Review: Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood (PC)

coverCall of Juarez: Bound in Blood
Developer: Techland
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: First Person Shooter
Release Date: 06/30/09

Ahh, First Person Shooters. The game genre that dominated my earliest PC playing games, from Doom through Quake II, few other genres captured my attention. My tastes have changed dramatically over the years, needing more story to keep me engaged with a game rather than just blowing everything away. So does this prequel to Call of Juarez deliver on that story and action that a first person shooter can deliver and make me feel like I’m running around in a western?

Story/Modes
This game has a multiplayer mode and a single player mode. I’m going to tackle the story mode first. The game starts off in a Civil War battle. You’re on the Southern side, your brother is off in another area of the battle and cut off from you and any kind of help. Through a bit of forced persuasion and some shifty moving through the enemy lines, you manage to get into the area he’s in. The two of you then work together to blow up a bridge that’s letting the Union get supplies and troops through. The commanding officer doesn’t keep his end of the bargain and you and your brother desert to go save your family home from Sherman’s march on Atlanta. Your commanding officer is not amused and makes it his life’s mission to get revenge as he blames you for Atlanta burning. Yeah. Ok.

01 rainy showdownThings haven’t been going so well for the brothers after they split from their family estate, having to leave their mother unburied. On top of getting kicked out of every other town they’d stopped in, one of them has taken it upon himself to “diddle” the Sheriff’s daughter and you end up having to gun him down. Thus ensues your next expulsion from a town as you ride through it on a high-jacked stagecoach driving through buildings and barns trying to get away. Things escalate from there as the tale gets twisted with love, family and betrayal setting things up for the first game in the series.

The story mode itself is kind of short and full of cliches of everything you might expect in a western. Which in and of itself isn’t bad, but as outrageous as you think they’re going to be it felt predictable.

Multiplayer is a bit underwhelming. You have a few basic characters to play as and you unlock more as you play and collect money to buy them. I personally had a tough time getting through their online registration process just to get online with the game as it has a ridiculously short wait time to connect to their verification servers. I did have fun with the multiplayer here, but even with the multitude of classes, it has the same standard playing options as most of the other recent games just with slight variation among the multiplayer modes.

To add to that, there is no co-op mode. Granted with some of the sequences later on that might not have been possible from a story standpoint but damn it would have been fun earlier on and mid-way through the game to be able to take on all that crap with a friend. And to be honest, I had more fun with and am still have more fun with the multiplayer in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Story/Modes Rating: Enjoyable

Graphics
02 boomThis is one damned good looking game. Sure the characters may not all be pretty, but they all deliver a performance during different cut scenes and can really drive the emotion (or lack thereof) of the characters you’re interacting with. The one time I didn’t think it was delivering all that well was during the rainstorm. It didn’t feel like it was storming. Sure it looked like it was raining, but not hard enough to soak everyone instantly. Even then it looked like they were all wearing rubber instead of clothing.

Other than that they’ve done a fantastic job bringing things to life here, from the well worn ammo boxes to the finely crafted handgun. The details abound and I have to say it is very impressive, especially with all the options cranked. One thing people can’t argue is that the game is visually well done.

That is until we talk about laptop support. Like some of the PC games I’ve played recently, notebook cards aren’t officially supported, and this ends up making some of the shadows look rather ragged and give you a few glitches with the shadows. I had this same problem with Wheelman, though not quite as bad with this game, and in this day and age in PC gaming you need to think of the laptop gamer. Sorry boys, this cost some points.

Graphics Rating: Great

Sound
The sound in this game is really well done. The voice acting didn’t have me cringing at any point and the gunfire and explosions sounded great, especially when I was playing with headphones. It easily held my attention and was actually helpful when I was getting shot at as to where the gunfire was coming from which added to the direction shot on the targeting reticule on the screen. Musically I can’t comment. I mean it was there in some spots, and it had a wild west feel to it which added when it was on, but I can’t honestly remember it. And being a former band geek I tend to like music in whatever I’m playing or watching and when I don’t notice it or remember it afterwards I get disappointed. Westerns have some of the most memorable music out there (The Good the Bad and the Ugly comes to mind as well as Tombstone)and this game just didn’t manage to bring that into it.

Sound Rating: Good

03 blood brothersControl and Gameplay
Control with this game defaults to the keyboard and mouse, which I have to salute the developers for not assuming every PC user out there is also a slave to the Xbox controller. Most of the basics are there but there are a few additions. Movement and crouching are the usual for FPS, but they’ve added a rather neat way to cycle weapons by pressing the middle mouse button to pull up a rotary menu shaped like the bullet chamber of a gun with your weapons laid out in each and you can select by rotating the mouse around or just pressing the button number of the weapon you want.

While the story is linear, they change up things a bit from the standard blow everything in your way up and move on. Sometimes you have to play it smart with the cover and use your bullet time to lay waste to the enemy. Sometimes you need to get in to lay charges to blow up a bridge, or use a cannon to sink a river boat. Or there’s that Indiana Jones moment where you have to use your rope to swing across an area to get in a window to take out the enemy from behind.

For the most part the game controls are fairly responsive and easy to use, although aiming with an actual Civil War cannon can take some practice. The big issue I have is with bullet time. On the console version you have to move one of the analog sticks fairly fast in bullet time to get all your shots out. In this version you have to move the mouse forward and backward quickly to get the shots out. It’s awkward and it doesn’t work very well. So I didn’t use bullet time very much which means the game was a bit harder, but I was a lot less frustrated.

The partner mechanics are interesting. One brother is good for kicking in doors and using two pistols at once. The other is an ace with the rifle and can use rope and bows. It struck me as kind of funny that a first person shooter would incorporate tactics from the LEGO games. With two brothers to play though, this game would have done well with a co-op mode for several sections in the game, and it’s just not here, but I’m not into sadonecrobestiality so I’ll let that one lie with the modes section.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

Replayability
04 desertionOne of the interesting things this game does, is give you the story from two different points of view at differing points in the game, one through Ray and the other Thomas. Later on it can be quite a different experience as the brothers don’t always get along. You can also unlock a harder play mode for those out there that enjoy getting the crap beat out of them by a game or who are just more skilled with a mouse than I am. Then there is of course the actual multiplayer that can keep someone coming back for awhile before losing interest. So there’s a respectable bit of replayability worked into the game.

Replayability Rating: Very Good

Balance
I can appreciate a difficult game as much as the next person, but this game has its moments even on the easiest setting that will leave even the most reserved nun cursing like a sailor. Just an example, you find yourself in a burning saloon that you have to escape from and you can’t see through the flames and the clouded over windows to shoot at the people on the outside, but they’re scoring direct hits because you’re not cowering behind the bar while you’re trying to even SEE the people nailing you. And when you’re riding on a stagecoach through town you get shot to hell and back again which is a bit ridiculous considering most handguns in the west, and that’s what half the bad guys are using on you in that sequence, weren’t even close to that accurate and not everyone who had one could shoot. Bear in mind this is on EASY.

While the single player portion can be short, you do have some replayability with an unlockable mode as well as the levels where you can play as the other brother and getting better weapons, plus the multiplayer which no one seems to talk much about. The PC version is priced decently, but the short single player really has me wishing it was about $10 cheaper.

Balance Rating: Poor

05 lassoOriginality
This game pulls so much from different westerns I’ve seen over the years that I really can’t even begin to mention them all. There’s the cemetary battle and the bridge scene from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, the priest unwilling to truly fight but is slung into the mix anyway from The Quick and the Dead, the stagecoach chase that has been used in countless westerns although I don’t think it was driven through buildings to get away before. If you can think of it, this game has touched on it in some way shape or form. With so many westerns out there, really coming up with something truly original to do with it is pretty hard to do. Unfortunately while they were used differently, these were all plot devices and moments in the western that have been used before.

Originality Rating: Pretty Poor

Addictiveness
I’d have to say that the addictiveness on this game is so-so. On one hand I enjoyed playing it, on the other hand I could easily put it down for something else. I think a LOT of what kept me from getting into it is that my favorite of the brothers, Thomas, well let’s just say things don’t end so well for him in the first game, this being a prequel. Once I found that out, my brief real interest in the game started to wane. Taken as a standalone for someone who likes FPS and westerns though, I would have been more into it with some of the issues in gameplay taken care of.

Addictiveness Rating: Decent

06 more gunsAppeal Factor
There have been several different western themed games that have come out over the last few years. Add to that this is a prequel, but you don’t have to have played the other to play this one and know what’s going on. The price is average with every other new pc game out there, but the shorter single player (especially if you don’t play through again with the other brother) and multiplayer that I have heard pretty much no one talking about might leave this one hanging on the shelves.

Appeal Factor Rating: Decent

Miscellaneous
Bugs, crashes and no laptop support, oh my! My first install of the game went fine. Decided the first thing to get myself set up for multiplayer. Had some rather strange issues getting verified that weren’t on my end for a change. But I already mentioned those. Then there were the graphics glitches because they decided (and I don’t know who to point the finger at the devs or the publisher which is why they, are well, they) not to really support laptop graphics card drivers which is pretty well, reidiculous considering the number of people I know who are switching to gaming on their laptops, uncluding myself. The one that really and truly bugged me and I havne’t had sinc eI got my new laptop was the crash to desktop. And I had that at least four or five times. Lucky for me this game autosaves every time the character you’re playing sneezes or kicks over a rock.

Miscellaneous Rating: Below Average

The Scores
Story/Modes Rating: Enjoyable
Graphics Rating: Great
Sound Rating: Good
Control and Gameplay Rating: Good
Replayability Rating: Very Good
Balance Rating: Poor
Originality Rating: Pretty Poor
Addictiveness Rating: Decent
Appeal Factor Rating: Decent
Miscellaneous Rating: Below Average
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
asheresize Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood suffers from some mishandled controls (they’re really not sloppy) and is lacking only in originality if you’ve inundated yourself with westerns most of your life. It is a solid, if short FPS, and even the multiplayer is a blast once you get registered. I found the story itself to be a bit lacking, but only because I know what happens to my favorite character in the first game. It’s a bit like finding out Snape killed Dumbledore before you read the Harry Potter book or saw the film. While I might not have picked this one up at all, it is a fairly solid game and I think a fan of westerns and FPS games would enjoy it.

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