The wild west, an almost mystical place these days. But once upon a time it was the breeding grounds for all sorts of legendary tales, the types of tales that were told around a nice warm camp fire or in your local cinema through the wonderful medium of moving pictures. Cinemas around the globe have at some point, showed a western or two. Infact the 1960's saw many great western related films with the fantastically named 'Spaghetti Western' era. Film directors have often tapped the wild west setting in attempt to find inspiration, even classics such as Star Wars have roots in the wild west films of old. So why haven't we seen videogame developers do the same? Especially when Techland's Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood proves that it can make quite the setting for videogame entertainment.
Bound in Blood is in fact a prequel to 2007's Call of Juarez and while it clearly shows some improvement over the original, there's nothing here that will change the face of videogaming. But, despite this Bound in Blood is a very capable first person shooter that follows the story of three brothers. Ray, Thomas and William McCall. While all three brothers can feel a little stereotypical at first, they eventually turn out to be rather fascinating characters who all have their own unique querks and personalities. Thankfully Bound in Blood doesn't rely on the gamer knowing much about the previous game and the fact that it's a prequel means that you won't find yourself totally confussed on what the hell is happening with the story. The story starts with both Ray and Thomas pointing guns at each other, and eventually tells the tale of how they both ended up this way. The beginning of the tale takes place with both the brothers fighting for the Confederacy in the American Civil War.
Both Ray and Thomas eventually abandom the Confederacy fight to protect their family farm, and because of this desertion. They are branded criminals and hunted down by the relentless Colonel Barnsby who as no wish to give up the Civil War despite it's official end. So begins a story of love, war and reloading. For the most part, Bound in Blood's tale can feel rather bland considering the uniqueness in which the game is set, afterall I haven't played to many American Civil War to wild west related games lately. Thankfully this typical and somewhat dull start ends up benefiting the overall story for it eventually turns out to be quite the adventure for the McCall brothers. There are some neat little additions along the way and although this won't be winning any oscars anytime soon, it is more then enough to motivate one to continue the game's single player experience. The story of the three brothers doesn't last as long as I would have hoped with it clocking in at around seven to nine hours for me, but there's more then enough wild west related content to please anyone interested in that spell of history.
Interestingly enough, having a passion for westerns or even an interest in the time in which the game is set isn't a must. For you see Bound in Blood is simply a rather enjoyable first person shooter, it handles well and while it borrows heavily from more well known console shooters. There is still something unique about it, to make it worth at least checking out if you have an interest in first person shooters on console. The story allows you to play either as Ray or Thomas McCall and while they can seem alike at first, they are vastly different and require a different approach to get the most out of each. Ray McCall, the older of the two brothers is all about the firepower. He is able to dual wield and as a rather sweet concentration mode which allows the gamer to target a number of enemies at once for the ultimate sense of quick firing action.
Thomas on the other hand is careful and requires more thought, he isn't as tough as Ray so can't take as much damage. But he can be as deadly, especially when one uses his bow and arrow or his ever trusty throwing knifes. Who you choose depends on your style of play, want a tougher challenge then go with Thomas. But if your hungry for some classic wild west gun slinging then have a bash playing Ray. Both are enjoyable though and it all depends on the type of gamer you are. Sadly William isn't playable, which means no bible weapon for you to take down your mortal enemies. Now that would have been fun, but there's enough here for it to proudly stand on it's two legs, especially when one puts it against other games set in the same era. It's in fact exactly this issue that makes Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood one of the most enjoyment western set games yet, and while there are hopefully better developed wild west games to come in the near future. This is by far the most interesting and enjoyable right now.
Bound in Blood uses the lesser known Chrome Engine 4 to power it's desert lands and beautiful forests and while it lacks compared to more powerful engines such as the Cryengine on PC. It's still a great looker to even my great surprise, there are technical issues though some of these problems are related to the power of the console rather then the game engine. One area in which Bound in Blood did suffer was in the graphical quality of environments, there are some stunning set pieces to enjoy and the developers have captured the country beautifully. But there are also moments when it looks as if they've simply copied and pasted a low-res photo of America's desert lands, this isn't a massive issue as there are many more spectacular moments to be had. Be it traveling down a rough and chaotic river or horse riding your way through stunningly rendered forests. Basically Bound in Blood shows off the Chrome Engine well and is a fine example of what is possible on consoles nowadays.
Almost all key character models are well rendered, with cuts and scares in clear sight. Ray and Thomas are especially well realized with unique character designs that suits their overall personalities. It's sadly far from perfect though, as cutscenes show huge weaknesses in character animations and lip-syncing. The cutscenes, while bearable and even quite enjoyable from time to time are also one of it's weakest links and feel a little rushed. Voicework is very much the same, despite some fantastic voicework for all three of the brothers (especially Ray whose voiced fantastically). The most frustrating voice over is without a doubt the female love figure in the tale, Marisa feels as if she was voiced by someone the developers picked off the street and the most latin sounding female they could find. But overall the presentation of Bound in Blood is solid, it contains some of the games weakest points but there are some high moments and it stands out thanks to a rather impressive videogame engine.
It's rather easy to forget that with those unforgettable wild west moments, there are also a number of historically correct aspects to Bound in Blood. For example weapons are realistic to the point that reloading will take up much of your time. This at first will probably irritate some gamers but as you later purchase the more powerful weapons, reloading because less of an issue. The weapons are in fact one of the high points to Bound in Blood, while I've never personally fired any of the weapons of the time. They are both realistic to a reasonable point and a blast to operate with smoke erupting from the gun barrel upon firing. There are a number of unique guns in the game and while some will suit you better then others, you'll quickly find the perfect mix of both a long ranged weapon and a useful short ranged weapon for those tight spots when reloading and speed is key. Some of this will depend on your interest in the era, afterall those who have spent the last year playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will quickly grow to dislike the weaknesses of the more legendary weapons of the time. But if you have an appreciation of classic weaponry, you'll find much to like in Bound in Blood.
There is also a somewhat generic multiplayer mode to be had if your into some online action, I say generic because many of the modes available have been done to death and done much better then in this game. Like the single player experience, the multiplayer modes are helped mostly by the era in which the game is set. There are tense moments to be had as you and a fellow player dramatically start firing off all your rounds in an attempt to take each other down, this often leads to exciting moments as you try to reload your weapon faster then your opponent. But in an odd sort of a way, the uniqueness of the weaponry available in Bound in Blood's multiplayer mode will potentially lead to fewer players being interested in it. There is also the now commonly seen development of character classes which can be unlocked and the maps available are solid if unspectacular compared to most other multiplayer levels. Your interest in this mode will depend on what your looking to get out of the game overall, though it feels as if it's a cheap add-on to the more interesting single player story.
Overall, your enjoyment of Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood will depend on your interests in both the era in which the game is set and first person shooters as a whole. While it doesn't do anything vastly different gameplay wise, it's setting is unique and something we don't see all to often. It's a fine example of how a game set in the days of the wild west can actually work well despite it's shortcomings and both looks and performs to a surprisingly solid degree. The multiplayer is hit or miss, but the single player campaign is definatly worth a look at even if that look at is just a simple rental. The setting is in itself worth checking out as it's both well realized and not to stereotypical. The three brothers are surprisngly intriguing characters and while the overall presentation of the story isn't going to be winning any awards this year, there is enough here to keep one motivated through it's somewhat short length. Though it's single player campaign is worth a second playthrough. If your looking for an enjoyable first person shooter set in the legendary times of the wild west, then you really can't go wrong with Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood.