Techland refuses to give up the Call of Juarez ghost. The first game in its series of Western shooters was novel, but it didn’t work. Its sequel, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, did a better job, casting the player in the roles of degenerate brothers seeking fortune in the post-Civil War US, but that game’s blend of dour storytelling and deliberate shootistry failed to connect as well. Call of Juarez: The Cartel meanwhile doubled down on the nihilism for a unforgivably ugly modern day story of drugs and murder.
Ubisoft and Techland seem to think that the fourth time will be the charm though. Call of Juarez: The Gunslinger was announced on Thursday at Ubisoft’s Digital Days event in France. Rather than send out an original, unlikable protagonist in search of the Maguffin gold that’s fueled the franchize, Gunslinger puts players in control of historical figures like Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid, and others. The play will be different as well. Rather than the slow, styled gunplay of previous games, Gunslinger will be an arcade-styled first-person shooter where the player must rack up points based on speed. The goal is to be the fastest gun in the west. Naturally.
The shift in style and subject is reflected in the change in Ubi’s business strategy as well. After striking out at retail with each successive Call of Juarez game over the past 6 years, even as the series shifted to budget pricing, Gunslinger will be a digital-only game.
“[Ubisoft] is our long-time partner on this series,” Techland brand manager Blazej Krakowiak told MCV, “They’ve always been champions of the digital format, they’ve done some excellent games that I don’t think other publishers would risk, like From Dust and I Am Alive. We are happy to be part of the digital revolution that everyone is talking about, and we have high ambitions in terms of quality. We want the game to look outstanding, we want to push the quality of digital titles. We have a great story to tell and this is the format where we’re going to do it.”
Bold words considering the lamentable quality of storytelling in Call of Juarez: The Cartel. Krakowiak and his company are a bit more free with The Gunslinger to make a game that is less troublesome than The Cartel though. The burden of competing at retail means second string franchises often have to appeal to the lowest common denominator. If you don’t have the marketing budget of an Assassin’s Creed, shlock is one of few ways to distinguish yourself. Shlock failed Techland though. Maybe substance will be the result of this shift to digital.