I’m just going to lay this right out on the table per an observation I’ve made over the years: if you’re not into the old west and the western genre that’s known so well in the movies, then you’re probably not going to be too fond of the string of western style games that have been making their way to our video game consoles. But if you’re like myself and absolutely adore anything set in that quintessential old western setting with some great music backing it up, then this review is right up your alley.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is the follow-up to 2007’s Call of Juarez. The game is a prequel story about the McCall brothers, Thomas and Ray, and their desertion of the Confederate Army to help protect their family. When home becomes just too dangerous, they take their younger brother William, and the trio set off toward Mexico to search out a treasure of legend. As with any story that involves stubborn characters, especially brothers, greed and jealousy find their way into the mix and Thomas and Ray need to find a way to work together or die just another victim to the ruthless old west.
As I mentioned before, I’m a lover of westerns. At one point, the only really fun game that had a great western tone to it, was GUN. Then I discovered a little game called Call of Juarez and I gave it a whirl. The first game had many different things about it that really drove me nuts and frustrated me to no end; but once a groove was found in the gameplay, the story could be focused on and I found myself really enjoying it in the end. This same path came up with Bound in Blood, as the game’s developers changed up a lot of the gameplay that I had gotten used to in the first endeavor. But yet again, once you settle in and figure out how the games works best for you, it’s all about the story and once again, it is a very worthy ride.
The best thing about this game — as was the case in the first one — is the story. As you play through this prequel, you begin to realize certain characters from the first game. Once you’ve identified these characters, you then begin to realize how the story fits and you then anticipate how we’re going to get there. The game’s writers were quite brilliant in putting together a great sequel story that fits perfectly into the original game’s storyline. This is something you don’t see often, as most titles look more to gameplay than the story, so it was refreshing to be thoroughly entertained on this adventure. One thing that almost always wins my heart over in a video game — even if the gameplay isn’t the greatest — is if it feels like I’m playing through a movie, and that’s what the Call of Juarez games are great at.
Two things of note stuck out as tough changes, one being the quickdraw methods. In the first game, Reverend Ray McCall had the only quickdraw ability. When your gun was holstered, and you were all charged up, you could pull a quickdraw and two crosshairs would start from the right and left sides of the screen, and slowly make their way toward each other. As the crosshairs moved over your enemies, you pull the trigger and try and make sure you have enough bullets to share with the whole class. If you hit everyone, once the bar drains, you return to full-speed and your enemies drop like narcoleptics at a Bob Ross demonstration. While they have a similar style to this in the prequel, they also have two new ones as well — one for each brother. Ray’s gives you a crosshair to move around at-will and simply cover as many enemies as you can in various critical spots so when the bar runs out, you fire off a multitude of shots in just a moment. Thomas’s requires you to move in slow-mo from enemy to enemy while pulling back the hammer of your gun before each shot. When a room needed to be cleaned out, the two brothers stand on either side and the first game’s dual slow-mo crosshair method came into play, but sadly, it doesn’t move as slowly or as smoothly as the first. All-in-all, I really wish the first game’s quickdraw style and speed were kept here — it was the most-realistic and cinematic feeling of them all, without a doubt. Even so, all methods are effective enough for taking out baddies when you need to!
The other big thing was the one-on-one showdown, which had a couple big changes about it. In the first game, when a showdown unfolded, you basically just stare at your enemy, and when the time comes, you pull back on your analog stick and then push it back up to mimic going for and pulling out your pistol. When you reach for your gun, a crosshair rapidly moves over the opponent and slows down over the next few seconds — if you’re good, you can land a quick headshot, but if you’re not, you need to duck and weave a bit until you find a clear shot. The smoother you make the draw motion, the smoother the crosshair would be to manage. There is no doubt in my mind that this was the best video game showdowns we had seen, until Bound in Blood came along that is! This time around, you’re looking right at your own holster and gun, with your enemy in the background. As he moves, you have to move to keep him in focus, while at the same time, you have to keep your hand as close to your gun as you can without cheating. When the bell rings out, you quickly move toward your gun and draw. If your hand is in the wrong spot or you move in the wrong direction, you die. If your enemy isn’t lined up, you die. At first, the showdown in this game was one of the most frustrating things I had EVER tried to get the hang of and I was pretty angry with it. But again, once you really get a feel for it, it works out beautifully. In fact, once you get down how to move and where to keep your hand for perfect timing, you’ll knock ’em dead left and right. The crosshair actually moves fairly slow, so if you get the gun out in time, you can put one between their eyes almost every time.
A second thing they changed about the showdowns is something I don’t like at all. Once again, in the first game, after you successfully won a showdown, you could go back and do that showdown any time you wanted to as a kind of mini game. In Bound in Blood, you don’t have this option, and this made me very, very sad. One of my favorite things about the first is that if I wanted to waste a little time, I could just throw down with a few cowboys and that was that. If there’s a way to do this in Bound in Blood that I haven’t discovered, then someone needs to tell me where to go!
One large addition to this game is multiplayer. I personally don’t play on Xbox Live yet, but for those of you who look for games to offer online multiplayer games, they’re here as well. These games range from players hunting down the wanted man of the group, or playing as gangs taking others down, to every man for himself chaos!
With this game and the upcoming Red Dead Redemption, westerns are certainly making their mark in games. And so far, none have done a better job at realism and pure cinematic extravagance than the Call of Juarez games. If you’re new to the genre, I suggest starting with those two immediately! Here’s hoping the gang at Techland has more gritty western fun up their sleeves, as well.
Oh, and if Bethesda Softworks is reading, it would be a dream come true for them to make a huge open world western game in the same vein as Oblivion and Fallout 3. *wink* *wink*