The most serious problems affect you during the sequences where Billy has to leap from ridge to ridge or swing across gaps using his whip. The jumping controls just aren’t precise enough to make tricky leaps, and you’ll constantly find yourself falling to your doom and having to repeat long stretches. The checkpoint save system is superbly implemented most of the time, but it always seems to fall off at these points. We’re not talking Ninja Gaiden levels of chew-off-your-own-fist frustration, but be warned. The whip bits are actually worse, partly because the whip itself is a nightmare to target and control, and partly because the in-game physics seem to have gone on holiday where swinging is concerned. It’s hard to predict your swing, and ridiculously unrealistic.
And it’s this lack of polish that spoils the game as a whole. Every now and then there’s something – a cut-scene, a poorly staged battle, an impossible section in Indian country – that reminds you that you’re not dealing with a major-league, triple-A product. Every so often there’s a bit of amateurish scene-setting that breaks the atmosphere and brings the mood flat down back to earth. You will find yourself amazed at the sharp-shooting abilities of outlaws and Apache braves who can hit you from miles away with what you later learn to be a rusty rifle. You will suffer the same bit of dialogue every time you fail certain stealth sections, no matter how many times you have heard it before. You may even be put off entirely by a pitiful initial training level of staggeringly workmanlike quality. Somebody should have spotted these things during testing, and sat on them fast.
Those aren’t my only complaints. The environments aren’t particularly interactive, making you wonder why you can set fire to a saloon full of outlaws but not to a wooden structure packed with bandits, and many of the levels are as linear as anything in Call of Duty 2 or Medal of Honor. Sure there are horseback sequences, but these seem constrained and never give you anything more than a higher perspective and greater speed. In fact, the whole game has a floaty quality to the movement that goes against its rugged, down and dirty feel. For all its innovation, Call of Juarez simply isn’t as slick or well executed as Gears of War, GRAW2 or the 360’s other premier shooters.
That’s why I’ve been relatively stingy with the score at the bottom of this page. Despite its merits, Call of Juarez isn’t quite the game it could have been with only a bit more attention to detail. It does, however, show considerably more imagination and ingenuity than a number of bigger name shooters, and it’s a good platform on which Techland could – given the chance – build a fantastic sequel. Given the leap in quality between Chrome Specforce and this, I wouldn’t say that was out of the question. More to the point, should Call of Juarez 2 appear I’ll be far less inclined to ignore it. In fact, I’ll be one of the first in line to take a look.
Enhanced for the Xbox 360, Call of Juarez scores high for its tackling of an under explored genre and its interesting game mechanics. Only a lack of fine tuning and polish prevent it being a full-on fistful of dynamite.