GAME REVIEW: A gun-slingin' good time

You've got to be quick on the draw to defeat your enemies in the Old West shoot'em-up game "Call of Juarez." Once you've defeated an enemy in Story Mode, you can go back and try to improve your draw speed in Duel Mode.

There's a curse on the lost gold of Juarez.

Anyone who goes after this legendary treasure is said to suffer from insanity brought on by intense greed.

Young Billy Candle, defeated in his pursuit of this fortune, is returning to his hometown, the tiny burg of Hope hidden in the expansive Southwest.

That's when the trouble starts.

"Call of Juarez" is an ambitious game that tells, by turns, the stories of Billy and his stepuncle, the Rev. Ray McCall. It's two games in one, offering two different styles of first-person action. The play styles, the Western theme (a rarity in gamedom) and the jaw-droppingly beautiful graphics combine to make the game unique - but not flawless.

For the first few hours of the game, you'll be stuck to the story lines for Billy and Uncle Ray. You'll have to do what the game wants you to do and go where the game wants you to go. After switching between these two characters several times, you'll finally be able to roam around on your own a bit and explore (on foot or on horseback) some of the beautiful creeks, forests and rustic farmsteads the game has to offer. But you'll always have to come back to whatever objectives the game has set for you in order to move the story along.

Billy's character is played much differently than Uncle Ray's character. Framed for murder and on the run for much of the game, Billy will need to sneak around and stay out of site for the majority of his gaming segments.

He's kind of like an Old West version of Sam Fisher from the "Splinter Cell" games, quietly creeping up on bad guys and silently assassinating them. Often, he'll need to avoid detection at all costs. He's either sneaking around or running away from foes who've spotted him.

Uncle Ray, a Bible-toting preacher for many years, has a dark past. He takes the law into his own hands when his brother (Billy's stepfather) and the town sheriff are murdered. He digs his twin pistols out of an old chest and goes to work on the rioting bad seeds of Hope, trying to restore order. Then he's off to find Billy, the person he thinks is responsible for his brother's murder. Players switch back and forth between Billy's sneaking and Uncle Ray's shootouts.

The switching of game styles is perfectly paced. Uncle Ray can slip into a slow-motion "focus" mode to get the drop on multiple enemies at once. And from time to time, a "boss" character will call him out for a quick-draw duel. Once you've defeated a boss in Story Mode, you can select Duel Mode from the main menu, repeat the fight and try to quicken your draw and improve your aim.

Uncle Ray's scenes are better than Billy's scenes. Billy's scenes are often just a bunch of bad platforming tasks run together. Sometimes you'll have to clumsily hop from tiny ledge to tiny ledge or swing from perch to perch. Sometimes you'll have to creep for several minutes only to misstep at the last moment, get caught and have to start all over. Silent weapons such as the bow and arrow can help, but it's still more fun to play as Uncle Ray in his all-out gunfights.

"Call of Juarez" can be frustrating at times, but the game looks great and has a story that's engaging enough to keep you coming back. And when you tire of the single-player game, you can always go online for 16-player shootouts, capture-the-flag-style team games and even re-enactments of famous Wild West events.