Ubisoft’s partnership with Techland appears to have succeeded: Call of Juarez: Bound In Blood is a powerful, dramatic tale of two brothers forced to go on the run in the middle of the American Civil War. The setting might be authentic but I’m a shooter, not a historian, and the only thing that mattered to me when marching down the dusty roads of The Wild West was my aim. Techland’s hardware mastery produces some vivid scenery, realistic gunplay and convincing animation, and that’s just about all I need.
From the off, with the game throwing around detailed, effect-filled visuals and a gentle introduction that rapidly escalates into a thunderous siege (hint: the Trophy is called D-Day) Bound In Blood is happy to lay all its cards on the table. Within the first hour you’ll have navigated trenches, sprinted across open battlefield, laid mines, controlled a cannon and had your fair share of cut-scenes: this game is nothing if not diverse. Yes, it’s a first person shooter, but the amount of characterisation and depth would suggest it would work just as well from the third.
Storytelling is an aspect most shooters fail to take advantage of, but not this one. Essentially a weaving yarn of two distinct but related protagonists forced to take exile and desert the war, Bound In Blood wastes no time in setting up the premise for the game’s lengthy campaign. The Western theme is certainly Wild, and although there’s certainly enough diversity in the levels and acts you’ll play through consistency is never a problem, all the while the game’s cut-scenes keep you locked into the ever developing exposition with only the daft checkpoint pauses breaking the forth wall.
It would be churlish to spoil the story, but it’s safe to say that you won’t need to have played the first Call of Juarez game to get the most of it – think of Bound in Blood as its own individual chapter in, we hope, a series of games. It’s worth mentioning that most of the chapters can be played as either of the two brothers, which gives a slight alternative spin on the actions of that particular section without making any different to the outcome. Both Ray and Thomas are capable shooters, but you may prefer speed and agility over strength – the choice is (mostly) yours.
What Techland have managed to portray well is the sense of weight to the weaponry. Despite the armoury being authentically vintage each gun packs a punch and the way the enemy responds to a bullet is highly satisfying. Guns can be doubled up too, although you’ll lose the ability to zoom with the L1 trigger if you’re dual-weilding. Other nice control features are the automatic cover (which sees you gently ‘sticking’ to nearby objects and using the right stick to peer) and the slow motion bullet-time concentration mode which allows multiple take-outs in the blink of an eye.
It’s when Bound In Blood tries to fit in too much that it can suffer slightly – the game is best when pushing the player through tightly structured and well narrated sections, but when left in the wild signposting isn’t as clear and although the game happily highlights targets for you in the HUD, there’s no sense of distance (especially true of grenades) and likewise bullets from opposing snipers, for example, can ruin the flow. Pacing isn’t normally a problem throughout the game – the minigame diversions are fun and often explosive – but it could have done with tighter funneling in some areas.
The Multiplayer section doesn’t suffer from any such issues, of course. With a nice selection of maps and modes, Techland’s class-based system works a treat and although the classes aren’t quite as diversive as they are in the likes of Killzone 2 or Team Fortress 2 there’s enough options to keep things fresh. There’s some clever versions of popular FPS modes – capture the flag is much more fun when you’re stealing gold instead – and the few games we played just to test it out seemed to work just fine.
Thematically the game succeeds with aplomb, the story line works well, the co-op and alternative routes through sections with your brother never feel forced and there’s some welcome appearances of both characters and plot twists during the campaign. There’s lots to like here, presentation is great, the game runs smooth enough (there’s some slowdown and tearing, though) and for once it’s a multiformat game where the PS3 version doesn’t seem to suffer particularly badly. If you were looking for a Western FPS to cure an overdose of bald space marines with ridiculous guns, this is the perfect tonic.
You can read more about Bound In Blood’s various multiplayer modes in our hands on article here.