HD Video Review
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Being a fan of the original Call of Juarez, I’ve been extremely interested in its sequel Bound in Blood. The original Call of Juarez was such a creative and artistic endeavor that unfortunately lacked the polish of a triple-A title. With an expanded budget, longer development period, and newfound familiarity with next gen consoles, developers Techland have been given an opportunity to expand on what they achieved in the first game. Bound in Blood rather than serving as Call of Juarez 2.0, outdating it’s prequel (which is actually its sequel in terms of narrative), turns out to be a companion piece to the former title. I think this is something to be applauded in an industry where sequels often feel like expansion packs that only update a successful format. It’s hard to call Techland daring however, because Call of Juarez has always brought comparisons to the Call of Duty series and this time it fits.
Bound in Blood is a great example of why prequels are often favored over sequels. Instead of being caught up in a narrative that reaches further back then new comers can take in, such as in Halo 3, Bound in Blood tells its own compact story yet offers emotional depth to those who played the original. Being a prequel, the story follows the 3 McCall brothers from exile in the Civil War to treasure hunting in the South. The real reward for playing the first game is seeing the relationship of the brothers and how the characters of the original Call of Juarez came to be how they are. The game’s story still isn’t worthy of film adaptation, but in the realm of video games it is among the very best. Each character is believable, their actions make sense, and the drama is interesting. There is a cheesy villain but that’s hardly enough to call the story a misfire. Like the first game, Techland have done an excellent job of evaluating what makes a Western a Western and avoided slavishly copying established films, like Gun and Red Dead Revolver did.
The original Call of Juarez was split between a dark Western narrative and an Indiana Jones lighthearted treasure hunt. This provided a great balance in narrative, atmosphere, and gameplay. Sadly, Bound in Blood is much more typical of the FPS genre. From beginning to end, you are playing a straight up Call of Duty clone. With that said, it is by far the best I’ve played. There are memorable set pieces, fun on-rails sections, and a great variety in weapons. There are also 2 chapters (out of the 15) that leave the player in an open world which feels a lot like Far Cry 2. I liked these portions a lot and the freedom it gave the player to quit at any time. It doesn’t make up for the absence of adventure and exploration levels that the first game contained, but it helps give the game an identity in this crowded genre.
Also note-worthy is the new cover system which doesn’t work like any I’ve played before. Rather than pressing a button to latch onto a wall, you just walk up to an object or wall and you will automatically cling to it. This feels incredibly awkward for the first hour or two, and you’ll die a lot because of this new cover system. After the steep learning curve, I found this cover system really fun and preferable to the Gears system. It helps ground the game in reality and help the player think of the battlefield in a logical manner. Once you start acting as you would in real life, by going to a corner and slowly peaking out, it works very nicely. I think many will continue to fault this system, mainly due to how used to the Gears system we’ve become. It also suffers from a lack of polish, but I’d love to see Infinity Ward adopt this system for the next Call of Duty.
There are two other places of innovation in Bound in Blood. The shootouts of the former game have been rebuilt from the ground-up, and are all the worse for it. While the old game had you pressing a button in response to a countdown, Bound in Blood requires a much more complicated input. One stick will move your character and the other will move your characters hand. The goal is to keep the enemy in site while keeping your hand close to your holster but not too close. It often feels like you are piloting a helicopter in Grand Theft Auto, which isn’t a compliment. The other big feature is the multiplayer which is surprisingly original and fun. It lacks the depth of Team Fortress 2 or Call of Duty 4, but it will certainly entertain and become addictive for a short while. I especially like “Manhunt” mode which turned VIP mode from Counter-Strike into a sport, where there is a back-and-forth momentum between teams. This is made possible by only scoring points for defending the VIP, not shooting him. Shooting him only gives you the VIP to defend on your team, much like football or tennis.
The graphics are outstanding in Bound in Blood. This is the first next gen Western that really pushes the hardware to create impressive Western vistas. The character models also look pretty good. Where the game’s presentation suffers is in the animation which is really terrible. Graphics aren’t everything and when you compare the stiff animations to what Naughty Dog have done in the Uncharted series, it seems like generational leap between the two. The voice acting makes up for this and helps sell you on the characters. There is only one glaring flaw in the casting, which can be found in the Native American character voiced by Dante Basco (who voiced Prince Duko in the Avatar series). The voice just doesn’t match the character, and every scene with him just feels incredibly awkward. Thankfully he doesn’t have the biggest role, but it’s still a noticeable flaw in the game.
Bound in Blood doesn’t quite have the variety or creativity of the original, but it’s a successful genre exercise that brings some new things to the table and wraps them all up in an enjoyable story. FEAR 2 might have the best shooting controls so far this year, but Bound in Blood is a much more memorable experience. We rarely see story taken seriously in the FPS genre, even though Half-Life has been its poster boy for the past decade. Bound in Blood is pushing the medium forward in this respect and shows us that there is no excuse for distanced, incoherent plot that every other FPS has been paired with. It’s sad to see Techland ditch many aspects that made the original so great, but at least they went all out in making Bound in Blood a Call of Duty clone worth remembering.