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Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood

Westerns are somewhat of a rarity in the gaming community; ironic, considering their status as one of the most over-saturated genres in film history. While there are a few options, gamers have a surprisingly slim library to select from if they’re in the mood to pull the wagon train into a circle, so to speak. Call of Juarez was a fairly decent option back when it came out; and indeed, it was practically the only next-gen western at the time, excluding the Xbox 360 version of GUN – which, we all know, didn’t exactly push the hardware. Bound in Blood is actually a prequel to the original Call of Juarez, sticking to the original title’s formula of two-character gameplay but smoothing out many of the wrinkles that made it such a flawed gem.

Bound in Blood takes place during the tail end of the American Civil War. Brothers Ray and Thomas are serving in the Confederate army. The game opens during a battle uncomfortably close to the brothers’ homestead, which they swore to protect. They soon desert the Confederacy when the battle plan changes, and leaves the family home in harm’s way – the boys flee south of the border to find fortune, bringing their little brother Billy, a preacher-in-training, along with them. What follows is a cliched but enjoyable mish-mash of western movie references and tropes, ranging from A Fistful of Dollars to Shane. Anyone who is a fan of western films will get a kick out of Bound in Blood‘s script, which hits all the right notes. The characters are interesting alone and brilliant when bouncing off of each other: Ray is a hardened warrior, Thomas is a sly trickster, and Billy tags along, desperately spouting Bible wisdom at the murderous brothers. It’s a varied script that should be commended for its scope.

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These distinct character traits also show through the way each character plays. Bound in Blood offers the choice of either Thomas or Ray for each level; both are wildly different, and equally fun. Ray is a more traditional first-person shooter choice: he moves slowly, can dual-wield guns and take a beating from enemy gunfire before kicking the bucket. Thomas is much weaker and can only fire one gun at a time, but he moves faster, aims tighter, and is equipped with a lasso to help him climb to convenient sniping perches. He also sports throwing knives, which are interesting to say the least. Each character also has their own version of “Focus”, which is essentially bullet time at the O.K. Corral. Ray’s vision allows players to choose 12 targets to shoot at high speed – targets ranging from heads to knees to, yes, groins. Thomas features a more traditionally western quick-draw motif, actually making the player simulate filing back the hammer of a revolver each time he fires in this mode, ala Clint Eastwood.

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The levels vary too, which, along with the character options, keeps things fresh most of the way through. Some levels are small, fast-paced corridor affairs with lots of scripted events and on-rails segments. Other levels are huge, with lots of objectives to complete, as well as a huge section of desert to explore. Some of these larger missions even have sidequests available. The pacing in these levels is a huge improvement over Call of Juarez, which often felt aimless and dragged on for too long. Coupled with the better character selection – Billy is relegated to annoying sidekick in this prequel – Bound in Blood fixes the problems that made the original such a frustrating game in spots.

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It also improves the presentation. Bound in Blood is an absolutely gorgeous game, dripping with detail for western fans to drool over. The character models are top-notch and nicely animated; a few niggles pop up in the form of awkward facial movements every now and then, but for the most part, the people are pleasant to look at. However, the world they inhabit is the most impressive part of the presentation, filled with rolling hills, dazzling sunlight, glistening streams, and huge, eerily empty stretches of desert. The environment is beautiful, but surprisingly, Bound in Blood probably won’t give your computer a run for its money. The PC version runs at a blistering clip on a decent machine, which is always a bonus for gamers on a budget. The sound design is also impressive: the music evokes all the classic western themes, and the voice actors are appropriately gruff and nasty in their portrayal of their hard-edged characters.

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Bound in Blood is an extremely polished version of what the first game should have been in the first place. It does nothing new, but it earns a few brownie points in the hearts of western fans for simply existing. Simply taken as a shooter, however, it’s still a mighty fine one, featuring enough variety to make it worth playing. Unfortunately, the multiplayer is barely worth mentioning – it’s there, but features none of the attention to detail or writing that makes the campaign so enjoyable. Still, with two characters and a fairly lengthy story, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is a great game for fans of westerns and fans of shooters alike.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

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