Reviewed: July 19, 2009
Released: June 30, 2009
I have to admit that I totally missed the original Call of Juarez when it hit the Xbox 360 back in the summer of 2007. The Wild West themed first person shooter (FPS) received mixed – but generally positive – reviews at the time. But after having played through other various Wild West themed games like Red Dead Revolver and Gun, my interest in the genre was waning and I passed on the original Juarez. But if Call of Juarez: Bound In Blood is any indication of the gameplay in the original, I think I might need to scour the bargain bins, because this game is a total blast.
Bound In Blood follows the story of two Confederate Army soldiers – the brothers Ray and Thomas McCall – who abandon their ill-fated Civil War duty to make their destiny in the new frontier. The two brothers head west, and quickly find themselves caught in a tangled web of lawlessness that includes untrustworthy banditos, bloodthirsty natives, insatiable lawmen, and one angry Confederate Army. While it might seem like these varying enemies could lead to a bit of gameplay overload, Bound In Blood’s formula is actually quite simple: kill everything in sight.
With the exception of a few story-driven levels, the game allows players to choose which of the two brothers they will play through each level, and the decision is relatively important as each has slightly different abilities than the other. This allows gamers a bit of freedom at the way each level will play out, and adds a degree of replay value as gamers can revisit chapters playing as the “other” brother and have a dramatically different experience.
Thomas is the finesse character; stealthy and agile, he can kill silently with a bow or a knife, or from afar with his deadeye rifle aim. He has great climbing ability, and even has a lasso to help get to faraway platforms and overhead ledges. His Achilles heel is a relatively low health bar that only affords Thomas a few hits before falling in a slow-mo death sequence.
Ray, on the other hand, is the fearless gunslinger – always entering a situation with guns blazing. Whether its his dual wielding six shooters, his commanding shotgun, or his powerful dynamite charges – Ray shoots first and sorts them out later. His aim might not have the same precision of his brother, but his increased health makes him the perfect choice for close-quarters combat. But it’s not as if choosing the “wrong” brother for a situation will cripple the gamer – each level is designed with enough balance to make either brother a viable choice, and the cooperative AI is so well executed that the two characters can carry each other through the tough situations.
One excellent feature of the game is the concentration meter, which fills up as kills are tallied up. Once filled, the player has 60 seconds to initiate concentration mode – which is like Max Payne’s bullet time…but with flair. Concentration mode differs slightly for each character – Ray’s slows down the action to a crawl, and allows the gamer to mark enemies using an onscreen reticule much like classic shooters Rez or Panzer Dragoon Orta. Once complete, the gamer effectively hits “play” and autopilot carnage ensues. Thomas’ concentration mode is stealthier – firing quick and deadly shots at onscreen targets that are triggered by cocking the analog stick.
Bound In Blood also includes a solid cover mechanic, which allows the characters to auto-hide behind scenery elements, and then pop up, over, and around to pick off enemies from relative safety. While certainly not executed as intuitively as Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six cover mechanic, once you get used to the analog lean of the gunslingers, the feature becomes second nature.
But whereas the concentration mode and cover mechanics are great additions, the game’s frequent quick-draw dueling segments are overly frustrating, with clunky control mechanics and aggravating collision detection. If it weren’t hard enough to control the pre-duel pacing sequences, the fact that the game seems to calculate the outcome purely on a coin flip rather than any real skill is enough to enrage even the nicest of gamers.
Thankfully, the game checkpoints quite frequently throughout each level, resulting in a relatively short retracing of steps to get back to those difficult choke points. The saving and loading times are a tad on the slow side, but I have experienced much longer waits with lesser titles, so we will let this one slide.
There is a nice selection of available weapons ranging from pistols and shotguns to bows and hunting knives. You also have rifles, some even with scopes, and all weapons come in a variety of quality rankings from "rusty" to "prime", ranked with stars. These rankings dictate the power, fire rate, and reload times of each weapon. You can obtain new weaponry from fallen enemies or purchase new items at the gun shop with money you also pick-up from the dead or earn by completing various side mission found on Wanted Posters in a few towns.
Visually, the game is absolutely spectacular. The wonderful western aesthetic is straight out of a classic western movie – right down to the slight sepia filtering and film grain giving the proceedings an authentic weathered appearance. The game’s dust and smoke effects are amazing, and the explosions are awe-inspiring. Really, the only shortcoming would have to be the questionable depth of focus effects – which often seems to blur out the wrong items – and the heavily recycled character models – of which I think there are a dozen in total – which fills the game with cities of carbon copy enemies.
The sound quality is equally as remarkable. With a great orchestral soundtrack straight from the best classic westerns, sound effects that are authentic and impressive, and Hollywood quality voice acting. The storytelling is excellent, and is told by the ubiquitous third brother, William – who delivers the narration with perfect cadence. The sound really does a good job of putting you in the center of the action.
The game features an impressive multiplayer offering, with all of the requisite gunslinger modes, and even a few fresh variations on team-based modes. Sadly the game has no co-op multiplayer – which is strange given the cooperative nature of Ray and Thomas’ story and even certain co-op gameplay moments that require the two to work together.
All told, Call of Juarez: Bound In Blood is a fantastic shooter that FPS and western fans are going to love. It might be a bit dated by the subject matter, and may seem a tad limiting to gamers who prefer photon cannons over antique Gatling guns – but there is beauty in the challenge that restricted weaponry (limited ammo and slow reloads) like this allows. And the ability to basically play through the game twice as two drastically different character types really adds to the replay value.