The DigestVideo

Games Of May 2013: Call Of Juarez: Gunslinger

A clever storytelling concept makes for a fun downloadable diversion.

By John Teti • June 24, 2013

The list of iconic Western games is pretty short, and while we might not be ready to grant Call Of Juarez: Gunslinger icon status, it is a fun summertime diversion. Drew Toal and I were both intrigued when we heard about the novel frame that the developers at Techland dreamed up for what is essentially a spinoff from the moribund Call Of Juarez series. You play through the memories of an old man, Silas Greaves, as he recounts his Wild West adventures to a spellbound audience in a dusty saloon (an audience that grows increasingly irritated with the narrator’s penchant for embellishment). It’s a neat storytelling device, and sometimes all it takes is a conceptual flourish like this to make an old formula feel fresh for a few moments.

Speaking of old formulas, Drew and I are pretty confident that the gumball eyes on our “frozen confections” have been sitting in a warehouse since Silas Greaves’ heyday.

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  • Citric

    Frozen gumballs seem like they were invented by someone with a vendetta against teeth.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

      It’s the same people who make baseball card bubble gum sticks.

  • Enkidum

    I’ve had both those popsicles after my kids couldn’t finish them. Neither could I. So 100% of people surveyed couldn’t be bothered to eat those awful, awful, popsicles.

  • The_Helmaroc_King

    I think the narration in Gunslinger and Bastion works well because the narrators in those two games aren’t just the narrators, but characters in themselves.

    People say “don’t use voice-overs” because they’re an obvious way of communicating something that should already be apparent by other means, but because the narrator is a character then it reveals more than just what they describe. At a minimum, making them characters means they can be funny, or misleading, or petty, or suave, and listening to the narration is more than just exposition.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      I agree.  Modern German adventure games, while pretty good, seem to have forgotten that 1980s-1990s text and graphic adventure games didn’t have narrators as plot-movers or info-dumpers.  They acted as a separate character with knowledge that you and your character didn’t.  Modern comedic graphic adventures (Eastern or Western) too often depend on “saying an ironic, knowing statement into the void.”  Gary Owens in Space Quest, on the other hand, would be skeptical of Roger in the early game before he had proved himself, get excited or provide subtle hints in the mid-game when he/you encounter obstacles, and be disappointed if Roger got killed late in the game.  He was his own thing, not an excuse to use the double act device.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        The best text adventures were also the ones with a really strong authorial voice, where the narrator was kind of a joy to interact with. You’d want to poke and prod the world sometimes just to see what they’d say. It was like playing D&D with, like, Douglas Adams or Steve Meretzky as your DM.

      • stepped_pyramids

        As much as I dislike King’s Quest, KQ6 had mostly the good kind of narrator (sympathizing with Alexander, providing interpretive glosses on what’s going on, etc.). KQ5′s narration is the bad kind (“thank you for playing King’s Quest V”), especially since you also have a character in-game to comment on random stuff and give you hints (“watch out for those gypsies, Graim, I don’t trust their kind” etc.).

        • George_Liquor

          Well that and the damned owl. If there’s ever been a more punch-worth video game character made, I ain’t seen it.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I remember when playing KQ6, I eventually got into one of those gameplay cul de sacs where you click everything on everything else. My mom overheard the repeated derisive comments the narrator made with each failed combination (she was in the next room playing Tetris or something) and actually kind of got legit angry at what a dick the game was being to her kid. I wish I could remember exactly what she said… “Why are you playing such an awful game? Why is it being so nasty?” or something like that.

      • George_Liquor

        “Where am I” You wonder aloud to non-existent auditory organs.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=509875458 Aleksander Samuel Christensen

      My favorite part about Sands of Time, was when the Prince said “Oh wait, that didn’t happen” whenever there was a game over.

    • OldeFortran77

      Narration.
      Narration never changes.

    • Mr_Propellerhead

      Great point – a few narrators of note in my experience:
      Richard Burton (Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds), Peter Jones (BBC Radio/TV series of Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), Sam Elliot (The Big Lebowski)…  the voice of the latter at one time seemed almost synonymous with that “grizzled, old-west” vernacular mentioned here.

      • Electric Dragon

        Peter Jones (and H2G2) affected my own speech patterns more than I would like.

    • Baramos x

       Another place narration worked perfectly were the Max Payne games. Really captured that feeling you were playing through a film noir detective story.

    • ToddG

      Also, using a narrator to tell jokes is not the same thing as using it as a dramatic narrative device.  After all, the narrator is a key ingredient to Arrested Development’s quality.

  • Enkidum

    I love how little of this video talks about anything sensible at all.

    In one of my patented tangents… I just got the Witcher I & II, never touched them before. I took a look at the mods available and holy shiznit there’s a lot. Anyone know of any in particular that are a good idea for new players? Several of them say “bug fixes”, but in the comments its suggested they’re kind of buggy too.

    • Melancholic_Rodeo_Clown

      Oh yes, seconded on this – My PC can’t run II but I picked up I when it was $2.99 on Steam last week so very keen to hear what people recommend.

    • The Guilty Party

      There was just a witcher 2 combat rebalance mod released, written by the developers themselves. I’ve not tried it yet, but I have played without it and the things it claims to fix/improve all sound like very good ideas and not the normal ‘I’ll make it realistic by making it way harder because I’m so hardcore’ that these things usually are.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        I just bought Witcher 2 on sale as well.  And while I haven’t made it much further than the tutorial, I’m less intimidated by the difficulty of the combat than confounded by the fussiness of it.
           It’s a completely inelegant system to navigate, with all the wheels and slots and triggers.  And while my fantasy nerd self really digs the dedication to the world by having runes and unique spell names instead of just ‘shield’ or ‘repel’, the easily confounded and bad gamer in me hates having runes and unique spell names instead of just ‘shield’ or ‘repel’.
           Still, it’s a beautifully realized world, and I like the character of Gerard, so I want to stick with it.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      At some point a free copy of the Witcher showed up in my GOG account (thanks, CD Projekt!), and I’ve been meaning to play it for ages now. 2 is on sale, there, too, though not as marked-down as it apparently was on Steam. Hmm.

      I’m curious how my experience with those games will contrast with my experience with Bioware games, or CRPGs in general.

    • Swadian Knight

      I’ve only played the first game on PC, but I know a few good mods for it.

      If you want to make the game look a little better, Hi-Res Character Models and Texturen Mod are good choices. This ENB adds in bloom and color correction, but whether or not that makes the game look better is a matter of personal preference. Perfect Blood Mod adds in “realistic” wounds and blood during fights, and Perfect Rain Mod makes the in-game weather look a little less fake. Other than that, I’m a big fan of Scabbard Mod, which adds sheathes to the game so you don’t have to walk around with your swords velcroed to your back.

      As far as bug fixes go, the only ones I actually use are Han Gives Han and Fair Kalkstein. If you run into any other bugs (which are surprisingly rare in my experience), I recommend checking out the bugfix section of the Nexus.

      When it comes to gameplay and UI, I like Better Color Coding because it makes alchemy less boring without radically changing anything. The devs actually recommend the Flash Mod, which rebalances the gameplay, fixes some bugs and adds in new difficulty levels, and I think that’s a good way to go for a first playthrough.

      Good luck and enjoy your game!

      • Enkidum

        Holy crap that’s a detailed list. Exactly what I was looking for. Thanks!

      • cshumway

         Thanks…I better finally install the game and try these out before I forget this thread ever existed!

    • Fluka

      Damn, seems like everyone has been picking this up recently.  Got number 2 for $5 on steam a few weeks ago.  My curiosity  about the much-vaunted “interesting multibranching story” finally overcame my strong aversion to the apparently wonky combat and standard-white-fantasty-dude-maaaatuuure-tits-n-blood-ness of of it all.  (Game of Thrones, I love you, but this is your fault.)  Plus, the music in the Witcher E3 trailer was pretty.

      • Cloks

        To be fair, Witcher preceded the Game of Thrones tv show.

        • Fluka

          True true.  But both the TV show and (earlier) the ASoIaF book series have created this expectation that modern fantasy has to be dark and gritty to be serious or “adult.”  See: Project Eternity backers saying that the game’s storyline should include rape and/or half your squad getting murdered at some point.

        • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

          Who doesn’t like a bit of rape and murder, amirite?

      • Enkidum

        One of the bonuses you get downloading #2 from GOG is a playboy pictorial of one of the main female characters. Uh… yeah, I looked at it a couple of times. But I felt guilty. So yeah, there’s a bit of the “maturity” you mention there. But apparently a really interesting game despite that.

        I’m surprised you didn’t pick up #1 as well, it’s like 5 bucks on GOG and given how story-heavy these are I suspect it’s worth playing through if you want #2.

        • Fluka

          Yeah, the whole “collectible sex cards” thing from the first game pretty much makes it a non-starter for me.  If #2 rocks my world, I’ll probably go back and try it at some point.  But given how much better the second is supposed to be, I’m fine with reading up on wikipedia and starting in media res.

  • http://twitter.com/vowelsagogo Kilzor

    Spoilers?

    I knew the narrator in Gunslinger was unreliable the moment he made the Sundance Kid look like David Mitchell.  Once seen, cannot be unseen!

  • http://www.facebook.com/seth.kretser Seth Kretser

    Fantastic new-school Iron Maiden shirt! Dance of Death gets the short shrift, but it’s a great album.

    • Drew Toal

      Hey thanks. I like Dance of Death a lot, although there was nearly a riot when I saw them play on that tour, since they played in front to back, with nary a Wasted Years or Fear of the Dark to break it up. 

    • Effigy_Power

      All I see is someone once again wussing out from wearing that awful Genesis-shirt or whatever it was he promised. ^_^

      • Drew Toal

        I was actually informed by John that I’ve worn that shirt in Digest videos TWICE.

        • Effigy_Power

          Not enough. All bland things must come in three.

  • Ben Haworth

    I love the way the collectibles work in the game too, giving you an accurate description of the people and events you are playing around with. It’s a nice little history lesson and a reminder that this totally plays into the dime store novel view of the Wild West we often believe to be true.

  • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

    IT’S GAMEOLOGISTS, JOHNNY-BOY!

    Actually, I love how bonkers so much of this video is. Including (especially) the nonsense words.

    • stakkalee

      Right?  What’s next, Gameologianites?

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I prefer Societarians.

    • Effigy_Power

      I demand to be referred to as “Member of the Society”. It has a certain elitist ring that goes great with my pearl-inlayed purse.

      • ProfFarnsworth

        I totally want a pearl-inlayed item now.  Since they have been speaking of it.  Also, totally neat idea!

        • Effigy_Power

          Well, it WAS a pearl-inlayed idea.

  • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

    Also, I just noticed that Sonic’s shoulder in your poster is uncolored. That is going to drive some small, OCD part of me nuts every time I watch a Digest from now on.

    • Fluka

      Wait, I think it might be a bent-back thumb?  Like, he’s crossing his arms and giving a thumbs up at the same time?  Which seems kind of excessive, but whatever he’s a sassy cartoon hedghog.

      • Effigy_Power

        It’s so awfully early 90′s, it’s gotta be that.
        Should there not also be a pizza on that and maybe some neon triangles?

        • Mistah Chrysoprase

          For my money, the best one has to be the one-finger-upraised “o no u di’nt” pose on the first game.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        http://www.posterplanet.net/games/Sonic-The-Hedgehog-Solo-Stars-poster.htm
        Uggggh. If it’s a thumb I think that jank anatomy/proportion/positioning will bug me just as much as if it’s an uncolored bit of arm.

  • EmperorNortonI

    This video felt a bit longer, which was just great.  I’ve always wished they were longer.

    And this game has definitely gotten my attention.  

  • HobbesMkii

    See, I’d heard people praise the game, but the trailers hadn’t made it look interesting and I’d heard nothing specific in that praise. I’ll have to play it and find out, but it sounds this is a game that would have been unremarkable save for its story. Which is a win my Story Scorebook (I’m keeping track, games industry!). Granted, criteria for wins are low.

    Also, Reus. Is it pronounced “Ray-Us” as Teti says at the end there, or does it rhyme with Zeus? Does anyone have the developers talking about their game? I’m very interested about correct pronunciation here.

    • Destroy Him My Robots
      • HobbesMkii

        Oh, the Dutch. How do they pronounce it?

        • Destroy Him My Robots

          There’s a little “listen” icon in the lower right of the text field and generally speaking Google’s text-to-speech is amazing.

        • HobbesMkii

          @DestroyHimMyRobots:disqus I don’t have headphones at work, man. Just tell me.

        • Destroy Him My Robots

          Well.. oof… like Reux-sh? Röösh? Or with an ø maybe. And the “sh” is kinda soft, a bit like the “ge” in rouge maybe. Reuxge? This is why I quit Livemocha.

  • boardgameguy

    Drew is too busy checking his smart phone in the banner picture on the home page to look up for the still. This makes me laugh.

  • Fluka

    This was a fun episode.

    An unreliable narrator is an excellent solution to the whole ludonarrative dissonance problem.  As you say, the over-the-top murderous gameplay in most shooters doesn’t make much sense as “reality.”  So why not put it in a context where it *does* make sense, i.e., as the tall-tale story of a man who is full of shit?  It’s also a good excuse for messing around with gameplay in creative ways.  In terms of justifying unreal, semi-magical elements, “making up stuff” is an nice alternative to the overused settings of sci fi and fantasy.

    It’s interesting that some of the most entertaining games this year (outside of indies) have not been the big, serious full-length games.  They’ve been DLCs and cheape downloadable titles: this, Far Cry Blood Dragon, Mass Effect Citadel (and I’m sure there are more).  In each case, the developers just seem like they’re having fun.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      I would have liked to see this episode told from the point of view of an unreliable narrator ( assuming you posit The Digest normally functions with a reliable narrator).
         As Teti plies Toal with more and more freezer-burn crusted mascot popsicles, the sugar spike induces a more and more extravagant retelling of the game.
         It’ll be the American remake of Rashomon everyone’s been clamoring for.   

    • Mistah Chrysoprase

      “Ludonarrative dissonance”, eh? I like it, fulfills a useful niche and it should come in handy at the next semiotics pissing-match with my friends.

      • Fluka

        As far as semiotics pissing-match ammunition goes, “ludonarrative dissonance” is some of the best!

  • Effigy_Power

    I’ve had that exact Spongebob “Icecream” and it was amazingly awful. Not only that, but it had melted a bit and the layers started to run, so it looked as though Spongebob was the new leadsinger for the Cure.

    That said, fun review, but I can only give it a score of A-, because I think we are owed some amusing ice-cream-mustache footage.
    (That was my last Drew Toal ‘stache joke, I swear. I was out of good ones weeks ago.)

  • PaganPoet

    So, it is just now that I realized that the reason you always have snacks on this show is because it’s called The Digest.

    Ice cream and gum may not go together well, but as @His_Space_Holiness:disqus can attest, nuts n gum go together quite well.

  • Baramos x

    Didn’t even know they were making this, especially after the last one was set in the modern day.

    I’ve heard a few good things about the very first one, though also that it was fairly forgettable.

    Does anyone know how this one stacks up against Red Dead Redemption?

    • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

      I haven’t played it, so consider me an unreliable narrator, but it’s a budget/download title. I don’t think there are any open-world elements to it, you just move through a level shooting guys. I would imagine it can thought of as a stripped down, arcade style version of Red Dead. I have not played it though.

  • Spencer Greenfield

    Wait, when did we become Gameologirinos? Has that been a thing for a while now?