Call Of Juarez: Bound In Blood
Protagonists Thomas and Ray don’t mince their words, so we’re going to shoot straight from the hip with our review and say that Call Of Juarez: Bound In Blood is to Wild West videogames as The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is to Wild West movies. It helps that there’s not exactly an impossible tide of games competing in the western FPS sub-genre, that we’re gigantic Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood fans and that the entire game is a fitting tribute to one of the most accomplished films ever. But it does take a lot more than a gun-toting outlaw, a buried treasure and a hot señorita to impress us.
Bound In Blood, a prequel to the original Call Of Juarez that brought Polish developer Techland a giant step further towards the limelight, follows the tale of brothers Thomas and Ray McCall as they search for an Aztec treasure. There’s also an unplayable younger brother who does most of the narration and tries to spoil his bigger brothers’ fun by stalking them and spouting biblical fire and brimstone every time they sin… which is often, considering the body count alone. Those who have played the original Call Of Juarez may be surprised to learn that Ray McCall is even more of a hellion than his younger brother Thomas, and a cold-hearted killer to boot, but you’ll discover what makes him see the error of his ways to become the baddest bible-basher in the West several hours into the game.
The story begins in the Confederate trenches, repelling waves of Yankee soldiers and playing as brother Ray, you’re given an introduction to gunplay with the pistol (single and dual wield) and rifle: the two basic weapon types you’ll grow accustomed to using as either brother. Ray and Thomas excel in distinct areas and beyond the first couple of chapters you’ll be given a choice of playing as either brother for the rest of that level. Though it doesn’t always make a huge amount of difference, as you’ll always have your bro at your back, you will find a preference for either one. Ray is a regular Doc Holliday and is particularly handy dual-wielding pistols at close range, while being strong and able to carry a Gatling gun and kick down doors. Being the sneaky snipers, we preferred younger brother Thomas, who’s a keen marksman with the rifle, can lasso his way to a better vantage point and stealth a silent kill with his knives.
Bound In Blood is awash with situations where these skills are called into play, but some of them a little contrived, like when Thomas has to creep through a cornfield and silently kill all the soldiers. It’s more easily done by pulling your rifle out and gunning them down and it seems to fit his character better too, but it’s enjoyable nevertheless.
Other scenarios are a genuine pleasure we looked forward to playing between bouts of linear shooter action – showdown duels in particular. These are highly original, one-on-one Western boss battles and they become increasingly tough further into the game: the camera takes a third-person perspective and sits just behind the right hand of your gunslinger as it quivers over his gun, while your opponent faces you in full view.
You can move your man on a horizontal axis with the left analogue, you can move his hand closer to the hilt of his weapon with the right then when the music fades and the church bell chimes, that’s your cue to draw and shoot with r. Sounds simple, but these guys get incredibly fast later on, to the point that a lesser gamer can be forgiven for cracking under the tense atmosphere prior to the draw. As the target reticule flies up from the bottom of the screen to the top, if you manage to get the shot off first and hit, then you’ll invariably blow your opponent’s family jewels away. It’s hardly the most realistic of systems, but it is cracking good fun to play; plus, in the macho world of the McCall brothers, emasculation was probably a fate worse than death anyway.
Over the course of the game you’ll use a cannon to sink a steamboat, hijack a stagecoach and ride shotgun out of town, gun down infantry with a Gatling gun, bounty hunt outlaws in Mexico, rescue a Mexican belle… it’s almost as if the team at Techland had a checklist of all the things they thought made their favourite spaghetti westerns great, then went about squeezing them into this prequel. Bound In Blood’s diversity, degree of polish and quality of characterisation has turned it from what could have been a humdrum run-‘n’-gun affair into a thrilling frontier town shootout. It’s fun, relentlessly fast paced, and should keep you on the tips of your tiptoes right to the gripping climax.