Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood

There aren’t many western developers (pun unintentional) who seem confident with the by now almost standard inclusion boss fight. Equally, there are few willing, or bold enough, to leave them by the sideline. It seems no matter how uninspired, frustrating, or detrimental they are to the game, boss events will find their way to the party. Then ruin it.

Just like the zombie game is going to borrow heavily from Romero or Raimi, the western is going to look to Sergio Leone for inspiration. And much like Dead Rising has moments wherein you pilot a lawnmower into the undead, so to does Bound in Blood boast the spaghetti-western shootout. In fact everything concludes with a shoot out.

Call of Juarez 2

A complete lack of creativity this is and a convention of film that is revered as both tense and spectacular is lost entirely in an interactive format. There is no anxiety; you restart until you win, and whilst that mechanic is nothing new in itself, it’s so glaringly apparent in these brief moments that failing even once hauls you from the immersion. Worse still controlling the character in these fights is arduous where it desperately needs to be intuitive and slick. And then there’s even a warning indicator that renders you entirely out of control for three seconds, leaving you open to an always perfectly placed bullet to the chest.

Thankfully the rest of the game is a more successful affair. Combining traditional FPS gameplay with an American West setting is both refreshing in location and, for a short while, gameplay.

Ubisoft get the most important mechanic right. Weapons feel tangible, the ‘thwack’ of a headshot tantalising from beginning to end, though the AI never stretches beyond functional. Only a slow health system dares to challenge the player on the standard setting. Regardless of that, the combat is fantastic and it keeps the game interesting throughout its short life; besides a few set pieces and aforementioned boss sequences, there’s little else.

Included is the option to play each chapter as one of two brothers whilst the computer controls the other. Playing through as each seems more like an afterthought than an initial design decision and never reaches its potential whilst a lack of a co-operative mode seems like a missed opportunity, especially from the developers of Rainbow Six. Ray specialises in hurling dynamite and duel-wielding revolvers, whilst playing as Thomas yields the opportunity to utilise an overwhelmingly efficient bow and arrow combination. Neither brother offers a remarkably different experience, the option by no means justifying playing through twice even with a campaign lasting less than six hours.

Call of Juarez

Besides some dubious (Halo dubious) character design, Bound in Blood is striking to look at, and again captures an authentic Wild West feel that helps keep some of the later, familiar, levels enjoyable to play.

But, unfitting for a game set in such a rich time period, the script and voice work are dismal. Subscribing to the predictable; a tale of two brothers chasing the same girl is injected with a dose of the irritating; a third brother following a religious path, constantly reminding you that killing is bad, but tagging along all the same. It ends with a foreseeable and melodramatic conclusion polarised from the beginning; which demonstrates a wealth of promise, tapping into the American Civil War. And of course, Native Americans show up in stereotypical glory (though strangely they all speak English).

Bound in Blood is a game of two halves. Fantastic gunplay and an almost untouched location make it a riveting, if shallow, first person shooter, brief but accomplished. Yet outrageous boss fights and a lacking script fail to compliment the otherwise commendable foundations. Flawed then, but promising should a third game surface in the future.

7/10

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