Bound to Enjoy
The battle for a great current generation Western-themed shooter has been going on for quite a few years now. Early offerings such as Gun and the original Call of Juarez were good but ultimately had too many flaws that kept them from greatness. Because of this, it has been incredibly difficult to come across a game that both plays well and accurately captures the old West feeling so many gamers have been waiting so long for. Luckily, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood delivers where other Western-themed shooters have failed, combining a beautiful and authentic-feeling Western backdrop with solid action-packed gunslinging gameplay.
Being a prequel to the original Call of Juarez, Bound in Blood’s story focuses on filling in the backstory of the McCall family. Starting off fighting for the Confederate Army, Ray (a younger, less religious Reverend Ray) and his brother Thomas are quickly forced to desert their posts in order to attempt to save their home and family from the advancing Union Army. This earns them their first long-term adversary, as their commanding officer, strangely enough, didn’t take too kindly to their desertion and continues to pursue them relentlessly. Of course, this man isn’t their only antagonist as they also come to odds with lawmen, Apache, and bandits throughout the course of their travels.
Unfortunately for them, the brothers wind up returning home too late to save their homestead and are forced to formulate a new plan. In order to rebuild their home and take back their land, they go in search of the fabled Juarez treasure. The rest of the story I’ll leave for you to discover on your own, but know that it is a well done tale of greed, betrayal, and vengeance that will continue to keep your interest and compel you to see the game through to its conclusion.
While much of the insight into the minds of Ray and Thomas is conveyed through a third, whinier McCall brother, William, the game is definitely focused on making the player feel like a gruff, overpowered, and bad man in the old West. This is the case no matter which brother you ultimately choose to control. Except for a few levels at the beginning and end of the game, players are given their choice of brother with which to gun down foes.
Ray is a very strong character who can kick down doors, take more bullets before going down, always keeps a handful of dynamite at the ready, and likes to get up close and personal with his dual pistols. Thomas on the other hand is a bit weaker, quicker on the draw, more agile, and is a skilled marksman with a rifle. Although there are these two options, most of the decision behind your choice will come from which play style you prefer because, for the most part, both characters will play through the same levels taking the same path. Every so often the brothers will be forced to split up, compelling some players to go through the title a second time to see everything, but a majority of the time they’ll traverse the levels side by side.
This actually brings me to my only major gripe about Bound in Blood. Since there are two characters that are almost always next to each other and helping one another out, it seems like a huge oversight not to include a cooperative mode. Sure, the A.I. that controls your brother is usually very competent and actually pulls his weight during gun battles, but it would have been great to be able to play split-screen or online co-op with a buddy as well.
Still, the gameplay is very well paced and almost always interesting. Normal gun battles, which are quite fun to begin with, are spruced up with the addition of a concentration mode. Once an onscreen revolver fills from killing enemies, a player can activate this mode which has Ray directing a reticule over any visible foes (Panzer Dragoon style) and unleashing a hail of gunfire and Thomas rapid firing his pistol as quickly as the player can pull down and release the right analog stick as though it were the gun’s firing hammer. However, until you charge up these attacks, you’ll likely need to make use of Bound in Blood’s cover system in order to stay protected while taking down enemies. Although it doesn’t always work perfectly, pressing up against an object will have your character stick to it, giving you the ability to peek around or above it in order to snap off a few quick shots without getting hit yourself.
Just about any time you might start to think “I’ve really been shooting at enemies for awhile now,” the game also throws in some variation or set piece to mix things up, keeping the game feeling fresh. Some of the highlights include using a cannon to sink an old paddleboat full of Union soldiers, gunning down horseback pursuers from inside a stagecoach, and a rafting trip down some rapids.
There are even some great moments that have you participating in quick draw pistol duels. During these duels, the camera gives you a very cinematic view from behind your character’s hip. From here you’ll need to use the left analog stick to circle left or right, keeping your foe in front of you and the right analog stick to keep your hand close to your holster until a bell tolls, signaling that it is time for one of you to die. The mechanics and timing can take awhile to get the hang of, but it actually does work quite well and victories are very satisfying.
Fortunately, once you’re done playing through the game’s eight to ten hour single-player campaign, perhaps twice if you want to go through as each brother, Bound in Blood also features a strong online offering for up to twelve players. There are five modes here ranging from Western varieties of deathmatch and team deathmatch to things like Manhunt, which is similar to a VIP mode where one player needs protected from the opposition. However, the most entertaining mode has to be Wild West Legends, which pits a team of bandits against a team of lawmen as they try to complete a progressing set of objectives or stop them, respectively. No matter which mode you choose, you’ll earn cash based on your performance that can be used to upgrade your favorite character class or even unlock one of the many that aren’t available for play right out of the box. There is a good variety to these classes such as their overall performances and the weapons they carry, which helps to give you a reason to keep coming back to participate in online shootouts.
While the gameplay is great, I honestly can’t say enough about this game’s presentation. The world that is constructed in the game feels quite authentic, from the random rubble you’ll find littering the ground to the sweeping shots of sprawling vistas you’ll witness during cinematics. Everything also looks superb from the generally warm lighting to the dust and shrapnel produced by exploding dynamite. Further immersion is supplied by some fantastic voice acting from Ray, Thomas, and even William. Particularly, the constant, and often chiding, back and forth that takes place between Ray and Thomas throughout the entire game really helps draw the player further into the experience.
If you’ve been waiting for a great Western-themed shooter, then look no further than Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. The gameplay is fun and varied, the story is entertaining, the visuals are well done, the voice acting is terrific, and the game even sports a respectable online offering. Fans of the original Call of Juarez should also be quite pleased, since Bound in Blood’s story provides insight into Reverend Ray’s past while improving upon almost every aspect of the previous title. So, if you’re a fan of the previous game, the Western theme, or are just looking for an alternative to killing aliens with space marines, be sure to give Bound in Blood a try.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.4 Graphics
While there are some odd animation and lip synching issues with some character’s faces, everything else looks great. 4.4 Control
Besides some sporadic problems with the game’s cover mechanic, the controls feel tight and accurate. 4.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
With a soundtrack that sounds like it could have been pulled directly from popular, older Western movies and fantastic voice work from the game’s main characters, you’ll definitely want to keep the volume turned up. 4.4 Play Value
Sporting an entertaining eight to ten hour single-player campaign along with a respectable online multiplayer component, Bound in Blood certainly delivers in the gameplay department. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.