Saloon shoot-outs, riding on horse back, quick-draws at high noon; these were the original shooters. Before space marines were decked out in the latest armors and given the most advanced weapons, it was just about a man, his hat and the horse he rode in on. Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is a different kind of shooter for this generation of consoles. It is perhaps the best kind of game to get into for an established series. Since it is a prequel to the original game, people who have never heard of the series can see it as the beginning of the story.
The story starts out during the final months of the Civil War. The McCall brothers, Ray and Thomas, are doing their best to hold the line and stop the Union Army from burning the South to the ground, but when their family and homestead are threatened by General Sherman and his men, they decide to abandon their post and try and save their family. When they realize they are too late to save their home, they reunite with their younger brother, William, and decide to look for Aztec Gold and vow to rebuild the life they once had. However, their resolve will be tested when they are confronted with choices of greed, lust and mistrust.
The main story of Bound in Blood is a definite plus for the game. It unfolds rather well thanks to a mix of monologue introductions with each level, Great dialogue delivered by the voice actors and stellar gun battles throughout the entire game. This all combined gives the distinct feeling of taking part in a spaghetti western. It's filled with tons of action and a lot of drama that embodies the western fill. Ray and Thomas together on the same missions showcase the best the dialogue can offer. Throughout the level, they will be bouncing quips off each other and makes it actually feel these two are brothers. Their timing together is exquisite and it doesn't feel phoned-in one bit. Perhaps the one character that stands out above the others is Ray McCall portrayed by the wonderful Marc Alaimo. (For all you Trek fans, he starred as Gul Dukat in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.) His voice epitomizes the outlaw style. And with the addition of a good soundtrack, the game sinks in the Wild West aspect of the game. The calming banjo before a mission, the fast paced music during gunfights; it all adds to the feel of the experience.
The controls are also rather easy to use. Anyone that has ever played a Call of Duty game will fill at home with the controls. The player can shoot from the hip by simply pressing the right trigger or can use precise aim with the left trigger before firing. The crosshairs will also lock on if it is close enough to the enemy when precise aiming. There is hardly any learning curve to learn when playing this game.
The two brothers have different styles of gameplays. Ray favors a more up and personal style. He can dual wield pistols, use dynamite and has higher resistance to damage thanks to him wearing body armor. Thomas is the more of the long range shooter. He has a zoom feature when precise aiming with rifles and can use a bow and arrow and knives. Picking the different brothers doesn't really change the outcome of the game, but just how you play, so depending on what kind of style you favor, one of the brothers will be your preferred pick. Playing with different brothers will however change what events you see through levels. Thomas also has a lasso with him and is more agile than Ray. He can climb to higher places can pull his brother up ledges when the situation calls for it. Since Ray is the stronger of the bunch, he can kick down door to proceed further. They also have different special abilities during Concentration mode. This is when time slows down and the brothers can shoot off many of shots and kill enemies in one hit. Since Ray dual wields his concentration requires the player to move the right stick over targets. He can lock on with a max of 12 markers and unleash an entire clip into opponents. Thomas' concentration is perhaps the easiest to use. It automatically locks onto all the opponents on the screen and can rapid fire shots from a pistol by simulating flicking back the hammer with the right analog stick.
The staple of any Wild West movie are two gunslingers meeting on the field of honor to settle things with a quick draw and thankfully Bound in Blood delivers. There are certain story points that have these duels. The player will use the left analog stick to walk around the opponent and the right analog stick to control their gun hand. When you hear the bell toll, you grab your gun and the first to land a hit wins the duel. These duels are always fun and never get olds. It really submerges the player in the spaghetti-western feel. It would surely be missed without it.
There are some technical issues when playing this game. The brother you don't control will sometimes get stuck behind walls and will magically reappear further ahead. There is also an invisible tether with the brothers. If you travel too far from them, the brother will automatically be killed and you will be forced to restart from the last checkpoint. It makes it seem that without your help, your brother will die, which is actually not the case. The AI system is actually quite an achievement for the game. There was several times where the brother you don't control will actually take out enemies before you can even get a shot off on them. The AI rarely gets in your way and can hold its own in a gunfight.
There are a few things that make the story mode seem lacking. One would have to be the absence of co-op gameplay. This game begs to have it. There are only a few missions where the McCall Brothers aren't together and it would be a bit more fun if you could play with friend on the couch to via Xbox Live. The whole thing pushing this story are the two brothers interacting, so it's a wonder why Techland didn't add this feature to the game. It holds the experience back.
There are also side missions to undertake during the story, but this only happens two times throughout the game. The only thing it does for you is give you extra cash to spend on better weapons and restock on ammo and adds nothing to the story. These missions seemed rush and as if they where put in the last second to extend the gameplay. It doesn't really mesh together with the experience.
Multiplayer isn't really a great feature for the game. It isn't bad, but it's nothing that makes you jump for joy. There are standard matches such as having a team of lawmen (blue team) vs. a team of outlaws (red team) and who ever gets the most kills in a set time limit win. There are also other modes such as Manhunt where you must protect a certain teammate from getting killed to get points and there is a Wild West Legend mode that have a set of objectives to complete before time expires, but it just boils down plant dynamite, defend position, move to the next objective and plant more dynamite or just stop the team from planting dynamite. There is also an upgrade system that seems non-existent. After you accumulate enough money, the game will tell you it's possible to upgrade your character, but there is no option to actually upgrade a character and there is no indication that shows that your character is improving. So it's hard to figure out if it is done automatically or if this system was completely overlooked. You start off with five different classes of characters to pick from such as riflemen and snipers, but there are other classes that can only be unlocked during ranked matches where you can actually keep all the cash you acquire. So it points players to play more ranked matches more frequently than unranked matches.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is a good shooter to play. It really makes the player feel they are an outlaw in the Wild West. The story and gameplay drives it all home, but the multiplayer aspect probably won't make the player stay after one or two playthroughs.