imperiousrix's Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood (Xbox 360) review

Two Guns are Better than One

I've been a pretty staunch defender of the original Call of Juarez.  Despite it's somewhat rough appearance and some creative, but ultimately failed gameplay choices, it was a surprisingly fun and interesting romp through a tragically under-utilized setting in video games, the Old West.  Despite its somewhat limited appeal, apparently the cult following of the tale of Billy Candle and Reverend Ray warranted a sequel in the form of Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood.   By correcting many of the mistakes of the original as well as offering up another enthralling tale of betrayal and bloodshed in the Old West, Call of Juarez is not only leaps and bounds above its predecessor, but a great FPS experience in its own right.

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is actually a prequel to the events of the first game.  Starting in the Civil War, the game follows the McCall brothers and their quest to rebuild their family farm in Georgia by finding a cursed Aztec treasure.  You'll be playing as Ray once again, the surly and tough as nails eldest McCall, as well as his younger brother Thomas who shares his brother's skill for murdering fools, but also posseses a level of compassion and even-headedness.  The tale is actually very well written across a varied scope of settings and meetings with interesting characters leading to a satisfying, and not wholly predictable conclusion.

Being a FPS set in the Old West, Call of Juarez plays probably how you'd expect with some unique elements both old and new.  You still will be playing as two characters, but gone is the helplessness involved with playing as Billy Candle from the first.  Instead, you'll play as one of the two gun-slinging McCalls, both with distinct weapons and gameplay styles.  Ray, for his part, is tougher and uses a more direct approach.  He can absorb a ton of bullets, can kick down select doors, hurl

The McCalls are tough hombres...
dynamite, and dual-wield with a pair of one-handed weapons.  He also is more proficient in close-range weapons like shotguns, and his unique focus attack plays on him unleashing hail of bullets on twelve targets.  On the opposite side, Thomas is more finessed and mobile than his brother.  He can climb up to higher vantage points, has a higher movement speed, and can even use a lasso to reach some relatively unlikely high spots.  He can only wield one of his two pistols at once and his focus attack is far too finessed to be used in super desperate moments, but he gains a more accurate iron-sight and a higher proficiency with rifles.  He can also wield some "silent weapons" like the bow and throwing knives that can allow him to kill quickly in certain situations and even set up assaults undetected.  Luckily, unlike the first COJ, you'll be able to choose which McCall you play as in about 99 percent of levels, and you'll likely find one that fits your playstyle better and stick with him.

For the most part, the levels proceed in a linear fashion, allowing only minimal exploration for the respective brothers as well as certain cooperative moments like having Thomas pull Ray up to greater heights, or pretty awesome moments where you'll need to line up next to doors, and bust down the doors in a co-op bullet time event.  All this seems tailored for a co-op campaign, but it's amazingly nowhere to be found in the game, which is a letdown.  Thankfully, the game does vary its gameplay in a few other instances.  For one thing, boss-fights usually conclude with a "dueling" segment.  These consist of using the left analog stick to circle your opponent and keep them in sight, while keeping your hand near your gun to be able to quickly draw.  When the bell tolls, you reach for your gun and blow the other guy away.  Although the first few duels you'll encounter feel very trial and error, by the end of the game, I felt like I could take on the fastest hand in the West, and I was really enjoying these brief encounters.  Another brief segment I enjoyed thoroughly were two very short open-world segments.  Although these didn't have much depth, the act of taking on side-missions and completing them to purchase better armaments just felt right, and in some way, helped authenticate the wild west vigilante feel even more.  For the most part, the campaign isn't too long, ending at around the 6 hour mark, but it is thoroughly varied and enjoyable throughout.

One area that didn't get much improvement in Bound in Blood was its multiplayer.  It seems like it is a more than serviceable FPS suite with a Wild West coat of paint, and in many ways, it is.  It uses a class based system and has every game mode you'd want, but the polish just doesn't feel there.  It has the overwhelming feeling of being old, or perhaps more accurately, rushed.  There is certainly enjoyment to be had, and you may find yourself distracted for some time by the online provided, but it simply feels as if potential greatness was squandered.

On the presentation front, Call of Juarez still feels a bit old, but can certainly stand alongside this generation's visuals.  The
"You done said are game looked OLD, did ya?!"
player models still look and animate a little wonky, but do look a lot better than they did in the original.  The environments on the other hand, still look beautiful.  Although the draw-distance feels a bit stunted in the two open-world segments, for the most part, the vistas and deserts of Call of Juarez's Old West setting are quite impressive.  The soundtrack in the game is a huge highlight, and each unique track punctuates its respective scene in the story,  which is often accompanied by voice acting.  Although the voice acting certainly isn't Shakespearean, I found the often hammy approaches that the actors took not only suited the spaghetti western feel of the game, but its respective characters as well.  Overall, a decent presentational package.

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, takes what was great about the first and makes it more digestable for the mainstream.  By keeping both characters equally fun to play as and improving the already solid story-telling, we are left with a more than adequate FPS distraction with the potential to be a cult classic.  Although there is still plenty of room for improvement, there is far too much done right in this game to dwell upon it.  If you like the Old West or the FPS genre in general, you should definitely (and I can't believe I'm reusing this same line buuuut...) heed the Call of Juarez.

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