Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood First Impressions

We saddled up and rode out with the new Call of Juarez at a recent event in London.


Bound in Blood is a prequel to Call of Juarez, which was originally released on the PC back in 2006. Developed by Poland-based Techland, it's a story of greed, lust, betrayal, and redemption--everything a decent Wild West shooter needs. Ubisoft senior producer Matthew Girard was on hand to tell us more about the sequel and to introduce us to the game at a preview event held in the heart of London's theatreland.

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In Bound in Blood, you'll have two characters at your disposal. Ray makes a return from the original game, while Thomas takes the place of Billy as the second playable character. Each brother has his own skills and abilities, so choosing carefully before each mission may save you some heartache along the way. Ray is the more powerful of the two: older, battle-hardened, and stronger. He's also better suited to duelling at close range and wears a chest plate for added protection. Thomas is more agile, and is therefore better suited to rooftop sniping and using long-distance rifles. He also carries a handy lasso that can be used to climb buildings and other objects. You won't be able to choose your character in every mission, but we're told that you'll sometimes split up and go separate ways, reuniting later on. We were also told that at some point in the roughly 15-mission game you will actually turn against your brother, and fans of the first game can also discover why Ray becomes a man of the cloth in later events.

Bound in Blood features iconic Wild West settings, from wide-open plains to Native American reservations to small frontier towns. The narrative is delivered through some nice sketched storyboard cutscenes complete with a rustic, sepia-tone look. Bound in Blood's action won't take place entirely on foot. There is some horseback-style gunslinging and even one part that will require shooting at a stagecoach from a canoe. There will also be some open-world exploration, and not all of the traversing in the game is strictly A to B. The locations are inspired by historic events, and the settings include the OK Corral and Civil War battlefields.

Rather than being introduced to gameplay mechanics through a tutorial, you'll hit the ground running in the first mission. Our demo took place at the beginning of the game, with Civil War breaking out circa 1864. You begin the game as Ray, who at the time is a Confederate soldier, under attack from the Yankees. Ray and Thomas soon become army deserters after the first mission, which finds them on the wrong side of one of their commanders. This turns out to be Colonel Barnsby, who pursues them through the rest of the game. In addition to Yankee and Confederate soldiers, you'll encounter friendly and hostile Native Americans and, of course, the prerequisite Mexican bandits and Western girls.

After the siblings part ways, they pursue a gunrunner who apparently has links to Juarez, the titular character from the first game. Reaching a ghost town, we encountered one resident intimidated by the appearance of two strange gunslingers and who cowered in fear at the thought of being shot. Reaching the main street, the brothers were quickly ambushed, and after a brief encounter with some bandits, they found themselves in a gunfight, where we saw the game's automatic cover system. Your character will automatically snap to surfaces, allowing you to peer left and right, eliminating your need to hit a button.

The next area we saw was two-thirds through the main story, where you fight side-by-side with Native Americans against the brothers' archenemy, Barnsby. We watched the developers playing the game. They quickly made use of a nearby Gatling gun fixture to make light work of the troops. It wasn't long before Barsnby was sending in cannons, destroying the minigun, and almost destroying Ray in the process. In addition to Gatling guns, you get to use pistols, rifles, lassos, knives, bows, dynamite, the two-shot "ladies' gun," and more, all based on historic weapons.

The brothers made a hasty retreat. Thomas' agility allowed him to jump up to a higher ledge and offer an arm up to his brother. After taking a few shots at the approaching enemies with a ranged rifle, they retreated to higher ground where they were instructed to plant dynamite underneath a rocky outcrop. A Call of Duty-style indication shows you where to plant the explosives, and after a short countdown the dynamite causes a rock slide, destroying the cannons and allowing the brothers to escape.

All of this action took place around a hilly area surrounding the Native American camp, complete with tepees, totem poles, and bloodcurdling warcries. Bound in Blood uses black outlines to accentuate characters, much in the same way that Street Fighter IV and Prince of Persia did. The environments have some great touches, with detailed textures on the rocks and vegetation. The game is the first to use the fourth version of Techland's Chrome engine, which we're told is particularly good at drawing large environments and foliage. The graphics look good at this stage, with birds of prey flying overhead, a formidable mountain looming in the background, and the heat haze shimmering off distant trees.

The concentration feature is back from the first game, allowing you to press a button and slow down time for cinematic-style executions. There will be four variations of concentration. One lets you line up 12 hostiles with dual six-shooter pistols in slow motion (not dissimilar to Fallout 3's VATS feature) before quickly disposing of them in a barrage of bullets. Another concentration option has two sights, controlled respectively with the analogue sticks. One particularly cool concentration mode lets you fire off a quick string of bullets by flicking the right analogue stick down to cock the hammer without having to worry about reloading or aiming. It looks like a novel way to use a standard Xbox 360 controller and hopefully it will be fun in the game's context. You can build up your concentration gauge through kills, with headshots being worth double points. You activate it with a press of the B button, and you have 60 seconds to use it up.

There are no Mexican standoffs to be found in Bound in Blood, but in its place will be six-on-six objective-based multiplayer instead. There are five multiplayer modes in total, including deathmatch, team deathmatch, and a "wanted" mode, essentially a VIP escort mission where you need to protect a team member from execution. There's also a bounty hunter mode where the more kills you rack up, the higher the bounty on your head, and other players can unlock new classes by collecting your bounty. Due to the unique time-altering aspects of concentration mode, and the game's story (the brothers will square off against each other at some point in the game), there is no cooperative play. Girard said the team plans to announce more details on the game soon, including potential additional content for PlayStation Home.

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood will be coming to the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 later this year. For more on the series, read our review of the original and be on the lookout for more on this Western shooter before it moseys on in to retail stores.

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