Thursday, March 13, 2008

Call of Juarez

At the end of last year, I finally picked up Call of Juarez for the PC. Call of Juarez is a Western-themed first-person shooter (FPS) that was actually released back in 2006 in Europe. (For some reason it took the publisher an extra year to release it in the US.) I had been excited about the game since early 2005 when I first heard about it. I'm a big FPS fan and Western fan, so the prospect of this type of game with modern graphics was incredibly appealing.

(The only other Western FPS that was any good was Lucasarts' Outlaws (which really deserves a sequel), and it was released back when sprites were still dominant in shooters (think Doom, Dark Forces, Duke Nukem). It had a great deal of style, including an original Morricone-inspired soundtrack and fully animated cut-scenes, as well as a pretty full load-out of late 19th century weapons. I wish I could get a DVD of all the animated cut-scenes.)

Well, it's not a great game, but it does certain things so right that it cheers a part of my soul. It is good to know that there are others out there as crazy as I am.

In the game you play as two opposing characters, alternating between their viewpoints to fill in their respective sides of the story. Reverend Ray is a tough old codger with a violent past. He is now a preacher, and considers himself to be an instrument of God's vengeance. The other character, Billy, is a stupid kid. Ray is his uncle. Billy is framed for the murder of his parents, and Ray goes after him. That's all you really need to know, story-wise.

The Good: Reverend Ray.

Marc Alaimo, the actor responsible for voicing Ray, is fantastic. His performance imbues the character with all sorts of interesting nuance and power. One of the better bits of voice-acting I've ever heard, especially in a video game.

The character is well-written, too, beyond just the great dialogue. Ray begins the game as a vengeful self-righteous force, but towards the end is finally made to question his "calling." The great part about the writing is that instead of questioning God, he questions himself. He acknowledges that it was his own selfish hatred that blinded him rather than attributing his blunder to God either misleading him or not existing. This was an unexpected turn, as characters of this sort usually devolve into some sort of anti-religion, anti-God message. The character is also visually well-designed. He wears a piece of armor under his coat that actually deflects bullets in the game (complete with ricochet sounds). One of his "weapons" is a Bible that he quotes terrifying passages from, Pulp Fiction style. Enemies nearby will freeze when they hear it.

The other good bits are the weapons. These guys did their research. While the shotguns and rifle feature no variants, the pistols are pretty great. Included are such unusual guns as the LeMat revolver, an 8-shot percussion pistol with a shotgun barrel under the main; a hold-out barrel-less SAA, which I've seen a picture of in a book before; Volcanic Repeaters, the cool looking precursors to the Winchester rifle.

The Bad: Billy, the other main character.

He's a wuss, a loser, and his voice acting is pretty weak. It's not horrible, but its mediocrity is highlighted further by Ray's excellent performance. His playable segments are also not that fun. The bow is fun, the whip isn't, and sneaking isn't nearly as fun as running-and-gunning like Ray.

The Ugly: the character animation. Whenever you're interacting with another character, all they do is stand there and talk at you. If there is ever any body acting, it's an arm movement. Otherwise, they all just stand there with their arms at their sides. Compared with the wonderful full-body acting of the characters in games like Half-Life 2, it just stands out and makes the game world feel artificial. The graphics engine is actually really detailed and realistic, with dust blowing across the landscape, lots of foliage, etc, but when these barely animated puppets yell bad dialogue at you without moving, it really destroys the illusion.

Well, this was an awfully long post about something no one else will care about, so I'll leave it here.

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