STAFF REVIEW of Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood (Xbox 360)


Monday, June 29, 2009.
by Adam Dileva

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood Box art The original Call of Juarez released in 2007 and was met with decent reviews and had some decent ideas to make it stand out from the crowded FPS genre (other than being a Western, which isnt done very often). The follow-up; Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is now here and has taken the general premise that made the first in the series decent and simply improves on them while trying a few new things.

The greedy fever that is known as Gold Fever is known as the Call of Juarez. Greed, lust, and lawlessness will have the McCall brothers traveling from a Civil War era Georgia all the way to the Aztec ruins in Mexico.

As you start the campaign, you are thrust into the Civil War as Confederate Soldiers that occurred in 1864. You meet the Thomas and Ray, the two McCall brothers, eventually fend off a massive attack on your own then decide to hurry back home defend your home and mother that may be under attack. The problem with this is that your commanding officer brands you as a deserter for leaving the cause of your country.

As you arrive home, you find your mother on her death bed and are introduced to your other brother who is a preacher of God. As you are being hunted down, you must leave your home and vow to come back one day, rebuild the house and live here again one day.

I dont want to give too much away about the plotline, as I found it decently compelling and engrossing me the whole way through, but youll meet a woman that comes between the brothers that will really test their brotherly bond. Youll also be in the search for the fabled cursed treasure buried somewhere in the hills in Mexico that was buried many years ago from Conquistadors. Although the main plot was generally predictable for the most part other than a small twist at the end, it was still strong enough to keep me going to want to find out more.

At the beginning of most levels you are given a choice of which McCall brother youd like to play as. Ill get into the gameplay differences between Thomas and Ray later on, but on the screen youll always see a cowboy hat icon that relates to where your brother is at all times. This is because you never really want to split up from your brother if it can be helped, and surprisingly your brothers AI was actually decent and wasnt just there for looks; he was taking down guys before me or covering me while reloading. It actually felt as if my brother had my back during the game and could hold his own for the most part.

A feature in the original Call of Juarez had a shootout mode that would have you shooting enemies in a slow motion mode with both guns out moving slowly towards the middle until it ends. The same premise is here this time, but both brothers will knock down certain doors and while you will still shoot enemies in slow motion, its been improved and just feels better overall and not as awkward. It can be very tricky the first few times since you have to aim both guns simultaneously, but eventually you get the hang of it and can take down almost a dozen guys in one go.

While I found the level designs very well done and gives an authentic Western feel, sadly the level progressions themselves were very liner and repetitive. You run to your objective area, clear all the bad guys, music chances so that you know you are done clearing this area and you run up to the next spot and repeat. Not all levels and completely this way, but its a very stop and go affair.


The whole game isnt this way though; there is some horse back riding, shooting turrets from moving stagecoaches, and even covering your brother paddling a canoe down a river that breaks up the normal monotony. There are even a few places between certain levels that allow you to take side quests for more bounty money. While they do add some more gameplay time to the overall experience, it felt out of place in a way and was generally a kill this person for $$$ reward.

Dueling in the first Juarez felt very finicky for lack of a better term; it is vastly improved with Bound in Blood and even looks cool to do. A third person side angle view shows the side of your body and when the enemy walks left or right, you have to counter that walk to try and keep him in the middle of the screen and your sights. Fail to do this and they will be off centered and out of focus. The right stick controls your whole arm, not just your hand, so you want to keep moving it to stay close to your gun so that as soon as that bell rings, you can instantly grab your piece and shoot him down. If you make a mistake and grab your gun too early, youll get a stern no no no finger wag and your arm will slowly reset, so you have to make sure to be ready, but not too ready.

When you hear the town bell ring (which doesnt make sense in some of these duels, since there is no bell nearby; especially the final duel) you reach for your gun and as soon as the aimer lines up with your enemy you have to quickly use the trigger and lay them to waste. These duels are essentially the boss fights and while they do look cool, it does feel somewhat underwhelming overall as I never really got that huge climax you get with other games when you finish a large or difficult boss. Every boss felt and wasnt that much harder than the last, I even finished the last guy on my first try.

As mentioned before, you are given the choice for most levels of which brother youd like to control. First up is the younger brother Thomas who has more agility and is more suited for long range shotting with a bow or rifle.

Thomas also has a rope that can be used to climb preset areas (though anywhere would have felt slightly more dynamic, being able to get on top of buildings and snipe) and climb smaller obsticles to help your brother up (but again, only in preset areas). The rope this time has been vastly improved over the originals game. With rope in hand youll see a small red marker of where the rope can attach, once you ready your lasso, you have to make circles with the right stick as if you are actually lassoing and going to throw it. Its an interesting touch and more involving than simply pressing the trigger itself.

Thomas is also the weaker of the two brothers, which is why he likes to stay further away and shoot from afar. Only he can use a traditional bow and arrow and throwing knives. I honestly didnt even bother to use these that often until half way through the game when I saw their real potential and potency. You may think that the bow and arrow has nothing on your rifle, but Thomas is a master at it and its just as lethal.


Once you rack up enough kills, both brothers are able to use their concentration mode skill for a short while that will easily kill any enemy in the nearby area. As you activate concentration mode, with Thomas you have to hold down the trigger then press down on the right stick rapidly as if you were pulling back the firing pin like in the movies. It does do the auto aiming for you in this mode and it does feel more involving rather than just pressing the trigger as you normally would.

There were only two issues I had with the concentration mode though; the first being the icon that shows you how full or ready you are to use it. Its the big icon at the top right of the screen that looks like the barrel for your bullets and it slowly fills up with each kill you get. For the first while I had this confused thinking it was my ammo meter or something else.

The second issue that I found frustrating was that once your concentration mode is full, you have 60 seconds to use it. You cant bank it and save it for a tough area littered with enemies; and if you dont end up using it in that allotted time, the meter empties and you have to start filling it again. There were quite a few spots I wished I had it at my disposal but on the bright side, when you activate it, it automatically switches to the proper gun for you and you kill anyone in the vicinity very quickly.

Ray McCall is the other brother and he may look familiar if you played the first Juarez title. This is because it is the same one and only Reverend Ray that was chasing down Billy and spouting gospel with his bible. In Bound in Blood though this tells Rays back story of how he became to be a man of the bible. Throughout the game he is a no nonsense bad ass that will do anything to get the woman he loves and find the treasure to rebuild his home.

Ray is much tougher than his brother, can take more damage, and even wears a metal breastplate to protect himself since he likes to get much more up close and personal with the bad guys. He is strong enough to kick down certain doors and move heavier objects that Thomas is unable to.

Rays uniqeness for weapons are that he is able to use dynamite (which is essentially grenades) and can use two revolvers at one time; although you are unable to look down your sights and aim more accurately this way)

Rays concentration mode fills up the same way as Thomas and is the same premise but the execution is played drastically different. Once you activate it, you mode your cursers around the screen to mark any enemies you want to shoot and where. Once the concentration meter ends or is stopped by the player, you automatically shoot anyone that was marked in an extremely quick shootout. Its not as fun as Thomas way, but its still entertaining to see half a dozen enemies fall to the floor all at once.

Multiplayer in Bound in Blood feels like it may actually have a shot at being quite decent, as its obvious that a lot of effort was taken to make it unique like the genre and not just be the same thing weve seen a thousand times.

You have 6 modes up to 12 players; but two really stood out for me. Shootout is essentially deathmatch but with a very interesting twist. You gain a wanted bounty for the more kills and streaks you get and winning isnt really about your kills (so no more first to X kills), its all about the bounty you get from killing people. Kill someone with a huge wanted price and you can win it in the very end even if you havent had many kills over the course of the match. Kill more people and your bounty grows which will in turn have more people will be gunning for the price on your head.


Wild West Legends mode has two teams split into essentially the lawmen and the bandits. Its objective based such as the bandits having to break into a bank by blowing the doors with dynamite then getting away with horses. You only have a few minutes to do an objective, but if you manage to complete it, the timer resets for the next objective. Its not always the bandits having to do things, sometimes the good guys have to blow up weapon caches from the baddies. At the end of the match, sides switch and its actually quite entertaining and can see it being quite enjoyable with a solid team with some strategy involved.

The other noteworthy feature about multiplayer is that it is class based. You can choose between 5 classes from the get go and the other 8 are unlocked and bought with game earnings for a total of 13 different classes with different mixtures of guns. Since you cant pickup other peoples weapons you are stuck with what weapons you are given for the class, but are able to switch classes at any time in a round (without a respawn timer penalty of course) which is great if your team absolutely needs a sniper or a certain class at any given point.

The voice acting from all the main characters is superb and the Thomas and Ray characters really made me feel like I was playing out their story. The voice actors did an excellent job of playing of each other and it truly did feel like they had that friendly sibling rivalry going on the whole time. While the voicing was great, the repetitive one liners were not. Sure it sounded great hearing Thomas call Ray an a-hole, but not for the thirtieth time.

Everything visually looked on par overall. Thomas, Ray, other main characters and anything story related looked great, everything else seemed to have very low textures and really stood out against the better looking foreshadow of the brothers. While galloping very fast on your horse, there wasnt much flourish pop-in and the draw distance did seem vast considering how fast you can actually ride. Main characters looked and animated very well which just felt odd beside the other characters that didnt look nearly half as good and moved clunkier.

Hidden throughout the levels are secrets to pickup that unlock artwork and such, but it was mostly still frames and generally underwhelming enough to not make me even care to find the rest of them. Achievements are given out decently, with many also carrying over to online objectives. There is a tracker on the main screen menu of what achievements you have and are working on and the progress towards them. Why this wasnt something viewable during the pause menu I dont really understand though. The most unique achievement I enjoyed was the one that you needed to kill someone at high noon in real time (between 12:00pm and 12:15pm); its a courteous nod to the genre and setting.

With only a 5 hour play through on easy, I had absolutely no problems at all (hence the easy I suppose) other than one infinitely respawning area (and the only) near the end of the game. I would definitely suggest playing on medium or higher to start and also to do the side quests to add a few more hours to your campaign. It goes without saying that this game deserves to be played twice so you can see both sides of the story from each brother but surprisingly enough you would think that this was made to have 2 player co-op campaign, yet it is absent for some reason.

I honestly had this title under my radar but by the end of it all, I did quite enjoy its entertainment value; and finding a decent Western game is no real easy task with so few being released these days. I do hope the multiplayer catches on and that Ubisoft decides to push this title with some marketing dollars as it has value in its single player experience and longevity in its multiplayer. Bound in Blood actually took me by surprise and if you enjoy the classic westerns, you too should answer to the Call of Juarez.


Suggestions:
This would have been even more engrossing if it was 2 player co-op and I don't get why this isn't an option to be honest.


Overall: 8.3 / 10
Gameplay: 8.4 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10

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