Review: Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood (Microsoft Xbox 360)

bibCall of Juarez: Bound in Blood
Developer: Techland
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: First Person Shooter
Released: 06/30/09

Ah, the Wild West. Many tales have been told about the taming of the West, often in the movies. A lot of them have even been enjoyable. Not so many of these tales have been told in videogames. Maybe it’s too far outside the mainstream these days, I don’t know. Whatever the reason was, things seem to be changing. In the past few years we’ve had games like Gun, Red Dead Revolver, Darkwatch and Call of Juarez all come out to varying degrees of success. At least enough success to warrant two sequels, one upcoming for Red Dead Revolver, and this one, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood.

Story:

Bound in Blood is actually a prequel to the first Call of Juarez, and it does much to establish how things stand as they do in the first game. The plot in BiB revolves around three brothers, two of which are playable (Ray and Thomas), and William McCall. The story starts near the end of the Civil War, with General Sherman advancing through Georgia on his way to Atlanta. After rescuing Thomas, both desert the Confederate cause and rush to their home to defend it from the incoming Union forces. This greatly angers their Colonel, who then makes it his mission to see them hang. Instead of you know, stopping Sherman’s march to the sea.

Time passes and we see that the McCall’s have gone West in search of a way to make their fortune so they can rebuild the now ruined family home. Ray and Thomas have seen war and it has changed them. They do not hesitate to pull a gun and take what isn’t there’s. William, on the other hand, is not like his brothers. He had to stay home and take care of his ailing mother, and had only his faith in God to protect him. He has become a priest, and does his best to see that his brothers don’t become murderous thugs. He fails. Miserably. Perhaps because he wouldn’t shut up about it. I know that would annoy me.
woman
Anyway. You have two brothers, both of whom are willing to take what they want and no quarrels between them. Insert conniving woman. Insert legend of lost gold. Stir as needed. Instant drama. Is it a very good story? I wouldn’t say that. It’s certainly not a classic at any rate. It does just enough to introduce most of the characters that you would later see in the original game.

Graphics:

While the story in BiB is less than enthralling, the graphics are more than passable. Most of the time the game looks great. The character models look pretty lifelike, with hardly any uncanny valley going on at all. There are a few things I take issue with, but on the whole this is the best looking western game I’ve ever played.

So what do I take issue with? Well, for starters if you’re playing on a standard definition screen be ready to grab your magnifying glass to read anything on screen. Just like in past games like Dead Rising, the text is clearly intended to be read on a high def screen.

Additionally, I know they were going for realism and all, but I don’t need to be blinded by sunlight every other level. It’s very irritating, especially when you have to stare into the light in order to find your targets.

Sound:

As with the graphics, I have very little to complain about when it comes to the Audio in BiB. The voice acting is strong, with no obvious or out of place accents. Nobody phones their lines in, and each character is more interesting because of it. Even William is believable. Annoying, true, but believably annoying.

The music is terrific as well. It complements the action on screen, and heightens the drama when it’s needed. At no time did I go in search of a way to mute the music. The real winner here though are the sound effects. Cannon balls crash and rifles blast, soldiers yell, all of it bringing the soundscape in each level to life beautifully.

Controls/Gameplay:

For most of the levels you are given a choice of playing using Ray or Thomas. Each brother has his own unique skills that they bring to the game. Ray, for example, can wield two pistols. He can also throw and use dynamite. Thomas meanwhile has a lasso, can use throwing knives, and can also use the bow and arrow. There are also physical acts which one brother can do while the other can’t. Thomas can climb and then help Ray up, while Ray is capable of breaking down some doors. The lasso that Thomas uses is for grabbing onto exposed items like branches or poles jutting out of buildings which will allow you to climb to higher levels. As most levels in the game are designed with you being able to play either character, there is usually a point in each level which will require you to do something which the other character cannot. This may involve you climbing to the roof of a building while Ray distracts your enemies, things of that nature.

duelRed Dead Revolver, you have the ability to use a version of bullet time, where you are able to target multiple enemies and then unload on everyone you can. Ray can fire both of his pistols while doing this, but Thomas can only use one. To make up for that Thomas can fire his pistol even faster, if you perform the required motion with the right analog stick quickly enough. With either character I found this mode to be implemented less satisfactorily than in Red Dead. I don’t even know why honestly. Perhaps it’s because in Red Dead the skill was more required than it appeared to be here.

In addition to the on foot levels there are points in the game where Techland have decided to break up the monotony. So at times you will find yourself commanding a Gatling gun, an artillery cannon, and riding on and then in a stage coach blazing away at a seemingly endless horde of horsemen. The artillery cannon was awkward at first but it doesn’t take long to start raining steel down on the enemy, while the Galtling gun is what you’d expect from a machine gun type of weapon.

Replayability:

Techland have included a multiplayer mode for players who can’t get enough rootin and tooin. This mode, which includes variations on deathmatch and other staples of the genre is fairly basic but it could be enjoyable, if enough people were playing the game online. During my time with the game I had a difficult time getting a game of more the six people going at any one time, but your mileage may vary there.
town
The game also encourages you to replay through the chapters using only one character. Doing so will grant you an achievement. Speaking of achievements, Techland did a very nice job of giving players an easy way to see how close they are to the various achievements in the game. By being able to click a button and see that I’m 30% away from achieving some achievement or another is a nice way to encourage me to try harder to get that achievement. In many ways it felt like seeing how far you had to go to level up your character in an RPG. I hope more developers latch onto this idea.

This game screams for co-operative gameplay, yet its not there. I don’t know why not. Stages where two people fight there way to a common goal, occasionally having to assist one another by using their unique skills? Yeah I can’t see how that would be attractive with another person either.

Balance:

There are a few levels where you are in some fog or mist. You have great difficulty seeing your enemies but strangely they can peg you off from across the screen. Perhaps they are wearing Civil War era night vision goggles, I don’t know.

The duels are needlessly difficult. I’m not going to dwell on these again, but they do need to be mentioned.

Originality:

Well this is perhaps the first co-op game that doesn’t include co-op, how’s that for originality? On a more serious note, aside from being completely disrespectful to the beliefs of a Native American tribe, I’d say there is nothing original at all in this game. The sole positive being the Achievement chart which I discussed earlier.

Addictiveness:

The game starts off pretty well, but the story and the characters just killed any kind of addiction I might have been developing the more you delve into it.

Appeal Factor:

Well, certainly if you enjoyed the first Call of Juarez game this one will fit right into your tastes. Secondly, if you enjoy the Wild West and crave any game that sets itself directly into that genre then Bound in Blood will certainly satisfy that craving. Otherwise it’s a first person shooter with a somewhat limited selection of weapons and a story which leaves something to be desired.

Miscellaneous:

One level finds you attacking a sacred Indian burial ground. I get it, you need a way to add something to your game, and attacking a Comanche burial ground will certainly give your game that certain something, but it won’t be class. I could only imagine while playing this level what people would say if you were instead having a gun battle inside the Vatican, or somewhere else considered sacred and holy. Your Apache guide chides you for doing it after the mission is over, but that’s not really good enough.

The Scores:
Story: Below Average
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Poor
Originality: Pretty Poor
Addictiveness: Bad
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Dreadful

FINAL SCORE: Mediocre Game

Short Attention Span Summary:

Well, the gameplay is ok, but the story just kills it for me. In order for me to get interested in something as clichéd as mythical Aztec gold, I’m going to have to like the characters a hell of a lot more than I like Ray and Thomas. If they make a third Call of Juarez game they had better make the characters more interesting or else the call will go straight to voice mail.

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