Games focusing on the Wild West don't come around too often, but Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is actually the second installment into its respective franchise. It maintains its first-person shooter roots, but looks to build on what was achieved in the first game. The aim was to produce a game with the "wildest West ever created" but does this spaghetti-western title end up with a ransom attached to its name, or become the sheriff of its very own town?
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is actually a prequel, and it focuses on how Ray McCall became the man seen in the original game. The McCalls are the focal point throughout the story, with Ray and Thomas being playable characters and the third brother providing the narrative. After deserting from the Colonial Army, Ray and Thomas go on the run and find themselves in Mexico where they find a woman who can only be described as an angel. Following her leads them to Juarez, and a quest for a Medallion which can lead to unimaginable wealth.
It sounds like a very cliché story, but it's execution is extremely impressive. The plot twists are great and the characters help to make the story so much more engrossing. There are also lots of underlying points, which add an extra layer of depth and these elements really help to set it apart from the typical stories seen in first person shooters. Generally they just serve as a purpose for shooting things, but Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood treats the story as a serious element of the game and it's commendable.
Unfortunately the same can't be said about the gameplay. The typical shooting action is fairly standard and if anything, feels sluggish. While it could be argued that realism gets in the way, it just doesn't make for a fun experience. Having to wait a good 5-6 seconds for a rifle to fully reload really takes away from the action and some liberties could have been taken to speed this process up. With only a limited range of weapons available, it doesn't offer much diversity, even if these weapons can be upgraded. Having said that, using the bow is extremely fun and rewarding.
Other elements have also been included to try and break up the action, such as taking control of a cannon, riding horses, the stereotypical showdowns and even a short stealth section. Thankfully the cannon section only appears once, as does the stealth section, but the showdowns appear much more frequently. It's nice that they tried to incorporate this into the game, but it just seems really awkward. The player squares off against an opponent and has to use the right analogue stick to control his hand position. When the bell strikes, the hand must be moved in an upward motion to draw the gun, which must then be fired. It doesn't sound too bad in theory, but in practice it's very sloppy. Much like the cover system, which just feels tacked on. Instead of using a bottom to "lock on" to walls and cover, it does it automatically and the right analogue stick is used to alter the players position. Most of the time it just leads to clipping issues and can often be a hinderance more than an aid.
The game also isn't going to blow anyone away with its presentation. The graphics are fairly standard and some of the animation just feel awkward. It does detract slightly from the overall experience, especially things like the checkpoint system, where the game freezes for a good 3-5 seconds. Voice acting quality varies throughout the game; sometimes it's of a really high quality and others it sounds very sketchy. Generally the voices heard during actual gameplay are of a much lower production quality than those heard in the cutscenes, which is a shame, as when the voices are good, they're really good.
Nearly every stage gives players the opportunity to use either one of the brothers, and they both of their distinctive playing styles. Ray is much more brute force, allowing him to use more close-combat weapons and barge down doors, while Thomas is more nimble and can use a lassoo, while also being able to use weapons such as a the bow. Being able to play as either does alter the story a bit, so there is an incentive for some replay value in there, but other than a new difficulty level that's all the single player campaign really offers. While the story is excellent, the gameplay may discourage players from wanting to sit through it again.
The online multiplayer also appears to have numerous problems. Any money earnt during a game doesn't count if the host leaves, and this happens far too often. While there are numerous game types to enjoy, it's difficult to enjoy them if the games never end and it really leaves a sour taste in the mouth if the player has spent a good 10-15 minutes playing through a game with nothing to show for it.
In some ways, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is a very average first person shooter. However, where it really stands out are the elements revolving around the story. Unfortunately, the core gameplay suffers and when combined with the in-game presentation it's not exactly going to blow anyone away.
However, if you're looking to play a first person shooter that actually has a story that's well thought out, then Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is definitely worth a look.