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Thread: Call of Juarez - PC Review

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    Call of Juarez - PC Review

    First person shooters, the genre that defines PC’s as suitable gaming machines. Always at the forefront of technology pushing our poor hardware to the limit! Over the past few years there have been so many top titles it’s quite hard to believe that the developers can still come up with so many new ideas. Lately we have been getting some awesome Direct X 9 effects incorporated into our games, not forgetting the clever use of physics and ragdoll effects.


    Click thumbnails for larger images

    Westerns have always been a bit lacking when it comes to this genre. Normally it is dedicated to movies starring the likes of Clint Eastwood and the legendary John Wayne. So why not start using this area of media for gaming I ask you? There are so many great stories out there it is surprising that we haven’t seen more titles like Call of Juarez on the market.



    The highlights for me when it comes to western games firmly lie in two other titles. The western level albeit short lived in Timesplitters 2 on the PS2, Xbox and Gamecube and not forgetting a really unsung hero of this genre, Gun from Activision. So how does Call of Juarez sit in comparison to the 2 games mentioned here? Does it sit at the top spurs jangling or simply head to the glue factory like an old donkey? Let’s take a closer look.

    Call of Juarez tells the story of a young man named Billy, an outcast to the locals as he is half Mexican. Billy doesn’t have a surname as such but wears a medallion given to him by his mother with a candle motif on it. So to all around he is simply known as Billy Candle. His father has a brother Ray, a reverend by all accounts in the local town of Hope. Reverend Ray used to be an infamous gunslinger until turning to the lord for redemption of his sins. The story behind Call of Juarez sees Billy mistakenly accused of murdering his father, unfortunately for him though Ray turns up and Billy is in the wrong place at the right time. This leads to a hectic cat and mouse chase between the pair. This also offers two completely different play styles rolled into one game. On some of the levels you will play as Billy and others you will take control of Reverend Ray and become the lords righteous gunslinger.



    The background story is set around the legendary town of Juarez. Legend has it that buried somewhere on the outskirts of Juarez is the treasure said to have been the ransom for the release of Montezuma from the Spanish during the time of the Aztecs. Men and women flocked to Juarez to try and find this lost treasure hence the title of the game Call of Juarez. Little did people realise was that the treasure was cursed by the Aztec sun god, anyone who went looking would only find their own perdition. How this story fits into the game itself is a little watery, only coming to mention when you get to chapter 9 and are rescued by a Native American. I won’t give anything else away though as you need to find out for yourself!



    I mentioned two entirely different play styles incorporated into one game. First off you will start the game as Billy, unfortunately he is no gunslinger but is quite handy when it comes to sneaking about and climbing. The levels of the game with Billy as the playable character will have you sneaking about from bushes to shadows trying to avoid local authorities, bandits and Indians. Ammo is very sparse on these levels even when you have a gun so using your wits is a must at all times. You also have the ability to use a trusty whip on these levels, this helps you get across gaps that are to far to jump and reach higher ledges. The whip can also be used as a weapon but you will find yourself getting shot a fair bit if you have to use it. Whilst sneaking up on an enemy you can whip them on the back of the head and it will in most cases take them down. I personally think it would have been a bit better if you were given something like a blackjack for these stealth levels. I feel that something should have been incorporated so you aren’t just having to creep about constantly and restarting when you get spotted or killed. I have found that at times the levels with Billy can be a bit long and drawn out. There are a few exceptions like retrieving an eagle’s feather from the top of a cliff, I found this particular bit of a chapter excellently done start to finish. If you can persevere with the slower paced sections in Call of Juarez playing as the reverend certainly ups the pace.



    Reverend Ray on the other hand is an out for revenge gunslinger. From the moment you return to the town and get the old pistols out the action comes thick, fast and frequently. You will find yourself replaying sections that you have already gone through as Billy, this time with a different take on things. This type of level design is understandable as Billy is on the run from Ray. Some of the gunfights you will encounter are really fast paced, Ray can absorb some of the damage to his chest area as he wears a type of body armour with a cross on it. You also have a few different options on how you wield your pistols. You can go for carrying bible in one hand and pistol in the other, twin pistols or quick shot. Quick shot looks really neat and the firing rate is marginally faster as you hold your hand over the hammer similar to the old westerns. Whilst carrying the bible Ray speaks of fire and brimstone and if you are close enough to a bandit this will actually daze them briefly! You also have a concentration mode, if you holster both your pistols and are ambushed by a group of men when you click one of the mouse buttons a pair of crosshairs appear each side of the screen. These two crosshairs make the game go into slow motion, allowing you to kill enemies with a bit more ease. This also makes the ragdoll physics look even better as the enemies move and fall depending on how and where you hit them. Finally with Ray you will occasionally be called out for a showdown, on these sections you have to wait for a timer before you can draw. With a little practice you will be drawing fast and taking them down before they realise what has hit them!



    Visually Call of Juarez is stunning, using the third edition chrome engine to create the world. Foliage in the wild is thick and looks decent but lacks any real movement even when you are walking through it or hiding in it. Towns and outposts can be a little small I think and quite linear whilst playing, on the other hand though viewing distances are pretty far and look awesome. You have to follow a path that is intended, I feel this takes away some of the replayability. It would have been nice to see a few different angles on achieving goals to draw you back to playing again. Shadows look fantastic, whilst hiding you get shadows cast across held weapons from trees etc, you also see your own shadow cast at times against walls as well as the enemies. Water flows and moves naturally, it is very reminiscent of the water effects in Elder Scrolls 4 Oblivion. However the water manipulation can be a bit lacking at times whilst swimming or crossing streams. The NPC models at first appear quite varied but after playing the game for a few hours you will notice that a lot of them are the same as what you have already met. This goes for colour of their clothes, hats and also skin colour. Call of Juarez also supports shader model 3 and HDR if your hardware can handle it. Unfortunately whenever I have been using SM 3 after about 30 minutes play the game locks up and you have to hard reset your system. Overall it looks really nice but the system requirements to run with maximum detail are a bit over the top, this could be a problem with optimization though as the demo was the same.



    Sound on Call of Juarez is quite a mixed bag, going from awesome at times to just plain bland in other aspects. The musical score is very stirring, right from the title screen to chase scenes and pieces to get the heart pounding when you think you have been spotted. On the other hand a lot of the pistols sound exactly the same as do rifles and shotguns. Voice acting can be a bit droll at times with no real feeling or emotion in there. An exception to the voice acting is when Billy or Ray talk to themselves, this gives you a bit more info on the story and why they are heading to their current destination. They also give a speech on what they are thinking at the start of each chapter and what they feel they must do. The voice acting for the two main characters is done with such passion you can really feel what they are going through. Footsteps outside virtually all sound the same as does the rustling of bushes used when you are hunting rabbits and hiding. Little things like mentioned here can really add or let down the overall playing experience.



    Unfortunately at the time of writing this review up there were no servers available to play online. There are a few different online play modes available with deathmatch and one where you get points for collecting gold. However I can’t really see this game being as big as something like Quake 3 or the Battlefield series when it comes to multiplayer.

    Call of Juarez is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes down to it. Billy’s chapters are decent enough at times but I feel they go on far too long as you are quite limited in your abilities and what you can actually do. On the other hand Reverend Rays levels are fast paced gun toting pleasure! Brings back memories of when I was young and played cowboys and Indians! Only downside to Rays chapters is that the concentration mode is readily available later in the game. Unfortunately this can make some of the gunfights a bit of a no brainer as you can kill the bandits before they have fired their first shot off. I have also found that at times the crosshair can be a little big even when using the aim key. It feels a bit like the crosshair on HALO on the PC. Unfortunately it is not overly accurate when on foot, when you are on horseback you couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo! A few other bugs I have found include loading a save game from an autosave can occasionally cause the game to lock up, random freezes and the mentioned problem I encountered using SM 3.



    Pros
    Excellent levels for Reverend Ray
    Decent voice acting on the main characters
    Looks gorgeous if your system can handle it

    Cons
    Overly long levels when playing as Billy
    Poor accuracy on crosshair
    Mediocre sound effects
    Not much in the way of replayability
    Not enough character models
    Extremely long loading times
    Requires a REALLY high end system to see it in all its glory
    A bit short lived with around 8 hours play
    Slows system down once the game has been exited

    Fun when you are playing as Ray but it can be a bit tedious playing as Billy. Variation is decent enough but I feel Gun is a superior title.

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    Nice review.

    I've heard a few good things about this game as well. One of my friends can't stop playing it, but he's one to rave about something, play it to death in days and then move onto the next thing and never hear about it again..o so anway.

    Will probably download the demo to see what it's like.

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    Tried the demo and as bored after a few minutes of the Reverend bit - just seemed like dumb run and gun gameplay with the slowmo gimmick thrown in. Graphics were a bit boxy I thought too - when the reverend started in the church I thought it was a scene out of original Duke Nukem.

    Mind you my PC is only Sempron 3100 / i gig RAM and a Galaxy 7300 GT.

    Compared to the likes of Prey and Oblivion though, it just seems rather characterless. Maybe the demo isn't a fair reflection.

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