Call of Juarez Gunslinger - Slow-mo fights and bullet-dodging. Is this the best western?

Call of Juarez preview

This article originally appeared in issue 246 of PC Gamer UK.

Previous Juarez games have been sprawling, meditative, multi-character westerns. Attempts to capture the mystique and violence of the American West in an FPS. But Techland's shooter is a smaller, slicker adjunct: the life story of a bounty hunter who rode with and fought against the West's most notorious figures. You might say they've cut out the Deadwood.

You can't see me, but I'm waiting for a high-five after that terrible, paragraph-length pun.

Narrated by an aged and as yet unnamed gunman, Gunslinger is a story about this character's life with anti-heroes such as Billy the Kid and Jesse James. In the section I was shown, he was hired by Billy The Kid to clear out some of Pat Garrett's men from their hideout.

Call of Juarez preview

It begins with the briefest moment of stealth before the two guards on an in-road are dispatched. The gunslinger's clicky, weighty six-shooters blast with an echoing, monstrous roar that looks satisfying and quickly alerts everyone. After that, no more stealth. The gunslinger runs past cows and chickens into a town full of foes.

Six-shooters are impressive, but they're not known for their subtleties. Defter deliverance is available in Concentration Mode, basically ultra slow-motion that brings crowds under control, enabling you to blast away in situations that would otherwise have left you being measured by the undertaker.

A skill-tree enables character customisation. You could choose to give yourself automated headshots in the slowed-down carnage, as demonstrated to me when the gunman leapt from the top of a barn: he lined up his shots, slammed his palm against the hammer of his gun, and hit the ground just as all those around him dropped dead. It works both ways: a final bullet aimed at your head would have made you toast in the previous games, but 'Sense of Death' allows you dodge that final killing blow.

Call of Juarez preview

The gunfight through the town is brutal: loudly stripping the life from its residents until the gunman arrives at Billy's hideout.

Little collectibles dotted around provide text that attempts to demystify the old West: Billy wasn't so bad, Pat Garrett might have been badder. It's worth noting that while Billy the Kid's official, real-world death toll stands somewhere between four and nine, you'll actually kill that many in the first minute of the first section. It's not too concerned with reality when it comes to the gunplay.

Which is good as the murderin' is satisfyin', and I'd hate to think they'd pull back when the guns feel so right and the skills are so much fun. When the demo was over, I had to manfully drive away the urge to walk around making finger guns and firing noises.