In the world of the Wild West, violence is as common as spilt beer. It’s a place where no one can be trusted and everyone must be feared. To let your guard down is to take a bullet in the back. Efforts in the past to recreate this classic environment have typically been bland, boring and unsuccessful. That is until now.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood combines a great atmosphere, with a wonderful story and fast paced action to provide an unforgettable experience. The game may stumble over a few clumsy game play mechanics but nitpicking these details is like arguing the difference between a hoedown and a hootenanny.
What makes this game stand out from others of its kind is its amazing atmosphere. Without its gritty western environment and its enticing story, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood would be just another shooter.
The story also makes this game an unforgettable experience. It takes place just after the conclusion of the American civil war and follows the journey of the three McCall brothers who are in search of the lost treasure of Juarez. It is a story of greed, lust and lawlessness which is guaranteed to keep the player emotionally enthralled through out. The ending can be seen a mile away, but that won’t stop the player from feeling an emotional tinge in their calloused gamer hearts.
What makes the story believable is the wonderful wild west environment which it takes place in. The McCall brothers take their fights through banks and saloons, from horseback to canoes and even from the depths of Mexico to the Grand Canyon.
The design of these levels are all immensely detailed and even awe-inspiring. It may not be obvious right off the bat, but once you take the time to look at the details you should be quite amazed. It wasn’t until half way through the game when I took the time to look at the background environments and was thoroughly impressed with the beauty of the mountainsides.
The sound of the game only amplifies an already amazing atmosphere. All the guns sound authentically western and the voice acting is extremely well done, even if the dialogue is occasionally cheesy. The biggest draw back from audio is the comments the brothers give to each other during fights. They often sound very unenthusiastic and feel as if they are just tacked on.
One of the first things that comes to mind when I think of the Wild West are the old show downs at high noon. So obviously I would expect any game based upon the genre to have some form of these symbolic fights. This is unfortunately easier said than done.
The show downs in Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood are on a whole poorly designed. Show downs, which are the games version of a boss fights, give the aura of anticipation and excitement. After playing one or two though, the player will quickly find that this is not the case. The primary hold up is in the form of controls. To effectively fight in a showdown the player must constantly move their character into position, while holding their hand close to their pistol, when the bell rings, the player must quickly grab their weapon with the right thumb stick and fire.
While in theory this sounds fine, in reality it just doesn’t work. Instead of using a quick time event to have the user draw their pistol the game gives the player control of their hand in order to manually draw their weapon. The problem which arises from this is, is that the player does not have 100% control. If you place your hand too close to your weapon, the game will slowly move your hand as far away as possible; usually causing you to loose the showdown. If the game is going to give you control of your hand in order to draw the weapon it should not give you partial control, but complete control.
What this does is ruin the feel of the show down from a tense moment full of anticipation to an irritating one full of annoyance. Instead of looking forward to the boss fight show downs, I quickly came to dread them.
The rest of the game play is exactly what you would find in the typical first person shooter. You use a variety of weapons which you can choose based upon your fighting style. You will use old six shooter pistols, Winchester rifles, shotguns, and even Gatling guns as you move from level to level killing everyone who gets in your way. Most interestingly though, the game lacks any form of melee fighting. There is no pistol whipping or bayonetting here, only shooting.
The game even has its own form of bullet time. Once you kill a certain amount of enemies you can enter something called concentration mode, which essentially freezes all enemies on screen, allowing you to kill them with amazing dexterity. It’s actually quite fun to use and it often allows you to see enemies which you may have missed in the first place; giving you an advantage in those hard to beat checkpoints.
The game offers its own unique version of a cover system. To enter cover, all you have to do is press up against the wall, and use your right thumb stick to peer around the corners. At first this feels really clunky and annoying as it is so different from most other games with cover, but after spending a little time practicing, it will quickly feel natural and even superior to the cover systems in other games.
Lastly, the largest complaint I would have to give about the game is its length. It took me about 8 hours to finish the campaign mode, and even though I enjoyed every minute of it, it did seem a bit short. There is some motivation to go back and play through it again, as you can choose either McCall brother to play, but since the story is the biggest draw of the game, the motivation may not be there.
There is an online portion of the game which is quite fun to play depending if you can actually get into a game. There are numerous online modes ranging from your standard team death match, to its own version of attack and defend, and both are a great experience giving you the opportunity to unlock new classes or level up your current ones. The problem comes from the fact, that there are simply not enough people playing online and in order to find a decent match your going to have to spend a good 20 minutes looking for one.
Overall I thought Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood was an amazing experience. This is a game which I will remember for a long time. Not particularly for the game play, but for the truly immersive atmosphere and enticing story. That being said though, there are still a lot of game play issues holding this game back from being great. With a total length of approximately 8 hours, I find it hard to recommend this game as a buy to anyone. Though it is an amazing game, its short longevity makes it a rental.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
A little predicable, but none the less a great story. The game authentically feels like it is set in the Wild West.
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Fast paced and exciting gameplay, but it's ultimately just another shooter. The showdown system just doesn't work very well.
Sound affects and voice acting are great but the in game dialogue feels tacked on.
At 8 hours the campaign is pretty short. The online is fun and has the potential to add hours of gameplay. Of course, you will have to find a game first.
The atmosphere and story make the game, but beyond that, this is just another shooter.