The lawlessness of the wild West might seem like fertile ground for video games, yet surprisingly few titles take place there.
"Call of Juarez," new from Ubisoft for the Xbox 360 and Windows-based personal computers, proves that an old-fashioned six-shooter can be just as fun and exciting as a laser blaster or some magical sword.
The M-rated, $59.99 game uses the legend of the lost gold of Juarez, a dangerous border town where the sheriff is the last person you'd call for help, as an effective action premise.
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It's 1882 and rumor has it that anyone who pursues this hidden stash, a cursed relic from when the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs, will go crazy.
You can play as two opposing characters in the ensuing story mode.
You'll begin the game as Billy Candle, a whip-toting young man who's particularly good at slinking behind wooden crates and barrels. But when's the last time you saw the hero in a good Western flick hiding in the shadows?
The far more enjoyable Reverend Ray puts the shooter in this first-person shooter as you guide him into some frantic fire fights with revolvers blazing.
"Call of Juarez" satisfies with its selection of old-time weapons, including revolvers and shotguns, but sniper rifles seem a bit out of place for the time and setting.
You can't get into a fist fight, but you can crack a whip, toss flaming sticks of dynamite or smash an oil lamp to burn things.
As a gunslinger-turned-preacher, Ray also totes a Bible that he can quote to confuse unruly foes.
Between the acoustic guitar strumming in the background and the hillsides that shimmer in the desert heat, "Call of Juarez" does a great job of putting you in the mood.
The tunes are just right, the voice acting is decent and the graphics are sharp and vivid.
Beyond the single-player story, there are six online multiplayer modes that should keep things interesting for a long time.
This game seems to be off the radar of most people, however, so finding a group of random players on Xbox Live was sometimes a challenge.
But ignoring this game would be a mistake. I found "Call of Juarez" to be a refreshing break for the usual sci-fi and fantasy video game settings and one of the better summer titles so far.
Three stars out of four.