueling -- you'll pull down on the right stick then push up to draw your weapon. An aiming reticule will shake across the screen and you'll have to time your shots as the reticule passes over your enemy. There must have been a better way to execute the mechanic -- sometimes you'll fire all six bullets and actually reload, if you managed to stay alive by dodging bullets using the left stick to lean. Dueling is fun but it's hard to call this mechanic the definitive showdown at high noon. If you like it well enough, there is a separate dueling challenge, although it's single-player only.
While the online modes are nothing revolutionary, they are fun, especially with the fresh Western coat of paint. There are four classes -- sniper, rifleman, miner and gunslinger -- and a number of skins for each. The only major difference between the classes is the weapon set. Snipers have a scoped rifle and a weak pistol. Riflemen have a classic rifle and a pair of pistols. Miners have a pistol, sawed-off shotgun and several sticks of dynamite -- very deadly. Gunslingers are equipped with a few sticks of dynamite and a pair of quickdraw pistols. There are seven game modes played across 17 maps. Some of them are rather bland, featuring little more than rocks and cacti. Others are great, like Wilcox, in which lawmen defend a train from being robbed by a team of outlaws. Probably the most innovative mode is Capture the Bag using horses. It's your basic CTF match, but using horses to maneuver around giant, sprawling maps across the frontier is something we just haven't seen on Xbox Live. Sniping a foe from 200 yards atop a stallion is bliss. Fans of Westerns are going to eat this game up online.
Visually, CoJ is solid. The lighting and shadows are especially well done -- looking toward the setting sun behind a mountain top is gorgeous. The depth-of-field effect is taken to new heights, especially with the rifle when aiming from distance. Character models and animations all look great, and the game holds steady with a nice framerate. There are several problems, though. In dark environments, the details are washed out and you can barely see your gun in front of your face. There are also a number of instances of aliasing, vertical tearing and pop-in, especially as you speed about on horseback. It's a shame Techland couldn't iron these issues out before the final release. One thing CoJ does very well is death animations. After you kill an enemy and he is falling to the ground, you can continue to pump bullets into him, spinning him around in different directions. It looks great, especially in blood-splattering concentration mode.
The cinematic score that accompanies the action is among the best for any title on the Xbox 360. It adds a lot to the atmosphere and perfectly complements the action. While the voice-acting is well done, it's hilariously cheesy and, at times, laugh-out loud funny. Outlaws on the frontier are not known for their eloquence, so you'll hear, for example, a Mexican threatening to punch his friends in the "juevos Prepare yourself for plenty of racism, too. The Old West is not kind to Billy or other Mexicans. With the sex, violence and name-calling, CoJ is for mature audiences only.
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