Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Call of Juarez

My opinion about westerns, be they movie or video game, has changed dramatically in my old age. When I was a youngster I rolled my eyes every time my dad was watching a western, as with most things to me at that age, without a chance of a lightsaber battle I couldn't see the point of wasting your time with it.

Sometime between puberty and college graduation that all changed, and I now love renting and watching westerns. Be it Eastwood's cool shooting of a hanging rope from 400 yards, or John Wayne's knock-out haymaker, westerns have become awesome.

In the video game department the western genre is sorely underutilized. While six-shooter iconic image of the western automatically makes one think of first-person shooters, the western genre has taken a far back seat for fps's to the ubiquitous WW2 setting.

Call of Juarez is the latest western game to come out for the 360 since the excellence that was Gun. Since western genre games are few and far between, I decided to pick this one up and relive my love of blowing up stagecoaches filled with gunpowder and shooting banditos from horseback, because that's what I think of when I think of westerns.

The makers of Call of Juarez, on the other hand, think of forced stealth missions and gatling gun turrets.

In CoJ, you play two different characters, and switch between them after every level, like Mario and Luigi. Only instead of them being very similar in enjoyment like the plumber brothers, one of the characters is the refined essence of awesome and the other is the epitomy of "Why the hell am I playing this again?"

Lets start with the best first (even though you play him second). Reverend Ray. Reverend Ray is a Solomon Kane clone in the Western style. He's an ex-outlaw preacher who's fed up and has decided to take up the sword of God and smite down villainous foes. Not only does he get bullet-time capability (slow down power) that refreshes almost instantly, and is almost indestructible, he also gets a bible he can "wield." Now that may not seem like it would have much effect on your ability to shoot bad guys, and it doesn't affect game play at all, but it makes you feel 100x cooler than you would otherwise when shooting people in the face. See, the game lets you put different stuff in each hand, so you could have a six-shooter in one hand and a sawed-off in the other, with each gun controlled by the left and right triggers. Well, one item you can always switch to in your right hand is your trusty bible which you can read from while you shoot the crap out of "the enemies of the Lord." Everytime you pull the right trigger Reverend Ray will read some Old Testament Bible verse. Blowing the shit out of dudes with a gun in one hand while reciting the fall of Babylon out of the bible in your other really must be seen to be believed. Its awesome.

That brings us to Billy. Billy sucks. He's a half-mexican "nobody likes me" teenager who gets blamed for every little thing that goes wrong in town, and at the beginning gets blamed for his mom and stepdad's murders. I think the game was trying to teach me a lesson about racism or something, but instead it just taught me how to hate playing video games. Billy has rudimentary gun skills, almost no health, and only occasionally can find guns which are like crappy derringers and rusty six-shooters. The one thing he always has is a whip, with which he can grab branches and pull himself up. Go Billy! See, with Billy they decided to make a shitty platformer/stealth half of the game, where you spend forty minutes climbing up the sides of cliffs looking for whip-able branches, or spend an hour and a half creeping around from identical bush to identical bush in the back of a farmhouse to steal a horse. It sucks. It sucks bad. And the fact that he can only hide in a specific-looking bush makes the otherwise beautiful scenery an eyesore. Whenever you look out upon a beautiful prairie, and then see one of those goddamn bushes, you know a stupid-ass stealth mission is coming up. Plus if you get seen during the extremely boring stealth mission you automatically have to start all over!

Billy's worst enemy...

...the perceptive farmer!

Also, why does every first person shooter have stupid gun turret sections? They aren't fun, oh great game designers, they're freaking boring! While I was under the impression that the gatling gun was actually a very rare item in the Old West, in Call of Juarez there's a gatling gun just sitting around every few hundred yards, and if you see a gatling gun in front of your only path then no doubt a hundred Nazis/Aliens/Bandits are going to pour out of the nearby gate any second!

Also, the end of the game kind of sucks.

In the end, utilizing the scale of the Mayan quipus, a colorful rope tied into knots, the reviewers of the Technodojo give this game:

Knot, little knot, space, little knot

I would have given it knot, little knot, space, knot had it had less Billy and more Ray, but since it was only half a game that's how it goes. Only play if you are a true fan of westerns or psychotic preachers and can stomach repeating crappy sneak levels over and over.