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Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood

for Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC, by Ubisoft, 2009, rated M for mature (strong language, suggestive themes, violence, blood).

Techland’s energized prequel to its 2006 PC game Call of Juarez repeats that name but adds “Bound in Blood,” perhaps to remind everyone this is no “E for everyone” offering. Bound in Blood is a solid and unique take on the first-person shooter (FPS) genre that benefits from its Western setting and tone. For once, you’re not shooting Nazis or aliens but rather fighting through the dust-covered towns and northern forests of Arizona Territory. The weapons are fantastic and add to the Old West feel (except for the cannon, which fires like a missile launcher). You use an assortment of pistols and rifles as well as dynamite and knives, all of which add new strategy to Bound in Blood not seen in other shooters. There are no M4s and G3s in this world. Here, you have six bullets before you have to reload. Accuracy is key. You can’t just spray rounds of machine-gun ammo on the enemy. A subtler approach is necessary, and that is what makes Bound in Blood an original FPS.

The game has a strong cinematic feel, meshing ideas from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Stagecoach and The Wild Bunch. The story line follows brothers Ray and Thomas McCall, who desert their Rebel regiment in the Civil War to save younger brother William and their homestead. This desertion puts them on the run, so the boys head West, where they join a shady character named Juarez to seek a “cursed” treasure. Along the way, they side with Apaches and fight off Mexican bandits, Navajos and their maniacal Confederate commander Barnsby —who never surrendered to the Union and will stop at nothing to see the two deserters pay. All the while, Ray and Tom fight over a beauty named Marisa. The story is exciting but clichéd, while the cinematic feel benefits from terrific music (inspired perhaps by the guitar riffs and beats in 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma) and voice acting (Ray sounds like Al Swearengen from HBO’s Deadwood).

Shortcomings include long load times; the game will freeze for a few seconds in the middle of a level to load the next section. Some gameplay mechanics don’t exactly hit the mark. Showdowns, for instance, are tiresome one-on-one duels that break up the fast-paced action, and the control scheme is poorly designed, often causing your character to miss his gun altogether on a draw. Also problematic is the riding. Horses move more like tanks than real horses, and, honestly, who can aim two guns simultaneously while in the saddle? It’s also unfortunate, given the two brothers, that this is a single-player game. There is, however, an online multiplayer version, which affords more playtime once you’ve completed the eight-hour story mode. Bound in Blood debuted last summer, a season largely void of good videogame releases, and was a solid hit. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have loads of bloody fun with it this fall and winter.


Originally published in the December 2009 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.