Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood Hands On

As a setting, the wild west is one of the most iconic and atmospheric pallets. Just a single shot of a saloon door is enough to conjure up thoughts of bandits, cowboys, shootouts and fist fights. When you look past the obvious references it was an exciting yet dangerous period in history. The firearm had become a necessity resulting in bloody feuds and, for many people, a lack of faith in the law. It was a time of huge uncertainty in amongst huge prosperity.

America in the build up to the civil war was in an era of great exploration and political turmoil. To the west, a pioneering spirt, in the north and south, an inevitable, fierce and bloody conflict. What better place then, to start a fierce and bloody shooter.

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Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is the prequel to the PC and 360 FPS. Set at the end of the civil war, the McCall brothers, Tom and Ray, are led on a journey to rebuild their family home after a death in the family and an unfortunate set of circumstances leads them to a legend of Aztec gold. TSA managed to grab a fist full of hands on and we’re pleased to say that, although it’s full of the inevitable stereotypes the setting demands, it’s shaping up to be a big budget ballsy shooter with some very interesting ideas under it’s saddle.

The wild west is a huge genre in film and has created some of the most memorable protagonists in cinema. This is a huge area to draw inspiration from the team at the Polish Techland have ripped more than a few clichés from the big screen but, to be honest, it’s all the better for it. Having a western shooter without some kind of John Wayne-esque moments would be a hanging offense and Bound in Blood doesn’t disappoint.

Single Player

Starting off as Tom you must make it through the makeshift battlements to find your brother before his line is breached. This involves the usual introduction to the various gameplay elements whilst drawing you towards a meeting with your brother and the decision to desert the war and return to their home which seems to be in the firing line of the sweeping enemy forces. The battle through the trenches is a linear one with the odd surprise explosion and dying ally but it’s a perfect setting for you to get aquatinted with two of Bound in Blood’s party tricks, the fantastic cover system and the Concentration Mode.

Cover systems in FPSs are a relatively new area of game design. One which Bound in Blood gets spot on. The simplicity of automatically snapping on to cover is nicely implemented with an exaggerated peek facilitated by the right stick it instantly makes sense and becomes a natural strategy in play. I can easily see this system being taken on by future FPSs. Concentration Mode returns giving you the ability to slow down time and clear multiple enemies in one go once your meter is full. Whilst most shooters opt for the tried and tested bullet time with a twist the implementation and difference of the abilities of the two brothers differ enough to make the feature enjoyable.

They are both playable characters, as in the original, only this time for the majority of levels, the decision of who you play as is left to you and Both characters offer different styles of play. Tom is a long range specialist and light on his toes and Ray has a more explosive arsenal and dual pistols. They interact with each other at several points in the gameplay giving each other boosts or initiating dual Concentration Mode which works well. The choice of characters could offer different experiences adding to longevity but in the two levels previewed they were selected for us. Unfortunately there is no co-op mode which would seem like a no brainer but certain elements within the game’s story line gameplay apparently make this impossible.

Throughout my time with the single player campaign I was treated to some great set pieces, some of which genuinely surprised me both in their implementation and their execution. A gun turret moment is pulled out of the bag early on along with some other tried and tested shooter staples but one standout piece involving a field of corn created a sudden change in pace which was very refreshing.

The Multiplayer

The twelve man multiplayer has a few tricks up it’s sleeve using a poker style card system and cash as points. Leveling up is straight forward and there are a multitude of classes to choose from but even if they’re not quite up to the variety of Team Fortress 2 there’s enough if you feel the need change things up a bit.

Having such a thematic backdrop to an online mode Techland have used it to create modes with more purpose than most. Breaking open the bank and escaping with the gold is a good excuse for a gun fight but the objective based rounds turn out to be little more than search and destroy with multiple targets. I’m not entirely sure you’d need to blow the doors off a stable only to ignore the horses and run to the town limits to escape.

This is not to say the multiplayer isn’t enjoyable. The bow and arrow is a great weapon and, as I proved to the opposition, should not be underestimated. Little touches like the card mechanic and play modes that attempt to buck the trends could see this side of the game enjoy a long life. If supported post release the canvas is ripe for new modes and maps, it would be a shame not to squeeze the genre for new ideas.

Overall

The game is a looker as you’ll see from the multiplayer screens. Techland’s engine does a superb job and at times throws out some vivid scenes effortlessly with some textures really  popping out of the screen. If you have any concerns about the port to PS3, lose them now. It looks great. The multiplayer was still a visual treat but, as is usually the case, it isn’t quite up to the single player mode and whilst the size of the maps aren’t huge they are perfect for the numbers involved.

Gameplay wise it’s a solid shooter that moves well and gives you the tools to deal with situations effectively. The linear level design was obviously necessary in the levels played but we’re promised a more open structure once the game gets up to speed. Mini games to break up the flow happen throughout, such as stand offs, pistols at dawn style and context sensitive set pieces. It’s not exactly breaking new ground but the cover system’s so well done that you’ll warm to it instantly. I can’t stress how nice it feels next to Killzone’s finger gymnastics.

The sound was hard to gauge as I was using a pair of 5.1 headphones and the build had some voiceover that was mixed strangely and didn’t translate to them properly. The acting was high budget and complemented the action perfectly which makes the mixing problems all the more unfortunate. Hopefully this won’t be the case in the full release.

Conclusion

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Techland having not played the original but I left feeling that the genre was in good hands. Call of Juarez is as much of a big budget shooter as many that live in my collection but few can claim inspiration from the wild west. They have clearly fallen in love with the setting and want you to too. By capturing the essence of what we all love about the guns, the life style and the people of the era the polish developer has created an enjoyable set up for a potentially interesting story. It’s a shame to have to forgive the lack of co-op and twelve player multiplayer but when the main campaign is so polished you’re not going to feel like you’ve been given an incomplete package.

We look forward to delving further into the story when the game lands on the shelves on the 3rd of July.

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