I like Westerns; I've watched a lot of them in my time and played a few Western themed shooters. I enjoyed the original Call of Juarez despite its many flaws and when I heard that Techland were working on a sequel, one that would be a prequel no less I began to keep an eye on it. So now here we are with Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood.
Set during the American Civil War, Bound in Blood begins with the heroics of the two McCall brothers, Ray and Thomas. Soon something transpires that puts these two would-be heroes onto another path, a much darker one and they become Outlaws making their living in the Wild West. The pious and overtly-Fire and Brimstone Reverend Ray has yet to evolve from the tough-talking and brutal Ray McCall. Over the course of this well told Spaghetti Western story you'll witness the evolution of these two men and see the knock-on events that shaped their lives.
The story is told with a mix of well directed in-game cinematics and in-game cut-scenes where the player is forced to observe from a first person point of view.
Bound in Blood plays like a traditional shooter, there's nothing overly innovative about it but compared to the first game, Bound in Blood soars way above it in terms of control and action/gameplay. Techland has listened to the player base and made some changes to the way gun-combat works. It's easier to shoot now and the weapons no longer degrade. There are still different classes of weapons and a lot of them, all with varying pros and cons. You can have two pistols of any kind, a shotgun/rifle and depending on which brother you play in each chapter - a special weapon (dynamite for Ray and a Bow for Thomas).
Both brothers have something that they can bring to the table. Ray can dismount Gatling Guns and use them on the move. He can kick doors open that are otherwise locked to Thomas and he can take a lot more punishment in combat compared to his brother. Ray can also equip two guns at once for some real carnage.
Thomas is swifter than Ray, lighter and whilst Ray can't jump, Thomas can climb to higher points and help his brother up. He also has a lasso that allows him to climb even higher and get a better vantage point on the enemy. Both brothers can engage in a cooperative shootout mode against large groups of enemies, this usually has them stacking up next to a door and in true Western style, kicking it open and unloading twin guns of death upon the enemies on the other side. Time slows down for this and you're given a pair of crosshairs that move across the screen, you can change their motion as well to fine tune your aim.
As you battle enemies, you'll charge up your power meter, shown on the right by a revolver chamber that appears based on the way you kill you enemies. A stylish headshot or environmental death fills the chambers faster. Once you have enough you can enter Concentration Mode.
Ray can paint targets with his gunsight whilst a timer bar ticks down and Thomas can perform a rapid shot that auto-targets nearby enemies, using the right stick to simulate the rapid hammer action as he fans his revolver. When you press B for Ray, time kicks back in and Ray unleashes a barrage of shots from both his guns on the marked targets whilst for Thomas, his effect is as long as the timer bar remains.
Both brothers can engage in tense and dramatic: High Noon style standoffs, these operate on a simple system that requires some work to master.
The right stick controls the position of your hand, too close to the gun and you'll lose time as the cowboy refuses to draw until the clock chimes. Too far and you'll take too long to get to the gun when the clock chimes. There are visual cues for the system. When you're in the right place your character's fingers will twitch, now it's just a case of gently tapping the right stick to keep the hand close, not too near, not too far.
The enemy will attempt to trick you, by moving around your field of vision, you can counter this with the left stick and try to keep them a medium distance to the right hand side if you can. When the clock strikes, push the right stick quickly towards the left and draw. Now you'll have a sight that appears and time slows down for a few seconds. If you get this right, pull the trigger when it's over the enemies' body.
Most of the game plays out across large multi-objective levels that have a real atmosphere to them. For some of the game you'll actually be able to play open-world style sections and undergo a few side-quests to earn more money. The more money you have, the better weapons you can purchase from the gun shops around the levels. In many of the sections you'll be using a horse to get around and Techland deserve points for making the riding easy and even gun combat off the back of a horse is a cinch.
The side missions are well thought out and they're very often given a small twist and a mini-boss showdown at the end. There's also a cover system as well that is automatic when you get close to an object that can be used for cover.
The game plays out as an average shooter, a competent one and whilst it isn't fantastic, it does exactly what it needs to. It evokes a sense of camaraderie between the brothers, has a really solid story and brings the Wild West to life with hectic shootouts and some really great shooting action. There are some nice set piece moments as well where you'll defend a coach, plus a few other things we're not going to spoil.
There are issues, there are some texture glitches and there's definite pop-in when you're riding the big open planes. These are minor details though compared to the sheer vastness of the environment. It has been created with a painstaking eye to detail and evokes just the right feeling of 'being there' that elevates the game from the run of the mill shooter. The graphics themselves are excellent, there's a good level of detail to the character textures, models and environments and nothing seems out of place or badly created. The only texture glitch we spotted was on one of the guns, where it flickered slightly a couple of times at a certain angle. It happened on no other weapon.
There are numerous death animations and the game delivers the whole experience in a visceral, yet non-brutal manner. The animations are consistent with a Spaghetti Western and everything moves really well. Ray and Thomas are really well animated and so are the horses, they run and gallop convincingly. Every bit-part character is done well and the cut-scenes are excellent, top marks for that.
The physics in the Chrome 4 engine are decent enough; there are ragdoll effects and big explosions. Fire carries well in this game though doesn't feel as 'real' as it did in the first title. Thomas' lasso physics are better than the whip physics by far and everything does feel as though it has a weight and solidity to it. The enemy soldiers stagger convincingly when hit with enough force and bodies fly through the air in a slightly over the top manner - just right for this kind of game.
The AI is good, for both enemies and allies. There are a couple of glitches now and then, enemies get stuck and it's easy to shoot them in the back. A few times a trigger didn't kick in and I had to hit up a checkpoint to fix it. Your partner AI does a solid job of covering your back as you engage in gunfights with the enemy and the enemy AI can use the environment, take cover, hurl lamps to smoke and burn you out of hiding. They'll also use dynamite to blast you if you're not careful. Standoff AI is fairly competent, it will try and mislead and trick you, moving and evaluating your position before the clock chimes.
The game has an excellent score, it evokes the atmosphere of the Wild West perfectly and swells, ebbs with the action in the game. Tense scenes invoke a feeling of just that and coupled with the great cut-scene direction the music delivers on the overall experience nicely.
The sound in the game is good, there are some really nice spot effects and the weapons sound decent as well. The gallop of the horse's hooves on sand and rough stone changes like it should. All in all, nothing to complain about sound wise.
A fairly competent job has been done by the voice actors, it's not too over the top and the lines between Ray and Thomas are especially natural. Ray's dark gravelly voice is one of my favourites and he was my favourite from the first game. Thomas' lighter and more 'cowboy' tones come through in spades and his wittier repartee compared to Ray is obvious. The script and voice are good, not brilliant but they certainly don't let anyone down.
There are some issues at the moment with the mp in Bound in Blood. There are some drops in and out and quite a chunk of lag. We expect these will be fixed since Ubisoft have delivered some amazingly good online shooters for us in the past. There is the usual Deathmatch and various mp variants on offer, nothing is really innovative here. There's a class and bounty system available and you earn cash to buy various things in mp. It's a competent addition and feels more integrated, it doesn't feel as though the developers shoe-horned anything in. There is a cool Legends mode where you play various Wild West confrontations and historical battles across the fairly expansive and well made maps.
All in all the mp is solid barring those issues and feels quite fun.
Whilst it doesn't break any new ground in an industry that is often beset by shooters, it does one thing that I wish more games would. It plays in a rewarding manner and it's actually worth finishing the story, it will take gamers around 7 hours or so if they blast through it and around 10 or more hours if they want to unlock the secrets hidden away in the game's various levels. It's also not a World War 2 shooter and that counts for something in my book, since gaming is packed to the teeth with those and we could do with some more Bound in Blood style games.
Good stuff, worth buying for definite.