Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood Review
Top production values and exciting gameplay make Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood one call you should definitely heed.
- Authentic Western feel
- Exciting shoot-outs and gun duels
- Involving story
- Great voice acting
- Looks stunning.
- Basic enemy AI
- Over too quickly.
Prequels are by definition concerned with looking at what has come beforehand, but Bound in Blood is anything but a backwards step. This game--a prequel to 2007's Call of Juarez--is a tense, riveting, and superb-looking first-person shooter that ditches the stealth elements that clogged up the original like molasses. Instead, it focuses on action-packed shoot-outs and set-piece moments that will make you feel like you've strapped on the six-shooters and stepped straight into the dusty, violent Wild West. And while it's over all too quickly (and filled with none-too-smart enemies), Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is sure to scratch the itchiest of trigger fingers.
The game's Western theme is presented with aplomb: it showcases an impressive world that bleeds with Wild West iconography. Bound in Blood is more spaghetti than Unforgiven--gun duels are preceded by intense bouts of staring, enemies will topple dramatically off high balconies when shot, and there is more than one large gunfight inside an abandoned church or saloon. The game's story touches on many well-known Western motifs, such as honor, betrayal, greed, faith, and even love, and while it doesn't tread any new ground, it does present a compelling narrative.
Set years before the first game, Bound in Blood follows the McCall brothers--Ray and Thomas--as they change from honorable Confederate deserters to amoral treasure hunters seeking a fabled fortune. If you played the first game, you know Ray as a religious fire-and-brimstone preacher, which is a stark contrast to the lustful, greedy, coldhearted Ray portrayed in Bound in Blood. It's one of the great pleasures of the game to see just how this transformation takes place, and while you'll probably see the ending from a mile away, it still packs a hefty emotional punch.
While Ray is a brutish type, his brother, Thomas, is more thoughtful (although just as violent), and you'll get to play as both in Bound in Blood. You could also play as two different characters in the first game, but while the two there were clearly delineated as action or stealth, this time around both characters are action-focused. Ray is more direct: he can duel-wield pistols, throw explosives, break down doors, and walk around with the occasional Gatling gun. Thomas is an expert with the rifle, is deadly with a bow, can use a lasso to reach high places, and can use knives for silent stealth kills. Ray is all about in-your-face confrontation, rushing in with both guns blazing and blowing up any obstacle. Thomas lets you play a more measured game, using the rifle's long sights to take enemies out from a distance. Each brother also gets his own special attack--called concentration mode--which slows down time to allow quick attacks on multiple targets. Though their attacks are performed differently--Ray's requires you to quickly move your targeting reticle over foes, while Thomas' has you flicking the right stick on the controller (or moving your mouse back and forth in the PC version) in order to replicate a gun's hammer--the effect is the same: mass carnage.
Apart from a few missions at the start and near the end of the game, you can choose to play as either Ray or Thomas throughout most of Bound in Blood. The two brothers stick close together for most of it, meaning that apart from a few instances where one brother has to take a different path, you'll see and do the same thing no matter which one you play as. How you play--aggressive as Ray or circumspect as Thomas--is different enough, however, to make it worthwhile to go through the game twice. This is a plus because of the brevity of Bound in Blood's single-player campaign. You'll likely finish it (including all side missions) in about seven hours on the first run.
However, those seven hours will be eventful, with gameplay flowing nicely between intense shoot-outs, large-scale set pieces, and intimate one-on-one gun duels. The available weapons for the many Bound in Blood shoot-outs are fairly limited compared to other shooters, although given the time period, that's hardly surprising. Both Ray and Thomas can use pistols, shotguns, and rifles, and there are several varieties of each that you can upgrade to as the game progresses. The large set pieces happen with good regularity and include using a cannon, blowing up a Union paddle steamer (don't worry, the Confederates get their due eventually), riding a raft through rapids while being pursued by angry Native Americans, using a cart-mounted Gatling gun to mow down enemies on horseback, and even fighting your way out of an ancient underground temple as it gets buried in sand. You'll also get plenty of time on horseback, although the horses can change direction on a dime and even quickly strafe, so they don't feel much like real animals when you're astride them
The gun duels are less hectic but just as tense. These one-on-one affairs act as boss fights, pitting you against an especially powerful enemy in an old-fashioned quick-draw fight to the death. The camera shifts down to a cinematic view low behind the player for these duels. You'll have to match your opponent's left and right steps to keep him in the centre of the screen, while keeping your hand close to your pistol. Duel controls are quite precise, and you'll never feel like they're preventing you from winning a quick draw. It's heart-in-the-mouth stuff most of the time, and you'll probably die plenty of times before you get the timing of a draw right.