|First-person Old West shooter with gorgeous graphics and fast and pretty satisfying gunplay. This is a pretty good combination, so good I played through it 2.5 times before I sort of ran out of steam; the second time I wanted to play as the second of the two main characters: hard-nosed brothers who start out the game on the losing side in the Civil War; one is a "heavy" who can use two pistols at once and wears "boilerplate" armor on his chest (I guess this is a little corny), and the other is the "fast" one who's more about the rifle and sneaking around; the third time, I wanted to try a certain two-pistol combo I hadn't tried before.|
That required getting about halfway through the game again, because shops occur only at certain spots in certain levels, and only have certain items. You can't hop around and go back and forth to shops you've been to before, except by playing through really, so this is a little annoying; also the game makes sure to keep you on the constant search for money to afford the nicer new weapons--which only seem to become available at shops at a certain steady pace (I think...hm maybe it was just the price was prohibitive, I can't remember now), and this becomes a bit of a chore as you're sort of compelled to keep ransacking every area you blast through for more cash, which magically lies around in unexpected places. Similarly, there are hidden notes and things that unlock old photos and additional sound clips from the characters, etc, but all in all these aren't that exciting, just a little hunt thing you're given to pass for gameplay.
The brothers do play somewhat differently, but if I hadn't liked the basic gameplay, playing through again as the other wouldn't have been worth it, because all in all they pretty much go through the same stages, and anyway when they do go through some very different stages, you aren't given a choice as to which one to play, anyhow. And I should mention that despite the fact that many of the stages have the two brothers slinging lead side-by-side, there is no co-operative single-player mode, which is kind of too bad.
There's a pretty decent amount of normal gameplay for a first-person shooter though, and it's pretty well done; six-guns roar in a satisfying way, jeers are yelled in southern/western accents, and lead flies all around nice looking period locales. There's a decent range of weapons, although annoyingly you have to make somewhat arbitrary choices about what weapons to carry--you can't carry both a rifle and a shotgun at once, for instance--and some of the pistol types render others obsolete, which reduces the real variety a bit.
There isn't that much interaction with the environment--aside from an annoying auto-crouch that dips your view down when you move up near the sill of a window or something, and often cuts off your view from your intended target--but how nice they do look, from sprawling southern plantations ruined by the war, chaotic battlefield trenchworks, wide open plains in a few otherwise bland "free roam" stages with maybe three side missions each, to a rain-drenched stage-coach pursuit through mountain passes, and lets not forget the really lovely mountain forest stages set in the American southwest, where it seems like you can see gorgeous lush trees clinging to precipitous rocky ledges for miles and miles and miles; you can't really, I suppose, but it sure feels like you can.
In general though the later stages of the game are less impressive; those lush mountain forests do get wearying, because you really can't see the tons of repetitive Native American bowmen hiding in them, and after those the inspiration of the level design seems to spiral downward, from a ridiculously precipitous cliffside fort/stairway, to a ridiculously fogged-in and altogether boring "ghost town," to a very dull large and flat villa or Mexican fort or whatever, to an even duller and dumber series of underground caves; there's just so much better stuff going on in the earlier stages, which tend to take place more in large, expansive outdoor settings, as opposed to the cramped, drab, and poorly lit interiors dominating later stages; the game engine seems designed more for outdoor spaces than indoor spaces, and the design of the indoor spaces is often generic "here's another sort of room with some tables and maybe a shelf and ooh look some random ammo or money over there, stop and press the button while aiming at it to pick it up."
There are a fair number of scripted action bits, and lots of both narrated slide-show and in-game cinematic story scenes, and while these and the story as a whole, which revolves around a ludicrously bitter ex-war general, a Mexican rifle smuggler, his saucy girlfriend, and the feuding brothers, of which there's also a third, a really annoying preachy priest younger non-combatant brother. These are decent enough the first time through, with a few semi-decent rough joking bits between the sparring brothers, and the voice acting is top-notch, but none of the characters are ultimately all that compelling, and their mostly petty squabbles get wearying on subsequent play-throughs; in particular, the preachy younger brother, and an incredibly self-righteous young half-white/half-Native-American dude, both of whom narrate much of the later plot, get downright infuriating. You can skip most of their talk, however, so that's good.
While the gunplay mechanics are both nicely streamlined and beefy, the special "slow motion action" bits range from mediocre to downright annoying. Both playable brothers have a different type of slow motion ability, enabled after you kill a certain number of bad guys within a certain period of time, that as you would expect slows time down in a certain way while you aim in a certain way and then rip off a ton of shots in a single burst when time snaps back to normal; it sounds okay I guess but isn't all *that*. Worse are the occasional staged bits in which you and your brother kick in a door together, automatically going into a slow-mo shooting mode for a bit, with really wonky aiming controls.
The worst, however, are the slow-motion gun duels that pass for "boss fights" at regular intervals in the game: you've shot your way through some repetitive 200 or so thugs in some hideout, then you finally reach their leader--usually getting the drop on him--and instead of just tying him up or shooting him or whatever (the two action brothers don't care much for niceties so they'd probably just shoot him and crack mediocre jokes trying to pretend to be bad-asses about it, I guess), for some reason you instead have to do a quick-draw mano-a-mano face-off with him, in which you have to watch him pace back and forth for a while, trying to keep your wandering hand close to your holstered gun butt--get too close and you give yourself a "naughty-naughty" finger wave, great--until a DISEMBODIED CHURCH BELL RINGS AFTER A SEMI-RANDOM INTERVAL SOMEWHERE IN THE DISTANCE, at which point you're finally permitted to try to jerk your gun up and fire in slow motion before your computerized opponent does; it's just a long agonizing wait for a dumb split-second reaction, and if you don't get it right, you have to sit through the whole waiting for the bell thing again. Once you do get the knack of it--mostly having to do with how close you can actually keep your hand to your gun without penalizing yourself, which is not at all easy to discern--then these aren't really that hard, but even more dull. The final icing on the dumb cake is that you're always drawing your gun barrel upward in slow-mo, with the aim coming up right between the opponent's legs, pretty slowly, and the time isn't very forgiving, so you have to fire as soon as possible, which is of course when your barrel finally crests the bottom of the boss' nutsack, so each fight ends in the same blast to the opponent's crotch, followed by his subsequent poor-looking collapse to the ground, then a brief pause where you're suddenly given the sweet freedom of movement again, only to get held up in an inevitable load pause a few seconds later. Not well handled at all, *especially* considering that these are what pass for the climactic battles.
Some of the scripted parts aren't that great either, like, you'll be randomly blasted by artillery, or your brother will be off on his own and suddenly die because the game decided you didn't get to him fast enough, or something, and you'll have to redo that bit. Checkpoints are pretty close together, so dying isn't really all that bad, but it's just the way the game causes you to die or fail sometimes that can be irksome.
All in all though it's very very rare that I play through a game more than once; there's just a lot of good ol' fashioned blasting generic dudes with six-guns, which isn't really a bad thing.
You can also go in for various competitive deathmatch/CTF-style modes against other players online. The "net code" seemed fine, quite playable, and the deathmatch levels I saw looked pretty decent; I had some fun in my few play sessions. This was, however, in spite of some not-so-great design decisions. First, the guns are not at all balanced: sawed-off shotguns are obliteratingly effective at close ranges--no real aim required--and sniper rifles dominate many of the rather large-ish maps. Second, there are lots of different playable characters to pick from, with different abilities and weapons, BUT some are definitely given better stats and gear than others, AND you can only unlock them after earning not-insignificant amounts of in-game money in the online modes. So, as a noob, you come in with some weak-ass character with peashooters, and find yourself at a distinct disadvantage, not only from inexperience, which is the usual and very considerable disadvantage in this type of thing, particularly in sprawling maps like the ones they have here, but also because you're just plain out-matched statistically, and will be until you've put in a certain amount of time "unlocking" the better characters. This is a horrible way to try to get people interested in playing your game online.
There's a prequel, plain "Call of Juarez," that was not available on PlayStation platforms; a friend of mine who's played both said that this sequel is much better made, so don't judge the second by the first, I guess.