Print Story Call of Juarez is a good game.
By dark nowhere (Fri Aug 31, 2007 at 01:38:04 PM EST) (all tags)
It's an FPS, which is a style I don't have much love for, with a few exceptions. However, a game that periodically distracts me from the action by making some beautiful things happen has to have some merit.

This is a Western FPS with some real style points. It's all in the details.

First off, this game has a lot of nice features but it's not a collection of nice things. It's a set. Normally I resent "unnecessary" details in games because they're tacked on and only serve to highlight the game's failings, or at best the inadequacy of the added detail. In this case, Techland went the extra mile and made sure that all the frivolous details truly added up to a synergized experience:

As I come 'round a bend on my way to the train, a bandit shouts out "there 'e is!" and runs off. I take a shot at him but miss and his hat goes flying. I don't have time for a second shot because I'm being shot at, rapid fire, by someone in a mounted gun.

I dive behind a rock, but apart from savin' my hide that does me no good; I cant see past all all the rock dust kicked up by the gun. So I sit pretty and wait for the dust to clear. He hasn't shot for a few moments. Maybe he's doing the same, waiting for the dust to clear and revealed my dead self. I take the opportunity to get a good eyeball on where he's at. He kicks up some more dust, but I have a keen sense of where he is now. I holster my other gun, put my left hand on top of my Ranger and poke my head out the next time he stops shooting. Before the dust can clear I fan the Ranger's hammer until I'm hearing clicks instead of bangs.

Luckily the five shots did him in, because I've a sore hand and a broken gun. Damn thing jammed on me. 'Least I'm still alive.

As I get moving the sun beats down, just a haze through the clouds. Somehow, despite all the danger, I can't help but take a moment to appreciate the way the sun shifts colours on those trees. It's a very pretty thing, but I should keep moving.

This is a faithful experience I had while playing. There was considerably more dying and reloading going on, but you get the idea.

Later, I'd have to blow up a barricade with a keg of TNT. It had an annoying habit of rolling down the hill, so I did something neat. The character you play in this part of the game has a skill that allows him to concentrate -- the game goes into slow-motion and he draws two revolvers. Two crosshairs appear, converging on the center of the screen. While this is going on, he can pivot and fire.

Naturally, I placed it, and ran part way down the hill, then turned on the concentration skill. As I was shooting it I realized that I was too close, but it was too late to move. What you won't notice in regular speed is that the blast actually takes time to explode outward. As it exploded, I noticed that the blast didn't damage me until it actually reached me. Another fun thing is setting off dynamite in a room - everything breakable is broken and everything flammable catches fire. Lamps fall into both categories, so the lighting completely changes.

Some points:

  • The first thing I noticed is that the glass windows are characteristically thick and warped, and most importantly they're made of lenses. If you break them, the bits that are broken are still lenses, as are the pieces still in the frame.
  • Things kick up what they're made of when you damage them. Shooting the ground kicks up dirt and dust. Dirt and dust. You get your bits of things and a smoke effect of the appropriate type. Hiding behind that rock was perfect. There was the fine rock powder dust making a smoky screen, and then chunks of rock flying all over the place. Wood does its thing, and I've already talked about the glass.
  • Great ragdoll physics. If someone dies they get all floppy like and fall. I once shot a dude farther up the mountain from me. As I walked along, his body did that floppy cartwheel thing in front of me, and then down the rest of the mountain. As I rounded the bend, his hat, which I'd shot off, was still floating down the other side. I've also found that shooting bodies that are flying through the air causes them to react realistically to the impact.
  • The map design is fantastic. I'm looking out over mountains and trees, all made of polygons (instead of being prerendered, although there are some prerendered backgrounds I think... but they're so far away that I don't think I can tell.) But more than that, everything is interesting. The game doesn't really have a fourth wall. Out of bounds areas are still filled with polys, and half of them go down instead of up - so if you really want to get there you can fall to your floppy doom.
  • If it's made of wood it burns (and if it's on fire, a bucket of water will generally put it out.) You can throw lamps, and if they're lit they'll spill fire all over the place. If they're not, they'll spill the oil and you can shoot that to set it off. Immolated people run screaming and sometimes die of burns before they put it out. Sometimes not.
  • Objects have weight. A heavier object cannot be thrown as far. For chairs and other things with similar heft, you can throw them hard enough to break them. Big heavy boxes will only go a few feet, and you'll grunt and walk slowly. But that's not the cool part. Objects exert weight. At some point you can put a box on a plank to keep it from tipping over as  you walk across it. The heavy box works better.
  • Zoom has focal depth. Things close-up will blur when you zoom in. This isn't applied normally, because the background will also blur more.
  • Rarely do you notice repeating textures. Rockfaces have it, but it's something I had to look for. In that case, it's all over the place, but the amount of texture and the lighting makes it go unnoticed. I did spot an ugly piece of ground that you normally wouldn't get a good look at, but I've only noticed that once.
  • Rails. The game has some rails. They're
I could go on forever. Unfortunately, the story is very much a part of play, which I think removes some replay value. One thing that made Doom timeless is that there's a superficial story there, but the game is all about architecture and monsters. CoJ needs a different kind of investment to be properly enjoyed. Regardless, it's pretty enough that I'll want to see many of these things over and over again.

This game is made of art. It looks good, it sounds good (the soundtrack is ace) and it feels good. It's self-consistent and very cohesive.

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