Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood

call-of-juarez-bound-in-blood
7.5 Overall Score

Variety of fast-paced, high-action wild west missions | Richly layered story | Great musical score, sound design and voice acting

Stiff character animations during cutscenes | Poorly implemented weapon upgrade system and wonky auto-aiming system | Lack of local co-op is a missed opportunity

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood leaves me feeling as conflicted as two feuding brothers in the Wild West. The game is packed with some truly memorable cinematic moments, including quick draw showdowns, Indian ambushes and stagecoach escapes that capture all the danger and excitement of this once lawless land. But even though the story is compelling and the varied missions and frenetic gunplay keep things moving at a brisk pace, gameplay suffers from an annoying auto-targeting system, clunky weapon upgrades and well-hidden opponents. Ultimately, if you enjoy a good first-person, western-themed shooter, this game will indeed take you for an entertaining ride through the 1860s. Though not particularly outstanding or original in terms of gameplay, the atospheric setting is beautifully rendered, the story meticulously plotted and the production values unusually high, immersing you in the dusty, violent and vibrant world of the brothers McCall. If you’re not into that, well, you would do better sticking to 21st Century fare.

 

You begin the game as Ray McCall, a truly fugly Confederate soldier, on a mission to defend a Southern fort and soon your family’s homestead from the encroaching Yankees. Bound in Blood starts you off in the heat of the action, racing through the primitive trenches of the Civil War, your days as a deserter, outlaw and fearsome gunslinger still ahead of you. As you skirt around your superiors’ orders to find and save your slightly-less-ugly brother, Thomas, you’re introduced to the easy-to-learn controls:  R1 to shoot, R2 to change weapons, L1 to zoom in, and Square to interact with ammo-laden crates and objects. You also gain experience with two critical functions in the game: the cover system and the slow motion mass killin’s performed in “concentration mode,” the Wild West equivalent of bullet time. The cover mechanic is intuitive, as slammin’ against a wall, barrel, rock or any outcropping will keep you fairly protected while still enabling you to peek around and shoot at various gunslingers.

That is, if you can find them.

While a yellow quarter-circle flashes to indicate the direction of enemy fire, your opponents are adept at blending into their surroundings, often leaving you to whirl around in a panic while you get filled with hot lead. After dying and replaying the scene a few times, you finally figure out – “Hey! Watch your brother and see where he’s shooting” – and that usually helps to determine where your opponents are located. I’m pretty sure that this was a problem in real life in the 1860s: locating your camouflaged, dust-covered enemies and blasting at them with slow to load, hard to aim pistols. So, from a strictly historical perspective, Ubisoft got it right. However, here in the 21st century I don’t have the patience to deal with 18th century tech. I’d like a little help. From an accurate auto-targeting system, perhaps? So sorry. The auto-targeting system simply does not auto-target. On or off in the settings, it didn’t matter – it never auto-targeted anyone.

 

Gameplay does improve over time, thanks to the varied missions, evocative locations and exciting gunplay. As you become more familiar with the controls, you’ll be cleanly clearing leather in a variety of action-packed scenarios, from high noon showdowns to daring jail breaks to hunting down cattle rustlers on horseback. These slickly produced set-piece moments make you feel like you’ve stepped straight into a classic Western movie. Apart from making you feel like the meanest hombre to ever weild a six-shooter, you’re able to earn cash from your kills and the fun side missions undertaken from wanted posters plastered throughout the dust bowl towns, spending your hard earned coin in various gun shops to upgrade your weapons. I was a little nervous my first time inside a gun shop, since the owner didn’t talk. He just stared at me, silent and creepy, while I tried to get him to sell me something. The cold shoulder treatment made me walk out without purchasing an upgrade, incredulous that the gunshop owner didn’t want my money. Actually, the purchasing system requires you to roam around the shop, locate an upgraded weapon and appropriate ammo, and then press Square to purchase. No waiting, no paperwork, no owner interaction required.

It’s a shame you can’t trade in your old guns, which can be picked up off fallen enemies, toward the more powerful and pristine guns, but by the end of the game you should have enough spare cash lining your pockets to purchase the best weapons. Just be forwarned that nothing is organized in the shops, with pistols, rifles and bullets scattered haphazardly about, so take your time browsing. Adding to the confusion is the fact that you can only purchase items made for the player you are actively controlling. You have a choice to play as either strongman Ray or stealthy Thomas at the beginning of each major scene. So, if you’re Ray, you can only purchase upgrades particular to Ray, like shotguns, pistols or dynamite. If you want better knives or sniper rifles, you had better play as Thomas, because otherwise you’ll be out of luck. There’s no going back to a previous gun shop as a different character within the game’s linear storyline, so be sure to take on every odd job you run across knowing there’s no chance to return once the end credits roll.

 

Despite the flaws in Call of Juarez’s play, the rich story in this game is the real draw. I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice to say, the conflict between Ray, Thomas and their younger priestly sibling William whips the tale forward, even keeping you entertained while new game scenes load with story-progressing stills made to look like antique woodcut prints. Further enhancing the experience is the stellar soundtrack, featuring acoustic riffs that match the pace of play throughout each scene. Some may dislike the overly stylized voice acting, but the drawls didn’t annoy me – rather, they kept me immersed while the robotic cutscene character animations tried to take me out. Clearly, the developers spent more time crafting the absolutely stunning desert scenery and gameplay character graphics than the cutscenes, which is odd, because usually that dynamic is flipped. This isn’t a huge deal, but for a game that relies so heavily upon its Hollywood-worthy script and epically-scaled locales, it would have been nice to see a bit more polish on the the cutscenes.

It would have also been nice to see a co-op story mode as the brothers work together throughout the entire campaign, but in its absence is a surprisingly adept sibling A.I. Ubisoft has also included a surprisingly satisfying multiplayer campaign, which accomidates up to 12 players in five different modes across eight different maps. Playing through ranked matches earns you money to unlock new character classes, each with its own strengths, weaknesses, and gear. You can also switch classes at any point during a match, adding a bit of strategy to gameplay. All the standard multiplayer modes are here, including deathmatch, team deatmatch and manhunt, which has one player singled out for protection/elimination. But by far the most fun mode is Wild West Legends, which pits a team of outlaws against a team of lawmen as they try to complete or prevent a series of objectives, like robbing a bank or killing a lawyer. There are a total of eight different scenarios ripped right from the pages of history, like the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which expertly capitalize on the Wild West setting and greatly extend the playability outside the single player campaign.

 

Despite the rough edges, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is a solid shooter that captures the rip-roarin’, gun-slingin’ spirit of the Wild West in lovingly rendered detail, right down to the tumble weeds. Fans of first-person shooters in general, and Wild West adventures in particular, are in for an action-packed sequel that easily outshines the original. Though it’s flaws prevent it from ranking among the Western classics, it’s still one hell of a roller coaster ride through the dusty days of America’s wild past.

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Author: JP View all posts by

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