The path of a gold bandit is an unecessarily lonely one
Title: Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
Release: June 30, 2009
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Rating: M (Mature)
The original Call of Juarez recaptured the public’s attention for the long forgotten Western genre. Despite the Western’s natural acclimation to video games, most games based on Western lore end badly. Call of Juarez came awfully close to the ideal Western shooter but fell short due to control issues and questionable gameplay decisions. Now, Polish developer Techland fires back with a sequel that benefits from some sound research.
The graphics render the landscapes, desert and mountains beautifully while the details of the saloons, mansions and other Western set pieces add to the authenticity and realism of the game. The developers included details of the American Civil War in order to set up a proper context for the story. This decision added much need substance to the narrative and provided an impressive looking tutorial as well. Unfortunately, the character animations almost blow away any shred of realism the settings manufactured. The characters are stiff and glass-eyed as they deliver dialogue and transition from one firefight to the next. The look of the character models will remind some people of wax museum figures dressed as bandits and Civil War soldiers. The sound quality in terms of voice work is a spectrum of talent. The main protagonists, all three brothers, are excellent—William does a particularly fine job as the narrator at the beginning of each chapter. Then things take a strange turn. The Mexican bandits are borderline offensive and the Native American segments are cringe inducing due to the fact that they feel shoehorned into the story.
The controls are passable aside from one of the worst first-person cover mechanics ever implemented. Players are instructed to stand near something that resembles cover and they will be automatically locked onto that object. The trouble starts when this mechanic takes way too long to maneuver your character out of harm’s way. The definition of cover is also suspect as some objects refuse to let you lock onto them and you end up repeating the level again. The shooting can be a struggle at times to hit what you are aiming at. The game sets aim assist as a default in the controls menu which is usually a sign of poor shooting mechanics. This is not totally the case for COJ, but firefights should be difficult because of clever AI and well designed levels, not because you can’t aim your gun. Some people have come to Techland’s defense stating the controls mimic the poor accuracy of weapons during that time period and that it preserves the realism of the Wild West. If the developers wanted to preserve realism why did they add regenerating health, and slow motion bullet time sequences? And someone needs to inform Techland that shooting a man more than twice in the chest will render that person unable to fire back. That is, of course, assuming men were not sturdier during the Civil War—but claiming that bad controls somehow equal realism simply comes off as an easy excuse for lazy programming.
You are given the choice in most levels to choose which brother to play as. Ray, the powerhouse and muscle, or Tom, the brother who can fire a weapon accurately. In a game that is one-hundred percent shooting, Tom is the best choice for every scenario. The subtle differences between the two brothers are just plain ridiculous. Ray is strong therefore he can kick down doors. Not only is this ability unnecessary to begin with, but past the age of sixteen, can’t any healthy, well-fed human being kick down a door in the middle of a crisis? This doesn’t seem to be an innate talent bestowed upon the chosen. Tom also suffers with the affliction of being forced to use a lasso. These segments create frustration no matter what the context. You are expected to put away your weapon, select a lasso and swing from platform to platform all while being shot at. Once again, how practical can a lasso be in a firefight? It’s not like you can use it to pacify enemies which would have been useful. Instead we are given a dreadful swinging mechanic that was never used during this time period. Why not make both brothers fight the exact same way, loose the lasso and incorporate a two-player campaign?
When the Western theme is stripped away, we are left with an average, by-the-numbers shooter that does nothing terrible but also strives for nothing memorable. The shooter genre as a whole appears crowded enough as it is. There must have been a large following of the first Call of Juarez to justify a sequel, but it is hard to recommend Bound in Blood even for fans of the original. The game is mostly not fun to play. The story is not interesting enough to steal focus. Other than a few easy achievements, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood offers very little for the discriminating shooter fan.
Overall Rating: * * / 5
M. Michael Chwedyk "The Gamekok"- MuzikReviews.com Sr. Video Game Reviewer
August 20, 2009
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