I must say: What a rebound for the Call of Juarez franchise.
After the rather disastrous The Cartel, the showrunners made a smart decision. They stripped away any pretense, more or less discarded everything from the series and went back to the roots. Away went the modern trappings of The Cartel, which never found proper footing and ended up a technical and narrative mess.
In its place comes Gunslinger, a pared-down shooter harkening back to earlier arcade games where the object was to leave your brain on the table and just sit back, relax and have fun putting bullets into bad guys. The game doesn't aim for high-minded excellence. Instead, it achieves success by keeping everything simple yet effective.
System: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC
Published by: Ubisoft
ESRB Rating: Mature
Offer powerful guns, a bevy of targets and some otherwise cheeky or outright forgettable dialogue, and chances are gamers will be rewarded by doing the basic things really well rather than trying to hit a creative home run and failing miserably.
The game takes place back in the Old West, where Bound in Blood found a good deal of its fan base. The plot in Gunslinger never really takes off; sure, one exists, but it can largely be forgotten as you traipse around the dusty town settings and unload lead into a host of bad guys with gnarly teeth and classic cowboy mustaches.
Choose the rifle and longer six-shooters to keep your foes at a distance, or arm yourself with a sawed-off shotgun and more powerful handguns for in-your-face shootouts. Either way, the baddies won't stand much of a chance against you, but the point of the game is your enjoyment and success, not theirs. It plays more like a carnival shooting gallery, so you can expect to receive lots of damage before dying while a single shot takes out most opponents. The boss battles are a trying affair, often more repetitious and boring than the culmination of your previous hard work, and they detract from an otherwise solid experience.
The quick-draw element from past Call of Juarez games thankfully shows up, and provides many of the game's better moments. Expertly timing your face-off against another armed foe delivers tension and high satisfaction when you go all Wyatt Earp on some fool before he gets the drop on you. During the regular gaming portions, stringing together combos and fast kills earns you score multipliers, which help you leap up the online leaderboards and impress your friends.
The guns all have an appropriate heft and kick to them, and watching the outlaws drop from a slug to the noggin brings a certain amount of satisfaction when cleaning up this ramshackle town.
By keeping it simple, Gunslinger stays true to its title and delivers satisfying arcade shooting action. Making the game available as a download instead of asking gamers to buy a retail copy also wisely serves as a way to make amends for The Cartel — and should give those fans a reason to stick around to see if Call of Juarez can regain its mojo.