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Review: Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood - PC, PS3, Xbox 360 - 8.3

08 lipca, 2009

Polish gaming company successfully brings a quality Western experience to the world of video games.

The Wild West is a theme that has been pursued rarely in gaming. Besides Rockstar\'s Red Dead franchise, few Wild West games have been accompanied by critical or commercial success. Gun, by Neversoft, and Call of Juarez, by Techland, were perhaps the highest-profile games of this genre during this generation. Even though they introduced some interesting concepts, the execution was unfortunately not up to par. Fortunately, Techland hasn\'t given up, releasing a prequel to the original Call of Juarez, subtitled Bound in Blood. The game builds on the quick-draw and "bullet-time" mechanics that the first game introduces and manages to transcend the faults of its predecessor to create a fun and entertaining Wild West-related experience.

Bound in Blood\'s plot follows the McCall brothers, Ray and Thomas, on their journey for riches and glory following the devastating events of the Civil War. Ray was featured in the original game, and the plot reveals how he transforms into his justice-seeking preacher form.

A major mechanic is the ability to choose between the two characters for the majority of the campaign, something that you could do in the original. However, whereas the characters in the original were each focused on either action or stealth, the characters here are more action-focused. Ray is the heavy character that confronts situations head-on: wielding dual pistols and knocking down blocked doors. Thomas is the nimbler of the two, able to use a rope lasso to climb to vantage points and fire long-range rifles. Each brother has their own "concentration mode" which lets you take down a group of enemies nearly instantly.

The degree of difference between the two characters is large enough to justify another playthrough, which is a good thing because the campaign is quite short. Fortunately, the bulk of it is composed of quality gameplay and story-telling.

Befitting of the time period, you can use a small variety of pistols, shotguns, and rifles. There are many set pieces that create peaks in the pacing, such as blowing up steamships, rowing through a river surrounded by hostile Native Americans, and mowing down riders with Gatling guns. The game features an auto-cover system that has you automatically "sticking" to appropriate surfaces when you move up next to them.

In place of traditional boss fights, Techland has cleverly incorporated quick-draw gun duels. You need to keep your opponent centered in your line of vision, whilst holding your hand close to your pistol. The controls in this mode are quite intuitive and don\'t get in the way. However, getting your timing and reflexes adjusted takes some time, so expect to be outdrawn several times.

There are some hitches along the way. Unfortunately, the game is very forgiving, even on its Hard difficulty. Checkpoints are common and the AI is quite simplistic in its combat approach. Many times, you\'ll catch them standing out in the open, just waiting to be picked off. And even though your brother\'s AI fares much better, a lack of co-op gameplay is simply a puzzling omission, especially in this day and age.

The multiplayer supports up to twelve players in five modes and eight maps. This is surprisingly not a throwaway like most other shooters\' multiplayer modes. There are character classes, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, that you can switch through mid-match. Like in other, similar games, many of these classes are initially locked, and you\'ll have to earn them through playing multiplayer matches and earning money, the game\'s replacement for experience points.

Besides an array of standard modes, the game features the Assault-inspired Wild West Legends, which has you completing multiple objectives on a map (read: blowing stuff up). These scenarios are derived from historical events and end up being very entertaining.

Presentation-wise, Bound in Blood is quite impressive. The entire game world feels like it was carbon-copied from the real Wild West, at least as it has been depicted by Hollywood. Techland hasn\'t missed a step, with firefights inside saloons, musical guitar themes, and stare-downs before shoot-outs. The game\'s narrative is oddly compelling, even if it draws on the predictable themes of love and betrayal.

Graphically, Bound in Blood is a respectable attempt. The Chrome Engine 4 is quite capable of pulling off stunning environments, with tons of texture detail and impressive lighting. There\'s also the expected visual effects such as depth-of-field-enhanced aiming. The engine does stumble when it comes to facial animation. Even though the overall visual presentation far outstrips the mediocrity of the faces, the game\'s cutscenes spend so much time focused on character interaction that this flaw is made more glaring that it usually is. Voice acting is more hit than miss, with the McCall brothers more than making up for some of the forced Southern and Mexican accents.

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is probably the closest we\'ve ever seen to a Call of Duty-caliber level of presentation in the Wild West genre. A combination of fun gameplay and well-paced narrative elements combine to make a sequel that improves radically on the flaws of its predecessor. If you\'re looking for a shooter that mixes things up and has more heart and soul than most other games, Call of Juarez should certainly be on your short list.

Score Breakdown:

Gameplay: 8.0 – A great adaptation of FPS mechanics to the Wild West genre. The "quick-time" and duel mechanics mix up the experience enough to overshadow the simplisitic AI and lack of co-op.

Presentation: 8.5 A very convincing rendition of the Wild West. A compelling narrative that has more soul than the vast majority of other video games.

Graphics: 8.5 – Stunning environments and attention to detail. Unfortunately, the facial animation is glaringly sub-par.

Sound: 8.0 Great voice acting from the main cast, some screw-ups with the supporting cast.

Value: 8.5 – The campaign is short but a quality experience. The multiplayer is quite unique and interesting.

Final Score: 8.3 – Call of Jaurez: Bound in Blood is a quality Western experience brought successfully to the world of video games.

Marcin Skok
"The Gaming Corner