Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood Review
Call of Juarez shows of its beginnings in the new prequel: Bound in Blood
Western themed games have never gotten the same attention as modern day shooters or World War 2 games. Perhaps it's the unattractive and clumsy guns that turn people off, after all, who'd want a rusty ladies gun when you could be vaporising aliens with a Spartan Laser? But western games such as 2006's Call of Jurez shouldn't be dismissed so quickly. Both the locations and dialog of these 19th century themed games offer a lot of uniqueness to an overcrowded first person genre and Bound in Blood is no exception.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is set several years before the original Call of Juarez and follows the exploits of the McCall brothers, Ray, Thomas and William as they travel across the wild west, getting into and causing plenty of trouble. Ray, who you might remember from the previous game, is the elder and the tougher of the two selectable brothers and there's Thomas, who's much lighter on his feet but just as hotheaded. Throughout the game the siblings get involved in bar fights, shootouts and women while their younger brother William tries his best to keep them out of trouble, often giving some great back and forward dialog. The story begins with Ray as part of the Confederate army fighting off waves of Union soldiers, this military scene quickly changes after Ray and Thomas walk out from the war to defend their own home. The story remains as interesting throughout, although sadly there isn't any story variety in playing through again as the two brothers generally stick together, this is even more unfortunate as the game does run rather short at about six hours and co-op play is strangely absent.
Weapon choices vary between characters to a degree, both can equip the basics such as rifles and pistols (dual pistols for Ray) but each brother has a little bit of specialization. Ray's handy with a Gatling gun and explosives, where Thomas can equip bows and knives. The weapon selection does a little to vary up the gameplay but Thomas' lasso also opens up a different path through the levels, although these diversions never last particularity long. On the whole the gameplay is a very linear A to B affair, there's little in the way of multiple routes to your destination beyond your character selection, with the exception of a couple of points where the game dips its toe into an open world mode. The open world sections are kept rather short and there's just six of these optional missions in total throughout the game, in which you'll ride off and defeat a group of guys and finally defeat their leader in a showdown. These showdowns are the classic one-on-one shootouts, which also used several times throughout the main story in place of boss battles. To win a showdown you'll have to keep your hand close to your gun while also moving around to keep your opponent lined up, this can get tricky as moving around shifts your hand around and you'll have to keep it ready to go when the bell sounds and you grab for your gun and make the killing blow. These shootouts get increasingly tougher but offer a unique diversion and a fistful of money which you can spend weapons shopping. There's no great depth to the weapon purchases, perhaps for the better, but upgrading your rusty six shooter for a pair of golden ladies guns will make a big difference in both your accuracy and damage.
The graphics in the previous Call of Juarez were of a pretty high standard and now Bound in Blood is the first game to use an updated version of Techland's Chrome engine used in the previous game, which looks amazing. Both character animations and graphical effects look excellent and along with the great audio and well read and written dialog, the atmosphere is solid. From bugles piping music while you're fighting for the Confederates to the musical score it's hard to fault any part of the experience, except for some detail pop up on the consoles. Beyond the cut scenes there's some good backwards and forwards between the brothers during the firefights, however it's a pity more dialog wasn't produced as even the wittiest dialog does get a little tiresome when you've heard it for the third of forth time.
As I mentioned earlier, the single campaign will last a short six hours and perhaps up to eight on the second play-through, there is an unlockable difficulty level of "Very Hard" which more than lives up to its name. The difficulty of the whole game is rather uneven, with the beginning chapters being tougher than the middle and even with the auto health re-gen its not uncommon for the enemy to simply overpower you with numbers despite their poor intelligence. Fortunately your other brother isn't as brain dead as the rest of the AI, rarely will he get himself killed unless you've left him alone, he also doesn't get lost or stuck and as long as you're working on killing the enemy he does a fair job of helping out.
If the partner AI isn't for you then you'll be missing the campaign due to the lack of co-op, but there's still a fun multi player game to be had. You have your staple death match and team death match along with an assault mode and a VIP mode. Assault mode has some interesting scenario, one of which involves the lawmen defending a bank from the bandits. Assault has the usual assault objectives of planting explosives or defusing them hasn't changed much, but having it in a western setting and escaping on horseback is quite novel. Some of the multi player maps do have a little problem with choke points and dead ends, which is most obvious with the VIP mode as if you can hold a single choke point the VIP can sit in relative safety. Playing in ranked mode earns you money which can be spent on unlocking extra classes that can in turn be leveled up, although the level ups are not persistent between matches. The multiplayer modes are a lot of fun and the map variety does vary widely even through there does seem to be a slightly bigger emphasis on camping and sniping than usual.
You can count the good western games that have come out this century on one hand and with other great games such as Gun starting to show their age, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is a fun first person shooter that doesn't disappoint.