Gunslinger is a game about reloading almost as much as it is a game about shooting. I have never thought so much about when I need to put more bullets in my gun, and putting bullets in my gun at the correct time has never been so satisfying.
CoJ: Gunslinger is a Wild West FPS with a very clever approach to storytelling that’s been referenced and talked about at length all over the place, so I won’t bore you with it again except to say that more games need to be this playful, this experimental, with narrative – to pop back and forth through the timeline of a level as you play it, to discount fifteen minutes of gameplay as a “stupid idea” and instead tell you what really happened, to play through three different accounts of the same bank heist one after another. That’s joyous. More of that, please.
Anyway, the reloading bit: this is a Wild West game, so all your guns are revolvers and lever-action rifles so magazine capacity is low and reloading is slow as hell. In most of your guns, you’ll push the bullets in one at a time.
One at a time! Imagine that, in a world where we slam fresh clips into our Call of Duty SMGs with gay abandon. Where the default pistol in most games holds upwards of 12 bullets at a time.
There is a skill you can purchase with upgrade points in Juarez – a very important skill – that lets you hammer the reload button during the reload animation to shove individual bullets into your gun faster. That’s an active reload right there.
In the story mode, this contributes to a slower pace of gameplay and creates a more measured approach to gunfights. You can’t afford to spray and pray into crowds, so you take your time and deal with each target individually. Fights fall into a rhythm of shoot and reload, of decisive hits and frantic resupply. More so than in any other FPS, each shot in Jaurez matters.
But all of that pales into insignificance, the FPS equivalent of a nice drive in the country on a clear Autumn Sunday afternoon, when you apply the mechanics of the guns to the game’s arcade mode.
The Arcade mode is a score attack sort of thing – you play through maps taken from the story mode and re-purposed into three minute killing floors, and you’re looking to do it as fast and as stylishly as possible. If you down an enemy within three seconds of your last kill, you start to build a score multiplier; your goal is to keep this going through the level, upping the points you get for trick shots.
It’s not re-inventing the wheel, but combining it with the reload mechanics makes it into something beautiful. Every bullet shoved into your heavy-bore revolver is a conscious decision because you are always under enemy fire and you always have three seconds or less to either kill someone or activate your slow-motion concentration mode which draws out your combo for a few precious, expensive seconds more.
It becomes an art, a knife-edge balance between offence and defence because you need to stay in the thick of the fighting, but you have to reload so often you’ll find yourself unable to shoot more often than not. Reloading is no longer admin, a secondary concern, but a constant pattern that beats through the levels.
You are stepping between bullets when you reload, and you are a destroyer god when you’ve got a full magazine. The rise to power and fall to uselessness can happen twenty times in the space of a minute, spinning through the cycle like the chambers in your gunpowder-hot revolvers. It is breathless and beautiful and almost perfect.