Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood – the PS3 Attitude Review
A prequel to 2006’s Call of Juarez, Techland returns to the Old West with the sanguine “Bound in Blood”, a sub-title that not only suggests connotations of some violent escapades ahead, but the binds of family that hold us together.
As a genre, the Western has done quite well in gaming – something of a paradox considering typical fans of the setting are as likely to pick up a controller as your average gamer is to chew tobacco.
From Red Dead Revolver to the first Call of Juarez, games featuring amoral outlaws, big hats and bigger body counts are proving popular with gamers of all ages – leaving us to think maybe there’s a little cowboy in all of us just dying to get out.
Much like its predecessor, Bound in Blood’s antiquated weaponry – and hence the type of gun battles these armaments promote – may not be to every FPS fan’s taste. In fact, Bound in Blood is not so much a First Person Shooter rather a First Person Shoot-out. This difference could be construed as both a positive and a negative as, though fans of typical FPSs might dispair at the frantic reloading and peek-a-boo confrontations, Western aficionados will appreciate the pace and style of the action.
Though the game has numerous qualities, it’s Techland’s achievement in creating a believable world populated with engaging characters that elevates Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood from being a by-the-numbers period shooter to an enjoyable Western adventure. In fact, it’s somewhat ironic to think that a Polish developer has captured the mood of the time so well and have created such an authentic Wild West experience. This is Americana at its finest with a level of detail and authenticity that is on par with the likes of Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch or Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Of course, being a video game, it’s not all missing teeth and dysentery with some much needed levity injected in the form of snappy dialogue and outlandish set-pieces in an effort to make sure the journey doesn’t descend into a morose tale of woe and desperation.
As it’s a prequel, Ray McCall returns, this time with a similarly like-minded roguish brother Thomas and the lily-livered preacher of the family, William.Â The killjoy of the bunch, and man of God, also acts as both the game’s narrator and moral compass/general pain in the ass.
Taking place some years before the eventful occurrences of the first game, we open with the two brothers facing each other down the barrels of opposing guns. From here we whisk back even further to the trenches of the American Civil War to get an insight into the creation of the infamous “Reverend Ray”.
From the getgo, it’s quite apparent that this is not your typical FPS. As already mentioned, the fighting is very much fashioned by the six-shooters and rifles that were common at the time and, fittingly, shoot-outs are more exercises in patience and cover rather than simply charging in and blasting as many desperadoes to pieces as possible.
You start off as a member of the Southern forces repelling those Yankie dogs. Ironically however, the opening act of the game is by far its weakest as trench warfare is simply not what we signed up for in a Western action title. Thankfully, as soon as Ray deserts and the brothers commence down the fiery road to banditry, the game begins to shine and show its true colours.
The structure of Bound in Blood, no doubt in an effort to promote longevity, allows most chapters to be played by either the acerbic and morally inept Ray or his handsomer and equally amoral younger sibling, Thomas. For the most part, the action plays out quite similar, though Ray has dynamite at his disposal while Thomas can employ a lasso to reach loftier locations; attributes that do add an extra dimension to each level depending on the outlaw chosen.
Both brothers also possess a rechargeable Eye of the Hawk-esque Concentration Mode that, after you’ve sent a number of god-forsaken sums-a-bitches to hell, presents a slow-motion sharp-shooting feature allowing both brothers to rattle off of an inhuman amount of shots and riddle opponents with aplomb. It’s a nice touch with subtle differences between each protagonist; Thomas’ ability, for instance, allows the player to fire off rounds with the flick of the R3 stick. It’s a tactile and rewarding mechanism and just one of many touches in the game that elevates Bound in Blood from a standard shooter-with-a-theme to an immersive title with charm.
However, the game’s biggest virtue isn’t its dusty shoot-outs and rifling of sweaty men but the exemplary execution of what is a rip-roaring tale. Unlike some other FPSs where the plot is tacked on almost as an after-thought, if not reluctantly, the story of Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood has been crafted expertly, accentuated by the quality acting of Marc Alaimo and Zack Hanks. You quickly become invested in the hair-brained quest of Ray and Thomas as they play out their anti-hero capers and spout endless smart-alec comebacks in the background. Though the themes are adult and violent at times, there is always a tinge of unintentional comedy apparent, whether it’s the two cowboys hijacking stage-coaches and running them through store-fronts to their attempts to bed a local Mexican temptress.
Visually, Techland’s Chrome 4 engine performs admirably. Textures are rich and animations fluid with the world suitably sun-bleached and desolate. There’s heavy use of blur which adds a degree of authenticity when aiming but can be over-done at times; suggesting the technique may be present as a technique to alleviate rendering issues. The use of an ubiquitous heat effect can also make things appear exceptionally wet, no doubt also assisting with polygon pushing.Â For the most part though, the game looks good without dazzling the chaps off the more demanding of pixel-gunslingers.
In the performance department, it’s not all cheap women and endless whiskey however as one particular prickly cactus dares to rear its ugly head. The checkpoint system is fair and well laid out, but when the game freezes for a full five seconds each time one is encountered, we have to question the developers’ decision to disregard a mandatory install. It’s jarring and unfortunate as the game does such a great job of sucking you into the setting of 1860’s frontier territory that such noticable hangings quickly dispel the illusion.
Loadings times are also long with Techland fooling no one by marrying them with quaint cut-scenes that move the story forward but offer no ability to skip. There are also times when the game takes control of your character and won’t give it back, providing an on-rails approach that feels rigid and annoying. Minor gripes, but something worth mentioning nonetheless.
Finally, rounding off the negatives, the multi-player offering is also fairly forgettable, the nuances of fighting with six-shooters and rusty rifles found in the offline campaign are even more palpable when running around maps trying to gundown moustachioed curs. Simply put, there are a lot better online shooters out there at the moment.
These issues aside, Call of Juarez: Blood in Blood delivers on various levels. The story-mode is truly one of the more memorable single-player campaigns we can remember and, for the most part, the characters are likable, well acted and fully fleshed out. Its pace and quirks as a shooter might dissuade some, and those who have little interest in this violent period in America’s history won’t find much here to convert them, but considering its stuffed to the brim with set-pieces and thrilling action moments, it comes recommended.
Whether it’s the quick-draw duels at high-noon or running the gauntlet on stage-coaches while shooting bandits from inside the carriage, Call of Jaurez: Bound in Blood throws a lot of different game types at the wall with the majority of it sticking. With quality writing, a challenging shooting dynamic and varied set-pieces, there’s so much on show here that there’s a good chance most players will find something to like.