Most helpful critical review
A great setting and engaging story make up for a clunky game design
on 19 October 2011
Call of Juarez is an ambitious, albeit flawed game that tells a Wild West story from the perspectives of two men, young Billy Candle, a fugitive on the run and Reverend Ray, his brother, who speaks to the lord and is a mean gunman. The story in this game is pretty decent, there are no surprises there of course, no plot-twists and all follows generic wild west and American mainstream formulas but if you are into westerns, you will be in familiar ground. The idea of playing the game both as Billy and the Reverend is intriguing and sometimes you are running away from yourself and sometimes you are chasing yourself. Of course, gameplay-wise, the two characters are not really connected and your performance in one stage of the game does not influence what you face in another, that would have been way too complex to design I suppose.
The game looks very good, mainly due to the gorgeous landscapes, canyons and prairies as well as the game's fanciful physics engine, which blows hats off people's heads, let's dying men fall off canyons and blasts holes in the boxes you are desperately hiding behind. Those small details really make it easy for me to get immersed in a gunfight. For example, you might be hiding behind a rock and hear the bullets ricocheting off the rock while you are hiding behind it, however, when you lean out from behind the rock, the rising dust from the bullets make it hard for you to see where you are shooting, very realistic and very interesting. The game comes with many guns that fall into three categories, one-handed weapons such as pistols and revolvers, rifles & shotguns and last but not least, the bow & arrow for Billy. Just like Max Payne, the game also has bullet time (called concentration mode) and it is a delight to barge through a door, activate Bullet time and take out all the bad guys within second. The same happens whenever Billy uses his Bow, it is almost like a sniper weapon.
In general, that is how the gameplay between the two characters differ. Billy uses stealth and his bow to circumvent trouble, hiding in shadows and behind barrels etc, while Reverend Ray prefers to settle things with lead and his episodes are more FPS and action focused. Billy on the other hand also faces many platformer puzzles (think Prince of Persia) and that is something that not everybody will like, as it is easy to take a false step and fall to your death (the characters in this game are not good when it comes to surviving falls, even if it's just 2 meters). Billy uses a whip to swing himself from platform to platform and the game takes its platforming very serious. There is one episode in the game, where you don't even have to do anything else but climbing up a mountain, so be aware of that when you get this game.
Unfortunately, the controls of this game take a while to get used to, it is a robust system and once you master it, you can take out quite a few bad gringos, but it is still clunky and not very elegant and you will die many times just because the guns are hard to handle, but then again, some players might embrace this added layer of difficulty. Same goes for horse riding (Yes, there are horses) and as exciting as a horse chasing a carriage while shooting sounds, it is quite tough and not as satisfying as you would expect.
All in all, the fact that this games feels somewhat unpolished and rough lower my rating considerably as I had to interrupt my gaming session quite a few times just because I was frustrated, dying because of glitches and the awkward control scheme and it takes some patience and endurance to finish this game, despite many episodes being amazing fun and interesting.
My second complaint would be the very linear nature of the story. There are no decisions to be made and the game follows the plot faithfully. The game never gives you the chance to decide whether to go for stealth and when you play Billy for example, once you are discovered, the game ends, you cannot even try to fight your way out of the predicament, let alone decide to go in guns blazing in the first place. The game world looks gorgeous and the story is neat, in a shallow Wild West-pulp sort of way, but never really drags you in as you play no part in the story (the player).
A solid FPS/platform hybrid with a bold setting and most of the time, you will have a good time playing this, that is, if you can overlook some flaws here and there.