Release Date: June 30th, 2009
Available on: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
Reviewer’s note: This review was originally written September 16th, 2009 for my Giant Bomb account. I am moving it here and cleaning it up to keep all my reviews in one place.
Call of Juarez was a fun wild west game that alternated between two playable characters: the stealth and platforming based Billy and the action based Ray. The game was fun, and had a few good ideas as well. Plus at the time it was one of very few games set in the wild west. So Techland followed it up with Bound in Blood, a prequel to the original game.
Set 20 years before the original, it focuses on Ray and his brothers Thomas and William. Ray and Thomas join up with the Confederates after their father is killed to try and stop General Sherman’s advance into Atlanta. When they are ordered to retreat, however, they decide to desert the army to protect their home. Arriving back, they find their home to be overrun with Union soldiers and that their mother died in her sleep last night. After they rescue William they flee the house and hide out in the west. Two years later, after being kicked out of another town for killing the sheriff, the three brothers decide to find the lost Aztec treasure that was suppose to pay for the release of Montezuma when Cortez held him hostage. Along the way they meet up with Juarez, a powerful Mexican bandit who is also searching for the treasure and offers to aid the two, and Marisa a beautiful Mexican woman who both the brothers fall for. At the same time, Colonel Barnsby is hunting down the two brothers for deserting the Confederate army. When he hears of the treasure though, his new goal is to take it and raise a new army to win this time. Also, to make things a little more complicated, an Apache tribe’s leader, Running River, is willing to trade the medallion that leads to the treasure for 300 rifles so he can wage war against the white men. He sends his son, Seeing Farther, to meet with Juarez to buy the rifles.
Overall, the plot is just dripping with western flavor. It really does feel like the kind of story that would come out of the Wild West, with gunslingers, sheriffs, duels at high noon and a missing treasure. What Techland has created is, in my opinion, easily one of the greatest western stories told in a video game. The characters are really wonderfully fleshed out, going through quite a bit of development over the course of the game. Notably, the three brothers get a wonderful amount of character development that cause them to really stand out. Nearly all the characters go through some kind of development, with the exception of Seeing Farther. Sadly, this character never seems able to move beyond the “I do this for honor!” thing. While this wouldn’t be a problem if he was developed at all, he just never ever moves past this over the course of the entire game.
Like all games, Call of Juarez is nothing without, well, gameplay. Luckily, the gameplay falls under one of the better FPS games. At the start of most chapters you can choose to play as either Ray or Thomas. Ray is able to duel wield revolvers, throw dynamite, use a gatling gun while moving and can take more damage. Thomas, on the other hand, can use knives and a bow, is a better shot with a rifle, can use a lasso to climb up to a higher location and is much faster. Because of the time period, most weapons are slow to reload, meaning every shot needs to count. Besides a couple of exceptions, most guns need to be reloaded one bullet at a time. A six shot revolver is not so bad, but the twelve shot rifle is a real time eater. Adding onto this would be the concentration mode which also adds another layer to the fighting. If you can kill enough enemies, then you can enter concentration mode to mark a bunch of targets to instantly shoot. There are also duel concentration modes where you can control two guns at once while firing in slow motion. Finally, no western game would be complete without duels at high noon. The one-on-one duels require you to use the left stick to move in a circle to keep the enemy in view, and the right stick to keep your hand near your gun. Once the bell rings you need to quickly grab the gun and shoot the enemy. It’s an interesting idea, but by the second duel the reaction time needed begins to increase to an absurd amount. Eventually it just gets silly. With enough practice, it can be done but it’s still an absurd raise. The game is mostly linear, but twice in the game a mini-sandbox level comes along. In these levels you can take on side quests for extra cash, and buy guns and ammo. There’s also no co-op of any kind, which feels like a missed opportunity with this game.
Online, Bound in Blood manages to do enough to separate it from most games. There are several game modes, ranging from Shootouts/Posse (deathmatch/team deathmatch), Marked Man (VIP) Wanted (A solo VIP mode, where one guy is the wanted and everyone is trying to kill him) and Wild West Legend (an objective based mode that varies from map to map.) There are seven maps, each of which manages to be at least slightly different from the last… for the most part. My biggest complaint is that three of the maps all take place in a similar looking towns that get to the point where it looks like they copy and pasted some of the buildings from one map to the next. The game has a total of thirteen classes, but you only start with five. You can earn money from matches to buy these classes, or spend them on temporary upgrades to classes for the game you’re in. Bound in Blood has a bounty system in game. Everyone starts worth $100, and this total rises and falls depending on what they do in match. This makes it so better players are worth more then newbies, making killing them worth it.
Graphic wise, Bound in Blood is a good looking game. Character models show a nice amount of detail, as does the environment. Lighting effects are notably good. When you stay inside for too long, stepping outside is nearly blinding. It’s a pretty cool effect the first time, but when you’re online it’s more likely to get you killed. The music is great, hands down. It has several tunes, from battle fitting guitar heavy tracks to the nice old fashioned spaghetti western classic themes. It only adds to the setting that much more. The voice acting is great as well, with all the characters doing wonderful jobs in filling their roles. There’s only slip ups with the voice acting comes from a few minor characters, but none of them are really around long enough to wreck the game.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood manages to achieve what most other western based video games don’t manage to do: be good. If you’re looking for a western thrill, a good FPS or just a generally good game then you should consider this game. With an interesting story, some great gameplay, and fun online with good replay value then this may just be the stop for any Wild West fan’s needs.