Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
Back In 2007 Call of Juarez split opinion, and it's fair to say the majority came down on the side of the naysayers. However, this writer was one of those who saw beauty in the occasionally flawed facade of Techland's Wild West epic. Sure, there were problems, but Techland had tried something very few others had done before and managed to succeed, generally, in producing a quality game. One with a few issues.
These problems have been paramount in the minds of the bods at Techland and the sequel promises to address all of the quibbles raised by fans of the original, including the issue of having an annoying kid as one of the main characters.
"At the beginning of the process, we were talking about the elements we recognised as being controversial in the first game," says Thomas Lerouz-Hugon, a Ubisoft spokesperson. "Some parts were almost universally disliked by the fans, such as Billy, stealth, platforming, and physics puzzles. The fans didn't like those parts very much, so what Techland are doing now is focusing on the game mechanics, the core elements of a Wild West shooter, removing the things that people didn't like. However, we still want to maintain a sense of diversity as the setting is so open and there are so many things to do."
So, instead of Billy (the whip-carrying brat) we have Thomas McCall, sibling to Brother Ray, the Bible-wielding preacher-cum-gunslinger from Juarez. Bound in Blood is a prequel and Ray isn't yet a man of God, so their story deals, among other things, with the events leading up to Ray's taking up the cloth. The start is set in the American Civil War, with the brothers taking up arms to defend the South from the Yankees and their slavefreeing ideas. From here, things change, decisions need to be made and the brothers meet the people who shape their destiny.
The relationship between the two protagonists is at the core of the plot and the gameplay. They must work together to get through the levels, each having unique abilities. Thomas is more nimble, able to clamber onto buildings and take the higher ground, from where he can use a rifle to pick off enemies. He also has the ability to quick-draw his pistol, like classic Western shooters of yore. Ray is the tank of the two, wearing a chest plate like Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars, plus he can use a concentration mode to launch a blitz-like spray of bullets at groups of targets.
Those of you who have played the original will know that it hasn't just passed the test of time - it's ruthlessly beat it into submission. The DirectX 10 version is gorgeous, with all the bells and whistles you could think of being bolted onto the already luscious Chrome engine.
Deathmatch At The O.K. Corral
Multiplayer options for budding banditos
Call of Juarez had decent multiplayer modes, but they were largely ignored by the public. Techland are hoping this doesn't happen with Bound in Blood and have included some interesting ideas to tempt potential players. The most exciting of these is the Famous Events mode, where you can re-enact iconic scenes in Western folklore. There's also a Bounty mode, with one player being hunted by the others -similar to AvPs Predator vs Humans option. This one can also be done in teams, so the player with the bounty on his head will be protected by his comrades -similar to Counter-Strike's VIP mode.
Bound in Blood will feature the engine's fourth iteration, but it doesn't look spectacularly different to the first game's, which might be because that one has been upgraded significantly and so the differences are difficult to spot. This doesn't matter too much though, as it still looks spot on. Settlements still look how you expect them to and the countryside is still lush with vegetation and wildlife. Birds swoop through the air in the wilderness and chickens waddle around the towns. And yes, you can shoot them - there's even an achievement for doing so.
The gameplay itself is along similar lines to the first game, with the emphasis more on gunfights and action. In what might be a worrying sign of the game being overly console-y, there's an automatic cover system, where moving towards certain obstacles and walls puts you straight into a lean mode. Hopefully this'll feel natural, but the temptation is to think it will force you into cover when you don't want to be in it. There is also the spreading cancer of regenerating health, where you can take a stupid number of hits, then hide behind a rock and miraculously emerge seconds later unscathed.
Still, nods to our pad-grasping cousins aside, we're confident this will be an even more triumphant entry into the criminally neglected genre that is the Wild West game. Techland have proved they can do it, they just need to make sure the unbelievers get the message as well. So says Brother Ray.
A Having Ploughed my way through the preview build of Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, it's safe to say that what will hit our desktops will be substantially different to what came before. What was once a unique take on the FPS genre, quirks and all, has turned into Call of Duty: Stetsons at War. And I can honestly say I have had fun carving up the Wild West with my six shooters.
Bound in Blood can be summed up in six words, and each of those six words is "variety". During every level you seem to be encountering new stuff to do or weapons to use, which keeps things fresh and interesting. Most of the time you'll be firing away with either your rifle or pistols, but you could just as easily toss some dynamite, whip out your bow and arrows, or start hurling knives at your enemies. And let us also not forget that most of these weapons can be used while on horseback, which nobody could tire of (even if these horses ride a little too light to be called realistic).
Call Of Blood
The whole feel of the game is very much Call of Duty. And that's not just because of the regenerating health system Techland have added. Certainly this is most prevalent in the very first mission, which sees you -as Ray McCall, the elder brother - embroiled in the Civil War on the Confederacy's side. There's that same sort of intensity, bullets flying around you, heat of the action-type feeling you get in COD. although this diminishes as you progress. This is because of the variety.
I won't talk about the subsequent levels, because I don't want to spoil the story for you, but each stage feels different to the one that preceded it. From the intensity of Civil War trench warfare to the tension of hiding in a cornfield, waiting to stealthily take out soldiers with throwing knives, there's a new experience to be had after each loading screen.
I really can't stress the diversity in the gameplay enough. You always seem to be discovering new things to do, even if the basic action is the same throughout. Even that is augmented by the Concentration mode, which takes three different forms.
With Ray, you get the Paint mode, where time slows to a crawl and you mark targets on enemies on screen. Go back to normal speed and Ray lets off a lightning-quick volley of shots, wiping out all in his way. For Thomas, Concentration takes the form of a slow-motion shooting gallery. Fire a round and you have to move the mouse up and down quickly to simulate Thomas' hand repeatedly slapping the hammer. I'm reliably informed this is called "fanning" and it is just one example of the effort Techland have put into making these elements feel unique.
Bound In Duty
Some might argue that Techland have jumbled the gameplay; that you never really get into a flow because you're constantly being presented with new features and encounters, but these people are probably the first to moan about repetition in games. However, they have a point, so if you can't get your head around the way Techland have gone about making Bound in Blood, you might need to be a little wary. However, those of us who are of the "Ooh, look what I can do" persuasion will revel in the breadth of options available.
There are a few little niggles, like the Al not always being the sharpest tool in the box (though when were Western bad guys ever geniuses?) and it being a little bit too easy on the lower settings. Our preview build was inconsistently buggy too, working perfectly on one machine but with lots of problems on another. It's a preview build, so hopefully any issues can be ironed out in time for release.
If a demo is released, take the plunge. From what we've seen, Bound in Blood deserves to be a success.
How Can a game be better than its predecessor and yet feel strangely less intriguing to play? That's the conundrum I've been wrestling with since I got my hands on Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. The original irked some with its unique approach, but its atmosphere and originality was first rate. Techland have looked hard at it and decided that certain things needed to be changed.
So, gone are the stealth sections and the curious mountain-climbing bits, replaced by a whole host of refinements and new additions to the core template. The first thing you think of when you start playing is how similar it feels to Call of Duty, and not just because of the regenerating health. Techland have injected that same epic feel into each level, be it with the scope of some of the levels or the intensity of the fire fights.
Of course, as a Western game, said atmosphere has to come from different sources than a WWII game - after all, you can't just stick the main character in Stalingrad and tell them to get on with it. Techland really have worked hard to recreate so many classic moments that you wonder if there are any that have been left out, especially if you consider the multiplayer modes as well. You've got quick-draw shootouts in dusty, windswept areas; mounted combat; bows and arrows; and comedy varmints on rooftops tumbling like ragdolls to the street below. All of this is bound together by an interesting story about familial loyalty and a hot cowgirl.
The game revolves around two brothers, Thomas and Ray McCall, combatants on the side of the Confederacy in the US Civil War. The story is one of the best elements of the game, made better by the excellent voice acting of the two brothers. Ray is easily the pick, the same actor (Marc Alaimo, who played Gul Dukat in Star Trek: Deep Space 9) reprising his role superbly here as the troubled gunslinger.
Bound in Bloods gameplay is relatively slowly paced, a necessity given the nature of the weapons available to you. You can't charge through big groups of enemies with an automatic, because they don't exist Instead, you have to make each shot count with your pistols, rifle or bow, occasionally tossing a stick of dynamite.
Kill a few desperadoes and you get the chance to enter a bullet-time mode, the nature of which depends on which character you are. Thomas McCall has a hammer-cocking quick-shooter sequence, while brother Ray paints targets with crosshairs and takes them all out in lightning-quick fashion. They also work together on a third slo-mo sequence, where they burst through a door and clear a room. This uses the same dual crosshairs to represent two pistols dynamic from the first game.
West Is Back
This all sounds good so far. And the game is very good - it has a great western atmosphere, good voice acting and a decent storyline but it doesn't manage to attain classic status.
One of the reasons is that Tethland have tried to include too many elerrfentt in the game, so many that you don't realjy get achance to foqs'on one thing for long enough to enjoy it, oth than the shooting bits. There are a large number of killing methods open to you, yet you rarely get to use them, which wasn't the case in the first game. Often when you do need to use the lasso or the throwing knives, for example, the situation is contrived. Also, because of the understandable decision to go down the commercial Call of Duty-esque route, Bound in Blood has lost some of the uniqueness the original brought to the table. It no longer feels like its own game, more an albeit-good attempt to cash in on COD-mania.
Download Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode