Easter Eggs: Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

By Jonathan Barnes, 4 years ago
Welcome to Easter Eggs, where the TA Team shines the spotlight on games that many gamers might have missed, perhaps hidden away behind the millionth copy of Call of Duty or FIFA. Much like a gamer who finds an Easter Egg hidden away in a game and proceeds to trumpet it from the highest hills and forums, the TA Team is going to be featuring these Easter Egg games on the front page for all to see.
Thanks to movies and tall tales, a good-sized portion of the public knows that Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday took to the OK Corral in an amazing gunfight... but what if that's not what really happened? What if Jesse James wasn't shot in the back by Robert Ford? What if all of the heroes and villains of the Wild West weren't all that they were cracked up to be? What if all of the stories that we've been told about the outlaw frontier were just that... stories?

If you're of drinking age, you've probably heard a tall tale or two told over couple of pints/shots in an establishment of (shall we say) questionable repute. With each round the tale gets a little taller and the commonly-known tales usually go through a revision or two with every teller. The details may change, the fish may grow, the lovers may get more attractive, but the stories remain largely the same.

This notion of embellishment is at the core of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. Centered around the storytelling of Silas Greaves, the story of Gunslinger is told through tales and flashbacks to Greaves' gunslinging past and aims to clear up some of the misconceptions about the events surrounding his bounty-hunting life.

The Basics

A first-person shooter set in the Wild (WILD) West, Gunslinger has you stepping in to the shoes of bounty hunter Silas Greaves as he tells the story of some of his greatest adventures and his quest for revenge. The action of the game is played through flashbacks with Silas narrating as you play through some of the action. Silas regales his audience from the comfiest of bar stools, surrounded by fellow patrons eager to hear tales of his gunslinging and more than willing to lubricate him with whiskey and beer to get the juicy details.

Throughout the course of an approximately ten-hour campaign, Silas runs and guns his way through the Wild West, having shootouts in towns, box canyons, mines, "Indian Country", and even a train robbery or two. Each scenario, broken up by Silas starting a different tall tale of his exploits, keeps the action fresh and the scenery dynamic. A robust upgrade system allows gamers to customize Silas between three different Western archetypes: Trapper (close-range/shotgun combat), Gunslinger (mid-range/dual pistols), and Ranger (long-range/rifles). Each of these archetypes contains unique perks and upgrades and can be mixed and matched to create blends of all of the styles. A New Game+ mode and multiple difficulties (not to mention an achievement for unlocking all of the skills) encourage multiple playthroughs and experimentation. Complementing the different play styles are a nice selection of weaponry with three distinct pistols and several shotguns/rifles that can be swapped out at various points through each level.
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Breaking up the fast-paced, run-and-gun action are duels with the game's equivalent to bosses. Duels change up the game's mechanics quite a bit. During a duel, one thumb stick controls Silas' gun hand and the other controls his focus on the duel opponent. The key is to keep the thumb stick controlling the gun hand steady so that it gets closer to the gun while keeping the thumb stick controlling the focus locked on the opponent, which gets increasingly harder as the game moves along. As the time to draw gets closer, Silas' heartbeat begins to pound over the game's other sounds. Once that heartbeat starts, Silas can draw at any time, BUT drawing before the opponent causes the duel to be won "Dishonorably". The final duel (against one of the West's most famous duos) challenges Silas against TWO of the fastest guns in the west at the same time.
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The Hook

Just like real bar stories, every once in a while, one of Silas' benefactors/fellow drinkers may pipe in with their own version of events. When this happens, the gameplay rewinds and the scenario is replayed with the injector's new details and distinctions present. While it may seem a bit onerous to replay game sections back-to-back, it actually breathes new life into the old "unreliable narrator" scenario. Who among the group is telling the truth, who is embellishing, and (most importantly) who's the real bad guy here?

Supplementing the very solid story are the game's collectibles, the "Nuggets of Truth". The "Nuggets", when discovered, share some of the real history behind the settings, people, weapons, and events that take place around the action of Gunslinger. Finding them all (made easier with an in-game perk) will also net the Unvarnished Truth achievement.
Top Five

The game's signature mechanic, however, is "Concentration". As Silas guns down enemies, he gains "Concentration" that, when activated, slows down time and highlights enemies (much like Red Dead Redemption's "Dead Eye" mechanic). By carefully stockpiling and properly using "Concentration", Silas becomes the best shot in the west, laying waste to entire gangs and armies. "Concentration" is like a "Get Out of Jail Free" card mixed with Popeye's can of spinach and crossed with calling in the Dinozords. For those without pop culture chops, that's pretty good.
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In addition to the game's Story Mode, Gunslinger features two other unique modes: Arcade Mode and the Duel Challenge. Arcade Mode tasks you with crushing (and I mean crushing) through some of the game's combat sequences with the goal of getting the highest score possible. Passing through the levels quickly, accurately, and without taking damage will yield the highest scores. It is an Arcade Mode in the truest sense of the word. The Duel Challenge takes each of the Story Mode's duel combatants (plus a few extras) and lines them up one after another. Taking down each duelist honorably is pretty tough, but does net the Honor Intact achievement.

The Achievements

Gunslinger's achievements are almost perfectly designed for a late-gen XBLA title. With a generous 400G base score, the 26 achievements have a nice variety about them. Fifteen of the achievements are tied directly to the game's Story mode, three are tied to the Arcade mode, and one is dedicated to the Duel mode. The rest of the achievements can be unlocked through a hybrid of all three. While most of the achievements can be unlocked through a combination of luck, skill, and persistence, the Legend Among Legends achievement tasks you with getting three stars on every Arcade mission... which is not easy. Fortunately, its tasty 4.10 ratio (102 TA Score) makes the persistence somewhat worth it. Other notable "tough" achievements include Last Man Standing (Complete the Story on True West difficulty) and Honor Intact (Complete the duel challenge, winning all duels honorably). For a more in-depth look at the game's achievements, you can check out our Achievement Preview Spotlight on it.
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The Stats

Just under 7,300 gamers have strode the dusty road with Gunslinger and just a tick over 400 have completed it. The majority of our community has petered out at either three or twelve achievements.

Our community has given Gunslinger a 4.1 out of 5 rating while Metacritic has it at a solid but unspectacular 76.

The Price

At its current price point, Gunslinger will run you a cool $14.99 (or your regional equivalent). I managed to pick the game up on sale back in December for less than $4. While the game is easily worth its current price, if you see it on sale like that again and don't pick it up like a warm revolver on a cool night, you're officially a kicker of puppies and hater of fun.

To recap, Gunslinger offers an amazing campaign, a fun Arcade Mode, AND a unique Duel Challenge for under $20. There are full-priced retail games with less quality content.
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The Verdict

As we arrive at the end of its (impactful) life, the Xbox LIVE Arcade is full of great games, especially for gamers on a budget. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is near the top of the list. With incredible replayability, three distinct game modes, solid controls, appealing art direction, and a great story (with tons of good history notes), Gunslinger is a game that should not be missed by FPS fans... not to mention fans of Red Dead Redemption and the Western genre of movies, stories, and games. While the Call of Juarez franchise may have its ups and downs (more the latter than the former, it seems), Gunslinger stands near the head of the class and above the fray.

If there's a game you'd like to see featured in Easter Eggs, be sure to let us know in the comments!
Jonathan Barnes
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Jonathan has been a news/views contributor since 2010. When he's not writing reviews, features, and opinion pieces, he spends his days working as an informal science educator and his nights as an international man of mystery.