Everybody Loves a Winner

October 23, 2009

It’s true: no one truly enjoys a loser (even your mom when she acts like you’ll do better next time). I’m serious. Everyone Loves a Winner.

Mind-blowin' graphics of '96

Mind-blowin' graphics of '96

This week, I witnessed it first hand. With due appreciation for Blues News reporting that Remedy Entertainment has free-released their 1996 hit, Death Rally, I was praised by my peers for my driving prowess and ultimately shunned for my losing streak. This top-down racer pits you against three other drivers equipped with machine guns, mines, spiked bumpers and boosts. All this and I still rose to the top. After about 7 races, I had enough cash to purchase not the next best car, but two cars up from my default Vagabond.

A couple of guys took notice of what I was doing and suddenly I had them asking me to play again so they could watch as I battled for first place against the likes of NPCs Greg Peck and Cher Stone. As any game designer would tell you, keeping your audience involved is key, so I would ask the guys what upgrades I should purchase with my winnings. Suddenly, my “team” really felt like we were all accomplishing something great.  And weren’t we? We were having incredibly humorous discussions about races in a game that is 13-years old! 

Then I bought the Wraith.

Fully Upgraded, Bro

Fully Upgraded, Bro

The Wraith looks like a Porsche 911 for all intents and purposes and is pretty fast. Without at least 3 tire upgrades, I couldn’t seem to handle the turns and my winning streak was shattered. The races were still interesting, but I knew I was underperforming. I took some time to win some easier races and upgrade my Wraith all the way. The “team” came back to see how I was faring and quickly got back into the action as I won a few races.

With their encouragement, I stepped it up to the hard races in order to win the big prizes of $12K for 1st place. Sadly, I was left behind, duking it out for 3rd place against some other poser NPC who, like me, should’ve known better than to enter this level of racing.

The end result is the guys lost interest in watching me get scorched from the starting line and struggling to return to my former glory. They moved on and left me cold and shivering in the shadows of the top four racers (including Duke Nukem, that bastard).

This is something I’ve been trying to get my hands on for the past year but could not wrap my head around paying full price ($40+) for a 3-year old game. Not to worry as www.Direct2Drive.comis currently running their 5th anniversary special and offering many games, such as Techland’s Call of Juarez for the oh-so-sweet price of $5. I say this with no hesitation or averted eyes: This was the best $5 I’ve spent since **EDITED**

"I'll stay awake in church, Preacher. I promise! Just don't shoot!"

"I'll stay awake in church, Preacher. I promise! Just don't shoot!"

But seriously, I love Westerns (and I never thought I’d say that). My brother-in-law introduced me to the greatness of McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove about 5 or 6 years ago and ever since, I’ve had a deep respect for the epic western…and that’s exactly what you get with CoJ. Just about anything you’ve seen in a western is in this game: horse-ridin’, gun-slingin’, cussin’, whores, preachers, Mexicans, Indians, murder, brothers, trains, bridges, eagles, fires, stage coaches and dynamite. I’m telling you, this game is EPIC!

Graphically, I’ve seen better games, but I’ve also seen a lot worse. I’m obviously more fond of story than graphics, so this game is incredible in my opinion. The graphics are more than functional, but less than hyper-realistic. They paint a world you can believe and allow you to envision the rest – that’s all I ask from my games on the visual front.

Sounds – spot on. Guns sound like guns from that era. Six-shooters don’t sound like bass-heavy hand-canons. The biggest complaint I had on the auditory level was the voice acting for Billy Candle, one of the two characters you play in this game. His Texan accent sounded disingenuous at best and was downright painful at certain points in the game (especially if you die in certain areas and have to hear him say lines multiple times). Compared to the greatness of the voice work for Reverend Ray (the other character you play), Billy was greatly lacking.

The two areas that shine the brightest for CoJ are story and gameplay, in that order. I know, I know. I’m a writer so you think I’m a bit biased. Well, to add to that fire, I also know the co-writer of this game – Mr. Haris Orkin – and think he’s the cat’s pajamas (I believe that’s a complimentary phrase). Haris is one of those accomplished writers who is soft-spoken, unassuming, always smiling (even in his in-game Wanted poster) and a natural story-teller. Have a pint with him and you’ll see what I mean. But, beyond thinking this particular writer is a great guy, I’d say that being a writer makes me more critical of story…especially in games. That said, this story is rich in western genre motifs, but does not even come close to being considered cliche. The mistaken actions of Billy Candle setup a great overarching plot, but the true meat of this tale lies in the unfolding past of Reverend Ray. Why does a preacher have a hidden pair of “hog-legs” (revolvers) in his church? What did he do 20 years ago that changed him to a man of God?

Haha! Got 'em!

Haha! Got 'em!

Okay, I mentioned gameplay and talked all about the writing. Sorry. The gameplay struck me as fun simply for the variety. We’re talking about a first-person shooter (FPS, or “Shoot’em-up” for those like my father) and yet so many times throughout the game, there’s no gun in your hand. Granted, at times it is replaced with a bow and arrow, but many times you are finding your way through rough Texas terrain by swinging over canyons with a whip, climbing up Eagle Mountain or riding as fast as you can on the back of a horse. I believe it should be required for FPS games to have this kind of variety now. Gamers, male and especially female, want more from their games than just shooting, so thank you, Techland, for breaking up the monotony.

Buy this game. For $5, it’s a steal. It took me around 10 hours to beat and I was overwhelmingly entertained throughout the entire journey. I will definitely be playing Call of Juarez 2: Bound in Blood soon.