Home | News | Reviews | Previews | Hardware
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment
Developer: Techland Software
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 12 (Online)
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Action/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is a game of small details, both visually and gameplay-wise. There are a few noticeable problems, but the details make a big difference in the end.

One of my biggest gripes with first-person shooters is characters rarely seem like part of the environment. Think about it, how many times have you climbed a ladder with your gun drawn in front of you? Better yet, how many times have you shot an enemy just to see them fall to the ground in a well-animated, but unnatural death animation? Both make sense from a gameplay perspective (sort of), but as we try to push videogames forward, these details need to disappear. Bound in Blood isn't the first to address the issue, but it does a great job of making you feel like you're part of the experience.

All environmental interactions come with an appropriate and natural-looking reaction. When behind cover, your character draws his gun back rather than keeping it pointed forward.The animation is accompanied by a really cool "rack focus" effect, blurring out the foreground while drawing a clean focus on your target. These smaller details extend to the death animations as well. Enemies still go down with a ragdoll effect, but weighted to look like a real person falling down (or rather, the way we expect someone to go down).

Dialogue and voice acting are funny things. There's the right mix of drama and camp in performances, but the dialogue shifts wildly between bad and okay. Ray isn't as bitter as in the first game, but sounds like the kid on the playground that talks tough to sound like a bad ass, but backs down the minute anyone shows backbone and Thomas sometimes comes off as a bad Southern stereotype (though not nearly as bad as the General chasing them).

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood begins with brothers Ray and Thomas, guns drawn, fighting over a woman. A shot is fired, only to rewind back to the duo deserting the Confederacy during the War of Northern Aggression (that's the Civil War, for you Yanks) after their family's home comes under attack. The event eventually sends the duo to Juarez, Mexico, where they search for Coronado's gold.

As stories go, Bound in Blood isn't amazing but is interesting. The start is great, but eventually comes off the tracks. For me, the real story is how Ray goes from an outlaw to God's gun-toting emissary. It's here, but feels like it was tossed in at the last minute. Again, the smaller details keep things going. I hate referring to games as "cinematic," but it is the best way to describe some of Bound in Blood's gameplay moments. There's the requisite quick-draw showdown (with a really cool play mechanic) and loads of shootouts, as well as a really awesome stealth showdown with Union soldiers in a field.

The mention of stealth might bring back some bad memories of Billy in the first game, but for the most part, stealth is optional. The real focus is on action and gunplay. Every shootout feels like a shooting gallery. Mowing down enemies is satisfying, but not particularly interesting after a few levels. Billy's missions were annoying, but offered an interesting contrast with Ray. Here, its just two different flavors.

Bound in Blood features everything you want to see in a western, but some areas feel a little too much like a video game. Except for a clumsy arrow near the edge of the screen showing your goal, it is really hard to tell what is going on around you. The aforementioned field encounter can quickly go from really cool to frustrating. I'm cool with authenticity, but if I wanted to get lost in a field, there's one down the road.

Multiplayer is surprisingly fun. Players choose "Lawmen" or "Bandit" and earn money for kills to spend on class upgrades. It doesn't deviate too far from what's currently out there, but the western setting and gunplay add something different.

Western themes mean western weapons. Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is not a game for twitch players who like to spray bullets everywhere. There are no automatic battle rifles or missile launchers here (though you do get to play with a cool mounted machine gun and cannons). It takes a little longer to reload weapons, so you have to make every shot count - so finding the right cover is important.

If you can get used to the idea of aiming and choosing your shots, Bound in Blood offers a challenge. If you want to run around carelessly shooting at everything, you are in for numerous reloads. At least the game is very generous with checkpoints and enemy behavior.

Enemies are brainless (though you are fighting Union soldiers most of the time...) but balanced out with a few "cheap shots." It is sometimes hard to tell where enemies are located or it seems like they are shooting through walls. During the field mission (I really liked the mission despite picking on it), I was clearly behind the Union line, but a soldier somehow managed to shoot me with his back turned. No wonder the South had to call a temporary truce.

Game Mechanics:
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood allows you to shift between the two brothers or stick with one throughout your adventure. Each offers a slightly different play style and their individual specialties offer slightly different strategies through levels. Ray favors twin six-shooters and has a thing for explosives. He's a great close-range fighter but not great for sneaking around or sniping. Thomas is handy with throwing knives and uses ranged weapons and stealth to get the job done. He also comes with a lasso to reach higher areas, though the mechanic is sorely underused and feels too scripted when it is used.

Similar to Call of Duty, Bound in Blood uses special control mechanics for certain functions. To throw Thomas's lasso, you need to twist the right analog stick to get enough velocity. Each brother's special attack requires some sort of unique movement, like flicking the analog sticks like a pistol's hammer. The absolute coolest mechanic is the quick-draw. During showdowns, you need to keep your opponent in focus and keep your hand close to your pistol using the right stick. When a bell chimes, you need to snap the right stick towards your gun and pull the trigger first.

Looking at the core mechanics, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is a competent but flawed shooter. If it weren't for the western setting (why aren't there more western-themed games?) and smaller details, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it as much. If you're tired of WWII or space marines, give Bound in Blood a shot.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

This site best viewed in Internet Explorer 6 or higher or Firefox.