Review: Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood

The Civil War has always been one of the least-explored eras throughout history, with most of our focus being on World War II and the droves of faceless Nazis we’ve driven into oblivion. Failing that, prequels are often left to rot in the gaming world, and end up as bargain bin fodder soon after their release (Contract J.A.C.K., anyone?), but this Civil War shooter stands steady on its own two feet. Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood provides some tight and entertaining Civil War shootouts, though if you ask me, it could have been a bit longer.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood follows the story of Ray McCall (who fans will remember from the first game) and his brother Thomas before he ever became a man of the cloth. While these names may bring to mind Miley’s father, rest assured these brothers aren’t going to whine in songs about achy breaky hearts. After the two desert the Confederate army in order to make a swift return home to protect their family, they push commander Barnsby to the edge. After the desertion, he’s out for blood and ready to follow Thomas and Ray all across the States to claim his vengeance. Of course, it wouldn’t be a video game narrative without various other subplots, and the supporting cast of characters do a fine job of propelling the plot forward.

Gone are the insufferable stealth sequences that you were subjected to in the first game thanks to Billy. In its place are action-packed shootouts that exploit Ray and Thomas’s rough-and-tumble personalities in the best way possible. Playing through each chapter will reveal some tense stop-and-pop action driven by Civil War-era weapons. No pumping cowboys full of lead – a single shot to the torso or vital organs can be just as deadly as a traditional headshot. A viable cover system is employed simply by leaning into appropriate locations, and you’ll need to make the best of it. Plenty of FPS action is showcased here, but what Western-styled shooter would be complete without authentic quick-draw showdowns? Thomas and Ray can both engage in shootouts. Once a bell tolls, you’ll have only about a second to grab your gun and sling a bullet right between your opponent’s eyes. Too slow to make that killing shot? You’ll just have to try from your last save, but don’t think that you’ll be that lucky in real life.

Aside from explosive action via these two grizzly men, both have quick gunning special actions that can be performed once a bullet chamber on the top right corner of the HUD is filled by taking down baddies. Once it’s full, Ray and Thomas can pick off enemies with the greatest of ease in Western-styled bullet time. Each man has a different special ability – Ray can sweep the area for enemies with the reticle before unleashing a barrage of deadly bullets. Thomas will automatically select enemies close enough to pump full of lead, only requiring a flick of the analog stick to mimic the hammer of a gun. Sure, it’s derivative. It’s also indulgent, violent fun, and definitely something more polished than we’ve seen here lately.

Sometimes, a cast of intriguing voice actors can be a game’s saving grace. If nothing else falls into place, authentic and sincere voiceovers can make all the difference. Luckily, Bound in Blood has its ducks in a row along with some nitty-gritty “sumb*tches” and “peckerheads”…along with some more colorful language much like they must have tossed around back in the days of the West. Wait, what am I saying? Nothing’s changed. Still, both Ray and Thomas are given true personality, rather than becoming cookie-cutter action heroes with gruff, throaty growls. I can appreciate that.

You will find yourself in control of various vehicles or weapons throughout Bound in Blood, and with each subsequent venture into rail-shooter territory, you’ll be wishing the segment were over. Case in point: a cannon-blasting objective where the only thing you must do is fend off advancing rafts full of enemies. You’ll need to adjust your aim in order to reach the rafts, but it gets rather stale and boring launching cannonball after cannonball in order to stave off the advancing threat. Why is this? Because you’ll be doing the same thing many more times throughout the game, albeit with different weapons or modes of transportation. These areas could have been handled better.

While you’re just getting into the swing of things and following Ray’s slow descent into madness, the game will come to a swift end. This is rather unfortunate, considering it’s quite the solid foray into Wild West action. You can expect to squeeze 8-10 hours out of this tale, but with little replay value (you can play other difficulties, but why waste the time?), but unfortunately the fun stops there. With franchises such as these you can’t always expect there to be more to the story, so it would have been appreciated if more game time was given to us.

I must have missed the memo that states the only multiplayer one must enjoy is that of Call of Duty, Halo 3, Gears of War, or Left 4 Dead online these days. Well, I can’t blame you all for Call of Duty, but seeing as Call of Juarez features some interesting and solid multiplayer choices, it’s a pain that no one feels the need to go online with this game. Of course, I speak for Xbox Live since I played through the 360 version, but if you can’t find anyone to play with except for friends you may have on your friends list, the multiplayer options may as well be useless. Since there’s little else to do when completing the campaign mode, it’s hard not to consider this a glaring flaw. Just one more example of why multiplayer modes that are tacked onto otherwise standalone, shining examples of games are the bane of my existence.

If you’re looking for an enjoyable shooter with a setting that isn’t space, war-town streets, or other banal locales, then Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood could be the breath of fresh air that you’ve been craving. Of course, it doesn’t reinvent the genre, and I’ve seen better. But for a prequel to a game that few people enjoyed that manages to make its presence known in a positive manner? I’m pretty impressed. This is one fun little sumb!*ch.

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