Call of Juarez
|Call of Juarez|
European PC cover art
|Series||Call of Juarez|
|Engine||Chrome Engine 3|
|Platform(s)||Windows, Xbox 360|
Call of Juarez is a 2006 first-person shooter Western video game developed by Techland. It was published for Microsoft Windows by Focus Home Interactive in Europe in September 2006, and by Ubisoft in North America in June 2007. It was ported to the Xbox 360 in 2007, published worldwide by Ubisoft. It was released on Xbox Live in March 2011. The North American PC release version of the game was one of the first PC games optimized for Windows Vista and DirectX 10. Call of Juarez is the first game in the Call of Juarez series.
The game tells the story of Billy "Candle" and Ray McCall, a former gunslinger turned preacher. After two years in Juarez looking for the mysterious "Gold of Juarez", Billy returns to his home town of Hope, Texas, near the Mexican border. However, when he arrives at his farm, he finds his mother and stepfather have been murdered, and "Call of Juarez" written on a barn in their blood. Mistakenly believing that Billy is the killer, McCall (his step-uncle) abandons his role as the town's preacher and sets out to avenge their deaths by killing Billy, as Billy himself tries to find out who actually committed the murders, and why.
Call of Juarez received mixed to positive reviews, with most critics praising Ray's levels and the general shooting mechanics, but finding Billy's levels considerably inferior, especially the platforming sections. Although the game did not sell very well in North America, it fared better in Europe, with Techland citing it as "putting us on the map." Overall, the game was enough of a success that Techland and Ubisoft established a Call of Juarez franchise. The series includes a direct prequel (Bound in Blood), a loose sequel set in contemporary Los Angeles and Mexico (The Cartel), and a narratively unrelated game with similar gameplay (Gunslinger).
Call of Juarez is a first-person shooter in which the player controls alternating protagonists: Billy "Candle" and Ray McCall, each of whom have a different style of gameplay. Billy's levels are partially stealth-based, whereas Ray's are more traditional shoot 'em up style.
Although the style of play for both characters is slightly different, controlling each character is broadly similar. Each can move forward and backward, can strafe left and right, can run, walk, sneak, and jump. Each shares an identical HUD, with the same information available to the player; currently held weapons, ammo count, a compass with objectives marked, and current health points. Both characters can single and/or dual wield six shooters, or single wield other weapons, such as rifles. Both characters can also lean to the left and right without moving from their current position, and can interact with certain objects, such as health pick-ups (in the Xbox 360 version, health automatically regenerates over time), ammo and dropped weaponry. The main differences between the two characters is that Ray is stronger and slower, he cannot jump as high as Billy, but he can kick heavy obstacles out of his way and take considerably more damage from enemy fire. Billy can move faster than Ray and is quieter, allowing him to sneak up on enemies. He can also grip onto ledges and pull himself up. Billy can also use two weapons Ray cannot - a whip, and a bow and arrow.
Weapons common to both characters include various types of six shooters, rifles and shotguns. Both characters can also throw dynamite and can start fires by throwing oil lamps. They are also both capable of hand-to-hand combat, although unlike Billy, Ray is able to pick up items such as chairs and boxes, and either throw them at enemies, or use them as melee weapons. Also unique to Ray is his ability to rapid fire a single six-shooter, a technique known as "fanning", and his ability to wield a Bible. If the player presses the shoot button for the hand holding the Bible, Ray will quote a random bible passage. In the Xbox 360 version, this will occasionally cause enemies to panic, and drop their weapons. Billy can use his whip for neutralizing aggressive animals, such as snakes and wolves, and for swinging across gaps by using tree branches. When he uses the bow and arrow, the game automatically goes into slow motion. This is the only weapon in the game that allows for silent kills, meaning Billy can kill enemies without alerting others to his presence.
Slow motion in Ray's levels is called "concentration mode". To enter this mode, Ray must holster both of his six shooters. During combat, when he draws either one, concentration mode is automatically activated, and the game goes into slow motion, with two targeting reticles appearing on either side of the screen, with each moving towards the center. The player cannot control the movement of either reticle, or move their character during concentration mode, but they can control the positioning of the screen, allowing them to maneuver Ray's vision so as to position the reticles over an enemy. They can also shoot independently from either their left or right gun, or both simultaneously. Ray's levels also involve numerous gun duels between Ray and one or more enemies. In these shootouts, the player must wait for a countdown, at which point the enemy will reach for their weapon. Only then can Ray draw his own gun and fire. Movement during duels is limited to leaning left and right.
Billy's levels involve a degree of stealth. Unlike Ray, Billy can move totally silently whilst in sneak mode, and can hide in bushes and shadows. When he does so, he is hidden from enemy sight, and his character icon on the HUD is blacked out to show he cannot be seen. Often, even if he is seen, if he can hide quickly enough, he will escape permanent detection. Both Billy and Ray can also ride horses during the game, from which they can shoot, jump large distances and enter gallop mode. Gallop mode can only be maintained for a certain amount of time, however, before the horse becomes tired.
The game also features multiplayer mode (available via LAN and online on PC, and via System Link and Xbox Live on Xbox 360), with several gameplay types. Both the Windows and the Xbox 360 versions feature "Deathmatch" mode, "Skirmish" mode (team deathmatch), "Robbery" mode (the team designated as "Outlaws" must find the hidden gold and return it to an "escape zone" without being caught by the team designated as "Lawmen"), and "Gold Rush" mode (gold is spread over the map; at the end of a specified time, the player who has collected the most gold wins). The Xbox 360 version also features "Capture the Bag" mode (each team has a bag of gold. To win, one team must capture the other team's bag and return it to their own base), "Wanted" mode (one player is randomly designated as the "wanted" player, and other players can only score points by killing this particular player. Once the wanted player is killed, the player who killed them then becomes the wanted player. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins), and "Famous Events" mode (game scenarios based on real-life events, such as the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the Wilcox Train Robbery, the last raid of the Dalton Gang, and scenarios based on robberies committed by Jesse James and Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch).
The game concerns the Legend of the Lost Gold of Juarez. Said to be the ransom for Moctezuma, the gold disappeared after the Fall of Tenochtitlan, with some believing it was buried near the town of Juarez. The legend says that Huitzilopochtli put a curse on the treasure, and that all who seek it will find only insanity.
The game begins with Billy "Candle" (voiced by David Taylor) returning to his hometown of Hope in Texas after two years spent searching for the treasure. Although excited to see his mother, Marisa, he is not looking forward to seeing his stepfather, Thomas, who used to beat him daily. Billy doesn't know who his real father is, and got his nickname from a medallion given to him by his mother, on which is engraved a candle. Upon arriving at his farm, however, Billy finds Thomas and Marisa dead, lying underneath the words "Call of Juarez" written on the wall in their blood. Meanwhile, in town, a woman has alerted the local preacher, Thomas's brother Reverend Ray McCall (Marc Alaimo), of gunfire at Thomas's farm. Ray abandons mass and races to the farm to see Billy standing over the bodies. Billy panics and runs, and Ray assumes Billy is the killer. Believing himself ordained by God to avenge their deaths, he sets out to track Billy down.
Billy heads to his friend Molly Ferguson's ranch, believing she is the only one who will accept his innocence. As Ray tracks Billy to the ranch, he meets a group of Texas Rangers who tell him they are about to attack the ranch because Mr. Ferguson is a rustler. Ray helps them, chasing Billy into the fields, and shooting him. Billy falls from a mountain into a nearby river. However, at that moment, Ray hears screaming from the ranch. He returns to find the Rangers are bandits, and have killed most of the occupants and taken Molly captive. Ray races after them, but they reach the river before he can catch them. In despair, he breaks down, asking if God has abandoned him, and determining to try to redeem himself by saving Molly.
Meanwhile, Billy survives his fall, although he has lost his medallion in the river. He is nursed back to health by Calm Water (Robert Greygrass), a Native America medicine man who advises Billy to accept who he truly is and embrace his destiny. Although Billy is skeptical, he carries out some errands for Calm Water. However, upon returning, he finds the bandits who posed as Rangers have killed Calm Water. They knock Billy out, and take him captive. Elsewhere, Ray learns they are taking the girl to Juarez. Meanwhile, in a semi-conscious state, Billy remembers a story his mother told him about the meaning of the medallion.
An imprisoned Billy then meets Juan Mendoza, for whom the bandits work. He reveals he is Billy's father, and explains Marisa left him for Thomas, and that the medallion is the key to the location of the Gold. He sent his men to Hope to get it from her, but when they found she didn't have it, they killed her and Thomas. Billy explains he lost the medallion in the river, but Mendoza doesn't believe him, and sends him into the desert, giving him one hour to find the gold, or he will kill Molly. Using his mother's story, Billy is able to locate the Gold in a hidden underground passage. However, Mendoza has followed him, and attempts to kill him. Billy flees, and is rescued by Ray, who tells him to get to safety as he returns to Mendoza's alcazar to rescue Molly. Ray then reveals his own backstory; he and Thomas were running cattle over the Mexican border when they met Marisa. They both fell in love with her, and she chose Thomas. They fled to the caverns in which the Gold was hidden, but Ray tracked them. There, he confronted Thomas. Their younger brother, William, a priest, attempted to intervene, but Ray killed him. On that day, Ray renounced violence and embraced God. Believing the gold to be cursed, he, Marisa and Thomas agreed to leave it behind and seal the cavern.
Ray storms Mendoza's alcazar, fighting his way to Molly's cell. However, Mendoza traps them both inside and sets fire to the cell. Billy arrives, and puts out the fire. He shoots Mendoza and releases Ray and Molly. However, as Ray leaves the cell, Mendoza appears and shoots him at close range, revealing he had been wearing armor when Billy shot him. Juan and Billy fight, with Billy defeating him. As he lies dying, Ray realizes the whole affair was his fault, and prays that his actions will not lead to the deaths of Billy and Molly. He recovers his strength just as Mendoza pulls a knife and is about to attack Billy from behind. With his last action, Ray kills Mendoza, before dying happily.
Billy and Molly bury Ray in a nearby cemetery. As they stand over his grave, Billy says he will take Calm Water's advice and stop running from his destiny and from who he truly is.
The game was originally announced by Techland in a leaflet at the 2004 E3 event, under the name Lawman. In March 2005, however, Techland revealed the game's name had been changed to Call of Juarez, and with that change, the focus of the gameplay had also shifted. According to producer Pawel Zawodny;
At first, the game was supposed to be a fast-paced shooter, with a distinct arcade feel. It was perfectly characterized [as] "action driven, with the gameplay based on fast and accurate shooting." Finally however, we've decided to step away from the simple arcade gameplay, having a really serious deep shooter instead, with a strong focus on the plot. We treat the project with the highest priority and we want the game to be seen as a serious player in the FPP shooter market, despite the Wild West themed action.
In an interview with IGN in August 2005, Zawodny explained the initial inspiration behind the game was to do a "serious" Western themed first-person shooter, as Zawodny felt the FPS genre has become overly dominated by World War II and science fiction games. He revealed a major part of the gameplay would involve dueling, with players needing quick reflexes to win, just as real life gunslingers would have needed at the time. He also explained the development team had carried out extensive research for the game - the guns act the way the real guns of the period did, and the clothes, flora, fauna and architecture are accurate to the locations during the period in which the game is set.
Speaking of the game's physics engine, Zawodny explained,
There are a number of gameplay elements that are very different to this game from other titles. Half-Life 2 has proven how much satisfaction the player can get from using and experiencing the realistic simulation of objects in a game. Call of Juarez will go further, offering the next level of such interaction. We are going to simulate not only rigid bodies and ragdoll physics, but also other physical phenomena, such as the behavior of liquids and gases (including flammable ones). This leads to new types of outstanding gameplay, such as the possibility to control the spreading of fire once you know the direction of wind, or even scaring enemies out of their hideaways with well-directed smoke.
In relation to the game's graphics, he explained Call of Juarez was using a new version of Techland's own game engine, the Chrome Engine. The engine had last been used in Xpand Rally Xtreme, but since then, Techland had been working with nVidia to incorporate Shader Model 3.0. The enhanced version of the engine, Chrome Engine 3, also features per-pixel lighting, and rendering techniques such as normal mapping, phong shading, Blinn lighting, virtual displacement mapping, shadow mapping, HDR environment mapping, and post processing effects (such as enhanced depth-of-field, light blooms, refraction and heat distortion). The engine also facilitated multi-morph facial mimics, Shader Model 3.0-based simulation and animation of vegetation, fumes and smoke, changes in daytime and the position of global lighting, wind effects, rigid body dynamics, and alterations to object properties when interacting with liquids.
The game would also come with ChromeEd; an "effective and easy to use authoring tool for creating not only user's own maps but even completely new mods. Full user tools will be available for creation of almost every aspect of the game and left up to the users' imagination." Zawodny believed the game would provide players with a great example of "a new level of emergent gameplay."
Influences and release
In an interview with GameSpot in February 2006, one of the game's writers, Harris Orkin, explained Pawel Selinger, the game's lead designer and artist, came up with the basic plot and characters, but Orkin wrote the dialogue and the specifics of the story, staying in contact with the Polish-based Techland from Los Angeles. Orkin particularly cited John Ford's The Searchers, Henry Hathaway's Nevada Smith and Clint Eastwood's Pale Rider and Unforgiven as influencing the tone of the game, with the character of Ray loosely based on Will Munny in Unforgiven. Orkin was also influenced by Garth Ennis' comic book Just a Pilgrim and The Saint of Killers character from Ennis' Preacher series. Visually, Ray was based on Carl McCoy, lead singer of Fields of the Nephilim.
In April 2006, Ubisoft announced they had signed the publishing rights for the game in North America, with Jay Cohen, Senior Vice President of Marketing, stating "Call of Juarez is a tribute to the Wild West, the birthplace of the 'shooter'. It is the first game to truly represent the Wild West with its engaging storyline, characters and gorgeous environments. Ubisoft is thrilled to be partnering with Techland to bring this unique title to PC gamers." The game would be published in Europe by Focus Home Interactive. Demos of the game were shown at the 2006 E3 event in May, and the Leipzig Games Convention in August.
The Microsoft Windows version of the game was released in Europe in September 2006. The North American version was not released until June 2007, having been delayed so as to be released alongside the Xbox 360 port. However, Techland used the time to make some changes to the game; unlike the European version, which only supported DirectX 9.0c and was intended to run on Windows 2000 or Windows XP, the North American version was optimized for Windows Vista and DirectX 10, one of the first PC games optimized for the new operating system. Shortly after the release of the North American version, Techland released a DirectX 10 enhancement patch for all versions of the game.
Xbox 360 version
Ubisoft first announced the game would be ported to the Xbox 360 on February 28, 2007, with a North American release scheduled for roughly the same time as the North American PC release, and a European release set for shortly thereafter. The port was being handled by Techland themselves. In an interview with GameSpot in March 2007, Pawel Zawodny explained why Techland had chosen to port to the Xbox 360;
Call of Juarez is based on the Chrome Engine that has been in development for seven years and has always been a platform for technologically enhanced products. When the Xbox 360 was released, we all quickly learned that it was not only a platform to compete with the PC in terms of technology (performance and graphics) but one with even more graphical potential. Recent first-person shooters released for the Xbox 360 also proved that gameplay on the gamepad can be as smooth and rewarding as with a PC mouse. All things considered, the two platforms that made the most sense for an FPS set in the Wild West were the Xbox 360 and PC. Call of Juarez, with its "full akimbo" mode, also seemed ideal for consoles because of the two triggers that give you a true idea of what it's like wielding dual six-shooters. With the game nearing completion, it's clear the Xbox 360 is a perfect fit.
Comparing the 360 version to the PC version, Zawodny stated there would be considerable graphical improvement; "We squeezed as much as possible from the Xbox 360's vertex and pixel shaders. There's high dynamic range lighting, hardware anti-aliasing, bump mapping on almost everything, relief mapping on many objects, and subsurface scattering, just to mention a few technical terms." He also revealed the 360 version would utilize both Xbox Live and System Link for multiplayer mode, Gamerscore achievements for both single and multiplayer modes, and would feature a number of non-story single-player bonus missions, and additional multiplayer modes and maps.
Call of Juarez received "mixed or average reviews" on both systems; the PC version holds an aggregate score of 72 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on twenty-five reviews, and the Xbox 360 version holds a score 71 out of 100, based on thirty-seven reviews.
Eurogamer's Kieron Gillen scored the PC version 8 out 10, calling it "a maximalist game which lobs pretty much every idea it can think of at the wall and sees what works." He praised the structure of alternating levels between Billy and Ray, arguing it "leads to a brilliant sense of tension and release," and concluded "Of all the cowboy games in the last few years, Call of Juarez is the one which most feels like it has a soul. Impassioned and imaginative [...] It's a game which you feel someone actually cared about making." Tom Bramwell also scored the Xbox 360 version 8 out of 10. Although he was somewhat critical of the controls (especially the need to manually pick up ammo, and the use of Billy's whip), he praised the game's use of the genre; "the dirt under its fingernails, however tightly packed, has given new life to an area of the FPS genre where tons of developers have given up." He was also impressed with the game's multiplayer modes and its graphical improvements over the PC version.
GameSpot's Alex Navarro scored the PC version 7 out of 10 and the Xbox 360 version 7.4 out of 10, calling the game "a well-made genre exercise that's more often entertaining than not." Whilst he praised Ray's levels, he was critical of Billy's, especially the implementation of the whip. He concluded that "it does enough right to transcend its various issues and turn in a pleasing shooter. It does the Old West motif well, the gunslinging (and bible slinging) are a lot of fun, and the capable multiplayer modes have enough going for them to give the game a bit of staying power. It doesn't quite rise past the ceiling established by other recent western shooters, but it's good, solid fun all around."
IGN's Dan Adams scored the PC version 6.8 out of 10, writing "solid shooting mechanics mix with poor level design while potentially interesting protagonists are bludgeoned with ho-hum enemies. Sadly some of the game's signature features, such as the slow-motion focus shooting, are hugely overused and actually drag the game down." He praised Ray's levels but criticized Billy's, especially the implementation of the whip, and concluded "There are some fun and frantic moments here [...] but overall the level design is a linear letdown." Jonathan Miller scored the Xbox 360 version 7.5 out of 10. He too much preferred Ray's levels, but wrote "Western fans are really going to enjoy Call of Juarez, a game not afraid to take chances and have fun with itself." He praised the atmosphere, soundtrack, and variety of gameplay styles, concluding "while Call of Juarez isn't particularly great in any [one] area, you have to hand it to Techland for developing one of the most fun Westerns to date."
GameSpy's Thierry Nguyen scored the PC version 2.5 out of 5, calling it "well-meaning but ultimately flawed." He too disliked Billy's levels, especially the platforming sections. He concluded "Call of Juarez is a game we wanted to like, as it has most of the requisite elements that we look for in a Western. It's just that the really sloppy platforming and box-moving, which take up a good chunk of the game, puts a big damper on any joy that we might find in shooting up bandits and cowboys." Sterling McGarvey also scored the Xbox 360 version 2.5 out of 5, calling it "yet another Tex-Mex shooter that seems to have been made by a bunch of guys who've watched a few too many Westerns but haven't figured out how to get the ambience and authenticity of the historical period down." He praised the shooting mechanics, but concluded "For the most part, Call of Juarez has taken two core ideas and melded them into a game. [...] There will be inevitable comparisons to Neversoft's GUN, but CoJ feels much more a next-gen version of the lackluster Dead Man's Hand than anything else."
The game did not sell well in North America. According to the NPD Group, it sold only 137,000 units across both PC and Xbox 360. However, its European sales were considerably better, with Techland crediting the game as putting them on the map as a globally recognised developer. Overall, the game sold well enough that Techland and Ubisoft established a Call of Juarez franchise.
Prequel and sequels
Since the original Call of Juarez, there have been three further games in the series, all developed by Techland and published by Ubisoft. The first, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, was released in 2009 for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows. Set roughly twenty years prior to the events of the original game, Bound in Blood focuses on the exploits of the McCall brothers. Opening towards the end of the American Civil War in 1864, the game begins with Ray and Thomas fighting for the Confederate States Army against the Union Army during the Atlanta Campaign. After abandoning their post to try to save their family home, they become outlaws, accompanied by their brother William. The game goes on to tell the story of how the brothers first encounter Juan Mendoza and Marisa, finding the Gold of Juarez, and ultimately causing William's death. The game ends two years after it begins, with Ray becoming a priest and marrying Thomas and Marisa, who is pregnant with Mendoza's son. It received mainly positive reviews.
The next game, Call of Juarez: The Cartel, was released in 2011 for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows. Set in contemporary Los Angeles and Mexico, the game follows the story of LAPD detective Ben McCall, FBI agent Kimberly Evans and DEA agent Eddie Guerra as they attempt to ascertain who bombed the DEA headquarters, and why. The game is connected to the previous two Call of Juarez games insofar as Ben McCall is a descendant of Billy "Candle" and is from Hope, one of the villains is called Juan Mendoza (although it is never specified if he is related to the Juan Mendoza from the first two games), two locations are revisited (Juarez' fort and a town from Bound in Blood), and several criminal organizations are attempting to find the Gold of Juarez. The game was poorly received, with designer Pawel Marchewka calling it "a mistake" and arguing it was released before it was ready.
The fourth game, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, was released in 2013 as a downloadable-only title (for PlayStation 3 through the PlayStation Network, for Xbox 360 through Xbox Live, and for Windows through Steam). The game returns to the Old West setting of the first two games, but introduces a new storyline and a new set of characters. Spanning thirty years, the game takes place across a wide range of locations, including Wyoming, Montana, Kansas, Missouri, and Colorado, as an unreliable narrator relates his encounters with people such as Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy, and Newman Haynes Clanton. The game ends with a teenager heading to West Point, who is revealed to be Dwight D. Eisenhower. It received mainly positive reviews.
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