Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood follows in the footsteps of oh-so-many modern stories in that it’s a prequel to the original product that spawned it. Set approximately five to 10 years before the original Call of Juarez, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood focuses on the backstory of “Reverend Ray,” the pious yet vengeful priest from the first Old West game, outlining how he came to be a man of the cloth yet why he’s so mad at the world. If this sounds like a rich plot for “just” a videogame, it is. But the first Call of Juarez had a great story and even better voice acting, so this prequel had huge shoes to fill. And by and large, it fills them well.
Bound in Blood’s story follows Ray and his Brother as they return to their homestead after the Civil War, fight to regain their reputation after their old commander decimates their family, and then fight both for their survival in the Old West environs and for the affections of the same woman. Yep, sounds like a great tale to me, and in fact it manages to outshine the original. But the PS3 and Xbox 360 game does more than outshine in the narrative department; it actually outshines in its gameplay as well.
The original Call of Juarez forced players to play alternating missions as Reverend Ray and Billy, his nephew. Both characters had distinct playing styles, but Ray’s was definitely the more polished of the two. In Bound in Blood, there are still two protagonists, each with differing gameplay styles, but players are generally presented with the option to play as one or the other rather than forced to play through a given mission in one man’s boots. As Ray, players are best equipped for close-in battles and to deal heavy damage. As Thomas, players are more adept at sniping and using a bullwhip, although the latter of which isn’t nearly as useful as hoped. Depending on which McCall brother is chosen, players will see slightly different pathing options available to them to advance through each mission, though nothing as advanced as, say, Perfect Dark Zero’s co-op mode. Instead, the core mission and experiences are the same, with only minor differences and the biggest change in fact being the weapons available and the tone of the dialogue.
The game settles in at around nine hours long, which isn’t an opus by any stretch of the imagination but definitely feels long enough to feel satisfied at the end credits. Those nine hours are the core length, however; the actual gameplay length will almost certainly be 30 to 90 minutes higher for one reason alone: the between-mission duels.
In the first Call of Juarez, the duels were unrealistic in their enabling of players to dodge incoming bullets, but man, were they fun. In Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, the duels have been completely retooled for more of a The Energy RC-Micro home theater system delivered the sound for this review.“high noon shootout” feel, complete with a tolling bell that signals the duel’s beginning. Players use one thumbstick to maneuver their outlaw from left to right in order to keep the foe (generally a boss of some sort) within the cone of fire. Using the other thumbstick, players must move the McCall brother’s hand close to their pistol without actually grabbing it. When the bell tolls, players flick the hand-controlling thumbstick in the direction of the pistol, then quickly aim in slow-motion before the foe fires first. The foe’s shots are always lethal, so one wrong move, and it’s duel restart.
The problem is, the cone of fire is a vague area to begin with, so maneuvering the McCall brother is as much a game of luck as it is skill. In addition, the gun-grabbing mechanic is completely finicky, to the point that you’ll either accidentally grab the pistol too early and get a penalty or not be close enough to it when the bell tolls and draw too late. Normally playing through an entire campaign leaves players with a sense of confidence in the gameplay mechanic, but even after the last boss fell, I found myself repeatedly frustrated with errant and miscued quickdraws, and the motions never felt natural. The duels look great, but they’re executed quite poorly.
The online modes also got a refresh for Bound in Blood, with more options, more stable code and by and large a more fun experience. The graphics, too, look truly next-gen, and the audio stands up to the fantastic results from the first game. The voice acting is just as well done, particularly (once again) with Ray’s character, but the script generally isn’t quite as strong. Compelling, yes, but the lack of scripture quotes and juxtaposition of Bible-thumper-cum-outlaw isn’t quite there.
Even without that same level of power, though, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood capably fills the cowboy boots of the original, and improves in most of the areas where the first game needed a push. If you’ve ever doubted the first-person shooter genre could regain its Old West swagger, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the excellent Bound in Blood. All that’s left is for Ubisoft and Techland to license a Call of Juarez movie; Jerry Bruckheimer could take the license and singlehandedly break the game-to-movie stereotypes that plague the industry today.
- Score: 8.6
- This prequel has a great narrative, great voice acting and improves upon most of the gameplay shortcomings from the original. The duels still need some work, and a few cheap-shot on-rail scenes exist, but this is still a game worth your attention.
— Jonas Allen