Gunpowder plumes among the prickly pears, six-shooter showdowns in front of boarded up taverns and quick draw battles to the ring of a tungsten bell. There just aren’t enough games set in the Wild West. The lawless badlands are a great untapped location for a down and dirty shooter.
Into the gap steps Call of Juarez 2 in which you play one of the McCall brothers as they travel from town to town downing firewater and causing trouble. I strapped up my holster and tilted my cowboy hat to its most rakish angle and jumped into the recently released demo to see if CoJ2 had managed to build on it’s promising first outing and deliver the definitive Wild West experience.
You and your brother are on a mission to kill a man. He’s imprisoned in the middle of town. Your master plan, as is only correct, is to run into the middle of town with guns drawn shouting ‘yeehaw!’until you see this man and make him dead. Along the way other men try their best to stop you using bullets from guns.
Darting between the houses firing left and right revolvers with respective clicks of left and right mouse buttons is a fun time. Your foes are an entertaining mashup of down and out scum, trenchcoat wearing villains and blokes in shirts with shotguns who seem to have accidentally wondered into a scrap and joined in for the kicks. If you’ve got a sharp eye there are some nice environmental factors you can exploit. Oil lanterns can be shot or thrown to spread some fire and buckets of water can used to your advantage.
The combat is actually pretty challenging, you’re always outnumbered of course, but your foes will tend to come from all sides, sometimes even lining surrounding rooftops to have a cowardly snipe. Staying low and in cover and carrying a good rifle for long range encounters will see you through.
Automatic ducking behind certain obstacles and a fiddly autoaim on the revolvers mean the gunplay can feel a little loose and out of hand. These tuning niggles distance you from the action, and aren’t really helped by the Concentration mode which allows you to go into bullet time and tag enemies before unleashing a barrage of shots to take them down. It’s spectacular, but only serves to take the fighting out of your control.
It’s is a shame as the general flash bang glitz of the shooting is solid. The dusty small town environment reclining beneath the white hot desert blaze is well realised and the engine is blinidingly quick, absolutely refusing to stutter even as whole houses collapse and disappear into smoke.
Another nice touch: the quickdraw showdown. When you encounter your target you decide, instead of gunning him down with the gatling gun you’ve pulled off a cart, that you’ll do things properly. A brilliantly cinematic scene ensues in which you regard your opponent in complete silence, hand hovering over your weapon. Your mouse controls the hand, and it’s your job to slowly and cautiously strafe around your opponent, keeping your hand as close as possible to your sidearm until the bell rings. As soon as you hear that sound it’s time to snatch your six shooter as quickly as possible and hope to god that the other man isn’t faster. Nice.
The oddest thing about Call of Juarez 2 is the lack of a co-op multiplayer feature. Throughout the experience you stick close to your brother. Sometimes you’ll help each other over obstacles, sometimes he’ll take an elevated route and together you march down a street, covering each other. It’s absolutley begging for another player to hop in and take charge of your sibling, and it’s crazy that this isn’t an option in a game that seems as though it has been designed with two players in mind.
As is it’s an above average foray into the Wild West which I’ll look at after a price drop. This should go out as a call to other developers looking for a new setting for their game. The Wild West is a vein of gaming gold just waiting to be properly discovered.