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Call of Juarez Review
PIV 2200, 512MB RAM, 2GB HDD, 128MB video card
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Dec 05, 07
|» All About Call of Juarez on ActionTrip|
I'm really beginning to like some of the things that Ubisoft is doing. Though they are obviously trying to stay in the game with EA by adopting their policy of franchise milking, they are also balancing this out by supporting rather innovative games from European newcomers. Far Cry and Beyond Good & Evil are great examples of this.
To be fair to EA, they are also known for spotting, financing, and ultimately capitalizing on innovative game concepts - The Sims and the Battlefield series being good examples. That's what keeps them at the top of the game.
Going back to Ubisoft though, they reaffirm their business philosophy by signing Call of Juarez, a first-person shooter set in the Wild West. Its creators, Polish-based Techland, made a name for themselves by developing Chrome, a sci-fi first-person shooter in the vein of Unreal 2. The game did have its strong points, but overall, it felt just a bit too rough around the edges to make any sort of lasting impression.
With Call of Juarez, however, it's clear that Techland has made huge strides in the right direction, (although it is not clear if that is due to learning from past mistakes, or simply getting the proper financial support from Ubisoft). Call of Juarez was developed on Techland's proprietary engine that makes heavy use of NVIDIA Pixel Shader 3.0 support. I've played the game on a relatively powerful system (AMD 4200+, 2GB RAM, 7800GTX) and things worked smoothly on max details and in high res (1600x1200). The engine does a very good job of rendering both indoor and outdoor environments, with the emphasis on the outdoor stuff. The level loading times can be a problem, but only when you first fire up the game.
Much like the Far Cry engine, Call of Juarez code renders the background in full 3D and it does so visually quite similar to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. For some reason, the forest settings in Call of Juarez reminded me a lot of Oblivion, though the Oblivion code looks much tighter indoors. The character animation and the level of detail on their faces are exceptional, with good lip-synching. What also appealed to me in terms of graphics was the relative good use of special effects to create various sorts of moods in the backdrop. This was very effective.
I guess I kicked off this talk about Call of Juarez with engine details because I'm really impressed with how much Techland has progressed since the relatively shoddy Chrome code. Call of Juarez looks and feels like a solid game (even though it does take a stronger rig to run it right). In comparison, I played the game on a low-end system too (with a Radeon 9800XT card), and the graphics looked noticeably poorer (and that might be an understatement).
But the strong side to Call of Juarez is, surprisingly, the developer's willingness to experiment, as well as the personality of one of the two main protagonists.
Call of Juarez is played from the perspective of two different characters: one is a Mexican drifter named Billy, who was wrongfully accused of committing a heinous crime supposedly over the lost gold of Juarez - a mythical Aztec treasure. The other character is named Ray, a self-righteous preacher with a shady past who after years of leading the stray lamb of a small town decides to put down his bible in favor of his trusty six-shooters. Ray is a barking mad self-professed "hand of God," a religious zealot convinced in Billy's guilt. The game tells the tale of these two characters, the ties that bind them to each other and to the lost gold.
Gameplay-wise, Techland made a relatively clear distinction by making Billy into a stealthy, nimble character that is mostly required to sneak through bandit-infested camps and climb ledges, while the preacher is a mangy old coyote that will surely just blast his way through an area, rather than climb a single crate. From a gameplay standpoint, it would be fair to say that the Ray missions are action-oriented, while Billy's Episodes mostly involve stealth and platform puzzles in first person. Much like Indiana Jones, Billy uses a whip to swing off branches and climb up to hard-to-reach places.
That said, I must reiterate that Ray is the charismatic one, while Billy will likely strike you as a bit flat. Ray cites more Bible verses than Samuel Jackson does in "Pulp Fiction," and he kills more people. He is old, fast on the trigger, and totally psychotic. You just *have* to like him (if you don't he'll shoot you). He's a very likeable antihero. The actor who voiced Ray is also very good. A bit over-the-top at times, but the overly expressive acting serves the character perfectly. Controlling Ray, players will get to experience frantic gun battles that are just plain fun. Ray can go into "Concentration Mode" - a sort of bullet time quick draw mode that you'll use to deal with the toughest encounters. At the end of each Ray episode, the old preacher will face off a "boss" character in a good old-fashioned gunfight. The gunfight system takes some time getting used to and is no more than a gimmick, but it still complements the action well.
8.2 Very Good
Preacher Ray, game world is gritty and pretty (yes, I can say that), great Western action and atmosphere;
AI design in the stealth missions, stealth missions in general, map design, Billy's voice.