Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is the story of Ray, Thomas, and William, who desert the Confederate army, seek ancient Aztec gold, and clash over a woman. They travel from lush southern fields and plantations to arid southwestern plains, creating a subtle, but effective variety of scenery. And what scenery it is - the game's settings are frequently stunning, showcasing wide open vistas, thick evergreen forests, and detailed (if sparsely populated) towns.
The story is another strong point in this western epic - the brothers' banter is witty, and the actors deliver many a believable southern "sum'bitch" line. Every character has their own clear motivations, something that's not typically defined in your average shooter. Bound in Blood also has one of the most satisfying endings in recent memory, providing just enough satisfying closure. The story's one flaw is Ray and Thomas' family feud over Marisa - why both of them are willing to die for her is never really made quite clear. Only a few scenes after her entrance, the brothers are proudly professing their love to her without a second thought. A little more attention to this point would have made the later scenes a better pay off, but what's there isn't terrible.
As for the shooty parts, It's all very familiar, pull the left trigger to auto-snap to enemies, swap out two weapons and a heavy weapon, grenades, a cover system, blah blah. What the game does get right is the feeling of using old west weapons - everything from the recoil to the reload animations constantly reminds you that you're not using the same old 9mm or sub-machine gun. An upgrade system in the game gives a nice sense of progression, and there's a variety of pistols and other weapons, from the quick two-shot "ladies pistol" to the 12 shot "volcano gun". You can ride horses as well, but you may as well be running about 3 feet above the ground for how similar it feels to regular movement.
It would be criminal not to mention the brilliant showdowns, where the camera shifts to a low angle behind your holster. You'll use the left stick to keep your opponent in sight, and the right stick to move your ever wandering right hand as close as possible to your holster. Suddenly, a bell will sound and you use the right stick to grab the pistol, and hope to shoot first. It's a tense, creative way to re-create this staple of western stories, and I loved it every time.
The entire game allows you to choose playing as Ray or Thomas at the beginning of each chapter. Thomas is the slower, more methodical killer with the ability to zoom, use a bow and throwing knives, along with a rope for climbing. Ray gets to use dynamite and dual pistols, along with a "stop time and aim" move that isn't nearly as fun as flicking the right analog stick to fan your pistol's trigger with Thomas. The obvious co-op option is unfortunately missing - what the game does have is a competent class-based multiplayer mode that will likely be completely forgotten within a month of this writing. That's not to pass judgment on the game, but even it's thrilling cops 'n robbers bank heist mode won't keep the online masses from drifting back to their Halos and Call of Duties.
I hesitate only slightly in saying that Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood provides the best example of a western game yet available. The game feels very lean and well edited, with very few slow points. The memorable story and setting along with a very pronounced western feeling make it easy to gloss over some very well-worn design decisions. This is a summer blockbuster in all the best ways, in a setting and genre that's about as bone dry as the deserts the game portrays.