the first hour: Call of Juarez Gunslinger

I knew that my life would change dramatically after my son was born, but I’m still occasionally surprised as to how far-reaching that change actually is.  As far as this blog is concerned, I knew I’d have less time to write, because I also knew that I’d have less time to play.  But while I also knew I’d be sleep deprived, I wasn’t necessarily prepared for my brain’s sudden inability to engage in critical thinking – or even coherent thinking.  When I try to come up with topics to write about, or even just opinions about games I might be playing, I generally get about as far as “I think this is pretty good” and then I just shut down.  Consequently, I often find myself sitting at my desk, staring at an empty post, feeling bad.

(I suddenly find it very strange to think that just a few months ago I was preparing to make some major career moves/concessions in an attempt to kickstart a professional videogame journalism career.  Considering my meager output of late and the lazy quality of what I’ve actually managed to publish over the last few months, I’d have been justifiably fired long ago.)

But I’m also feeling a bit disconnected from games in general.  I’m not sure if that’s because of the baby and my dramatically reduced availability for playtime, or if it’s simply that the release calendar is so dead right now.  My consoles are gathering dust because it’s exceedingly difficult to secure any alone time in the living room, but it’s not like my PC is getting much action either.  As I’d mentioned a few posts ago, I was able to successfully install a new hard drive in my PC, and I’d spent a lot of the last few weeks re-downloading stuff from my Steam library that felt “essential”, or that at least would be fun for a few free minutes while the kid was taking a nap.  But even the “essential” stuff  isn’t quite grabbing me the way it used to.   I’ve been sorta tooling around in Sleeping Dogs again (because I lost my save file when my old hard drive crashed), but that’s pretty much it.

This is more or less why I bought Call of Juarez Gunslinger last night – I needed something new, and when I’d read a few things that said that it wasn’t terrible, that was enough for me to pull the trigger (so to speak).   And I’m delighted to report that even though I’m only 2 missions in, I’m having a pretty great time.  It’s kind of a perfect game for me right now, in that it’s gorgeous-looking, the action is solid and enjoyable, and – most importantly – each mission is relatively short and self-contained, which is ideal for someone in my current (i.e., limited time) situation.

I have no familiarity with the CoJ franchise, and in any event Red Dead Redemption set the bar so high for games set in the Old West that I never bothered with anything else.  (Let me say, once again, that the lack of a PC version of RDR is, perhaps, the biggest bummer of this current generation.)  But as long as I’m making comparisons, the game it most reminds me of is Bastion; the game is narrated as you play it, and in a neat twist the narrator will occasionally switch up how the story is being told, so the action will rewind for a few seconds and then something different will happen.  It’s a novel touch and it keeps you on your toes and engaged in the story.

Action-wise, it’s more or less standard first-person shooting but with an arcade feel – you get XP with every shot that hits an enemy, and the XP changes depending on the quality of the hit – headshots score more than bodyshots, running enemies score more than stationary targets.    This is all to say that when you shoot an enemy, numbers fly out in a very satisfying manner.  There’s almost no enemy AI to speak of – outlaws will occasionally duck behind cover, but they generally stay in one place.  This is all fine, though.  It’s meant to be a shooting gallery, and the action is quickly paced – you’re constantly on the move, running through startlingly pretty environments, shooting your way out of trouble.

And then there are duels, which would appear to be a sort of boss battle mini-game.  You and your enemy size each other up, and as you do so your left thumbstick controls how far away your hand is from your gun, and your right thumbstick controls your “focus” – which has something to do with accuracy, although once you actually start the duel proper you suddenly have to aim again.  I’ve only done two of these, and so I’m still a little hazy on how to do them well, but they’re tense and exciting and pulling them off is very satisfying indeed.

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