Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Video games with a Western theme are pretty rare. What exactly goes on in a development studio when the team is thinking about designing a new first person shooter? No doubt loads of guys would shout out “World War 2”, but what happens when some guy shouts out “Spaghetti Western”? Do the rest of the team look at him and think “Wha… what? Are you insane?” well luckily for us the team working at Techland, the guys from Poland who brought us games like Chrome and Xpand Rally, are giving us the pleasure of a prequel to their first Western shooter, Call of Juarez.
Bound in Blood tells the tale of Ray and Thomas McCall, two brothers who at the start are pointing guns at each other, ready to settle a dispute. You don’t actually know what happens as the game flashes back to the American Civil War and starts the player out as Ray McCall, who is on the frontlines as he and the Confederation army are trying to defend against the incoming Union attack. After protecting the line, Ray hears that Thomas’ stationed battalion is under attack and off you go as Ray to save Thomas.
This opening level acts as a training mission. Once you’ve come into contact with Thomas, all hell breaks loose as the McCall brothers are asked to retreat to Atlanta. Neither takes notice and desert their post to protect their home against the Union army and help save their third brother. That’s where the title comes in, Bound in Blood. After hearing about some rare treasure in Mexico, they plan to rebuild using the wealth they’ll gain from finding the mythical loot. The story features all your Western clichés of revenge, love and betrayal, so if Clint Eastwood has done it, it’s probably in here.
During the game you play as either Ray or Thomas, both of whom have specific skills. Ray is the violent, no holds bared weapon master that is skilled in smashing down doors, blowing stuff up with dynamite, using gatling guns and dual wielding pistols. On the other hand Thomas is the stealthy kind who can lasso a rope to climb up to places, snipe and use bow and arrows.
A feature that has returned from Call of Juarez and improved in Bound in Blood is Concentration mode. In the first game only Ray could use this ability, now both of them can activate it. Concentration mode is charged up by killing people, gaining more charge for headshots. If activated when charged, it sends the player into a small minigame, where as Ray you have to aim your reticule at the hostiles for it to lock a shot, up to 12 shots can be fired, so if only a couple of people are in view, just keep reselecting them to make sure they get pumped full of lead. Thomas’ on the other hand is more to do with flicking back the right stick, as if you were pulling back the hammer of a pistol. There’s no aiming to be done in Thomas’ Concentration mode, it’s all about the wrist action.
Both characters are taken through the same levels, sometimes you might stumble on a part where the brothers have to take different paths in the level, but the split never lasts that long before you’re both back together again, so you don’t miss much if you decide to only play through the game as one of the characters. Every level allows you to change character if you fancy a change, though it’s advised to keep to the same character though as achievements are earned for finishing the game fully as one of them.
It’s really surprising that there is not a single hint of cooperative play in this game. Especially when most of the time the brothers are together, it’s the perfect opportunity that sadly wasn’t taken. It would have worked well.
Most of the game is played as a straight forward FPS. You follow your objective that is shown with a star and simply shoot any cowboy or Indian that gets in your way to your mission completion. There is however a mighty problem with Bound in Blood – there’s no melee attack. It might not seem much at first, but you have to take into account that the weapons in this game are all ancient rifles and pistols, of which there are not that many. These guns need to reload all the time, so it ends up where you’re running and gunning, and suddenly you are right in this guy’s face, but can’t do anything but reload. If you don’t run away the guy hits you in the face, resulting in death.
What makes matters worse is that there is a weapon that has a blade on the end of it, but you can’t use it! It’s a strange decision to not be able to use the butt end of your gun to melee people, as the game really needs it. Instead you end up shooting most enemies from a distance so they can’t get you with their superhuman melee strength.
To help your distance shooting, Techland has implemented an automatic covering system. It basically kicks into affect when you are near an edge of a wall or rock, rather than having you use a cover button like Killzone 2 does. It takes a bit of getting use to as when attached you have to use the right stick to slide around the cover. It works some of the time but I can’t help but wish it was a button instead, so you knew exactly when you’d be in cover.
The first run through the game takes around 8-10 hours, depending if you decide to take on the side quests. These appear in sections of the game when you’ve just completed a major part of the story. The brothers stop off at a shop and it puts the player into an open world section rather than the linear structure you get when in a story related level. Here you can pick up wanted posters of people or teams that can be disposed of to earn a bounty. You’re either attacking or protecting and typically you’ll ride your horse to the location, shoot some guys and then get into a standoff with the wanted person. It’s rinse and repeat and you’ll only do them all to get money for better weapons, or to complete achievements.
At first the standoff duels were interesting, if somewhat trial and error. The camera pans behind and to the right of your selected character, to view your gun pouch and arm. Using the right stick, you control the movement of your arm freely, allowing you to go for your gun. Go for the gun too early and the arm will move back with your character wiggling a pointy finger saying “you’re doing it all wrong, you cheat.” As soon as a bell noise hits you need to grab your gun and press the trigger as the aiming reticule appears on your opponent. You have to keep your arm just around your pouch so you can pick out your gun faster than your opposition. If you don’t then it’s game over and you have to reload and try again. Once you get the hang of where about you need your arm, it becomes effortless.
It’s a shame the developers couldn’t spice up some of the standoffs, because eventually it becomes the same thing over and over again, against the same people with cowboy hats and crazy hairy faces. Maybe adding some weather properties, or maybe some props flying past in the wind, instead it just gets too monotonous and you soon lose the sense of fear.
Multiplayer has some entertaining modes and supports up to twelve players. You must select a character class, with a selection of five initially to work with; more are unlocked as you gain wins and increase your cash to buy them. There are also five different game types that span across eight maps. The Wild West Legends mode has a team of outlaws taking on the lawman as the outlaws try robbing banks and escaping with the money. Manhunt has the two teams taking turns to try and kill a specific player on the opposite team. You’ll either have to kill the key player to gain a point, or protect your team’s key player to gain a point. It’s quite hectic as most people will hang around the person that needs protecting.
Wanted is a mode where the wanted person is the only one who can score points. The last two, Shootout and Posse are your typical deathmatch and team deathmatch modes. The more original modes are a lot of fun and I preferred playing them over the typical deathmatch scenarios we’ve seen before.
The art style is spot on at representing the feel of the Wild West. The game engine does struggle with screen tearing when the camera moves quickly, and some of the textures are a bit low resolution at times, but they’re only noticed when up close. From far away everything looks beautiful and the rest of the game looks great, with nice particle effects and good looking rocky desert and forest landscapes.
The main characters have well written dialogue, which is mixed in with some fine voice acting. They’ll banter and joke between each other during gameplay, along with narrator William, the third brother who tries to help the brothers change their ways and see the light of God. The minor people don’t get the same treatment though.
You’ve got the typical Mexican/Spanish instrumental one associates with Westerns, but sometimes some electrical guitar work will be thrown in to the mix. The soundtrack is solid and without doubt the perfect fitting for the Wild West.
The best thing about Bound in Blood is that it feels different from all the modern first person shooters on the market. This is certainly helped by the Wild West setting which will suit those interested in Westerns. The lack of rocket launchers, tanks, crazy fast submachine guns and all those other high tech gadgetry make for an old world approach. While this might not always give the best gameplay, it certainly makes up this with some great storytelling and at times some amusing gun slinging action. It gets a bit repetitive in single player, but the game finishes just as you feel it’s about to start dragging on. With a solid multiplayer mode you’re certainly not short of things to do, even if there’s no cooperative play.