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.

Advertisements

From new friends to slammin’ parties and everything in between, the AGDC was everything I hoped it would be. Maybe more. I will try to be brief but invite all of you to ask any specific questions you may have about the goings-on of the conference.

Sunday night: The writers gang met at the Gingerman around 8:00pm and I met who would turn out to be the usual suspects: Jeff Spock, Rhianna Pratchett, Andy Walsh, Ron Toland, Susan O’Connor*, Haris Orkin, Richard Dansky, Tom Abernathy and others (sorry to any I may have left off…there was alcohol involved). Without missing a beat, Andy launched himself into several rants that were informative and entertaining all at once; not a bad skill for someone who would later be giving a lecture about OnDemand Dialogue.

*Meeting Susan will be forever memorable as I made a giant fool of myself by asking her husband if Susan was married. As a writer, this was a moment of poor word choice.

Me, Rhianna Pratchett, Andy Walsh & Richard Dansky

Me, Rhianna Pratchett, Andy Walsh & Richard Dansky

Monday:I arrived early to the convention center and brought two dozen donuts along with sign-up sheets, coupons and an easel. Registration was quick and painless and I got a shirt, a schwag bag and a water bottle. I met Kristy Bowden who brought boxes full of literature and books for our table. I set everything up with some help from Ron and things looked good!

Celtx guys watch Andy dance the Robot

Celtx guys watch Andy dance the Robot

I spent the day going to a few panels (including a brilliant session with Shana Merlin on improv storytelling and a critic-al workshop hosted by Richard Dansky) and manning the booth. I met Tim Langdell and we had a couple of drinks before leaving the center and making our way to the ArtHouse for music, art and drinks. There, Tim and I met with John Canning and left to eat dinner at Thai Passion. After this, the three of us went to the Sky Lounge for the Heatwave Interactive party. Open bar, food, cookies and Rock Band 2 competition – ‘Nuff said.

Tuesday: Waking up was a little difficult on Tuesday, but I still managed to arrive early with some donuts and kolaches. Interestingly, the booth, books, literature, poster and drapes were all gone! Mix up with CMP, but things got fixed while I attended Andy’s panel on the Prince of Persia and OnDemand Dialogue. Kudos to Andy on what seems like a very interesting way of handling story through dialogue in an open world. I had a chance to walk the Expo floor (pretty small and packed) and later attended the Writers’ SIG meeting to put many more faces withnames. The night was devoted to Valve’s party (I met Marc Laidlaw – the man behind the story behind the game of Half-Life) and the Gingerman.

Daniel Greenberg & Haris Orkin @ the Gingerman

Daniel Greenberg & Haris Orkin @ the Gingerman

Wednesday: The last day was slow for the first half, perhaps because Andy had left us. I manned the booth and then went to lunch (leaving the booth in the very able hands of Jeff Spock). Upon returning, I attended Adrian Hon’s panel of We Tell Stories and finished with an excellent presentation (or conversation speech) by Ground Zero Productions’ Flint Dille covering the necessary practices of writers wanting to break into the industry. A group of the writers ate at P.F. Chang’s and then split to attend different parties (most heading straight to the Gingerman).

P.F. Chang's FTW!

P.F. Chang's FTW

I was sad to say goodbye to so many of the writers and even though I’ve already read emails from a few, I hope to see them again before next AGDC. Call me a pushover, but the 3 days and 4 nights of the conference have made me feel that a lot of the writers are more than just names on an email list now. They feel more like friends.   

Again, if you have any specific questions about the conference (I know I was pretty vague here), please ask. I’d be more than happy to talk about this some more! Also, join the IGDA Writers’ SIG email list!