Heed the Call
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is the greatest Old West game ever made. It's also a great FPS in its own right.
Published: August 12, 2009
Stays in Arkansas, the border town in Mexico where the game (and plot) take their name, then repeated trips into the Old West proper (from bluffs to high plains to forest wilderness) all give the game an ever-changing sense of locales. At a couple points during the game, things even get decidedly open-ended (though it's not quite as exploration-friendly as, say, GUN), allowing for a handful of side missions (all of which amount to killing more people, of course).
What separates Bound in Blood from the first Call of Juarez is how the action is handled. Gone are the stealth and major platforming bits, replaced by the option of playing as either Ray or Thomas, and each play rather differently, opening up slightly skewed paths or options throughout a level. Thomas' lasso allows him to scale areas Ray can't get to, while Ray's muscle allows him to pick up heavy weapons (like an awesome portable turret) and kick down doors his brother couldn't. The two paths aren't so different that I felt I had to play through it all again (and it should be noted this is a meaty 10+ hour adventure in either perspective), but the brothers' different play styles and abilities certainly made it inviting enough.
Those abilities keep the two from playing too similarly; Ray is the only one that can dual-wield weapons (beyond the tag team sequences I'll get to in a second), comes armed with dynamite, and can pick up the aforementioned turret. Thomas, on the other hand, can use scoped weapons like rifles, one-shot enemies with throwing knives, snipe with a bow and has far greater accuracy at range. Both brothers will eventually have to engage in showdown pistol duels at the end of most missions (depending on who you've picked for that chapter), and these are some of the best parts of the game, requiring you to move to keep the opponent centered in your view, but also with your hand at the ready to draw and fire as soon as a bell rings. The tension during these segments is incredible, and at least up until the end, I relished squaring off against someone.
Techland did a great job in keeping things varied. More than a few sections where you can team up with your brother to clear a room in slo-mo (Thomas actually dual wields here while Ray sticks to just one weapon, but both have you painting targets with crosshairs and firing when they turn red). As you off enemies, you'll also build up a meter that allows both brothers to lay waste to a handful of opponents in seconds (Ray literally "paints" enemies with crosshairs and then unloads a ton of shots at once while Thomas has to fan his hammer by tapping down on the right analog stick and then firing -- done quickly, this feels awesome). Rail shooter bits, the more free-roaming side missions and some very basic stealth segments all keep the game moving between paces and styles of play.
There's also a nice progression of period-specific weapons. Shotguns, pistols and rifles of various types, stopping power, reload and firing speed slowly grow more deadly and useful as the game goes on, and in the more open parts of the game, you're actually able to purchase more powerful versions of weapons with cash earned from seeking out hidden sacks taking on side quests. Most of the boxes you find in the game also contain one of over 40 different secrets, which unlock actual historical photos and one-off "memories" -- audio recordings set over hand-drawn stills that help thicken up the personalities of the characters.
Through all the weapons, missions and changes in scenery, though, what really stuck out for me was just how much fun it was to be a badass. There's something inherently satisfying about being able to pick off a target at range or gun through a bunch of enemies bum rushing you. The AI for your brother is smart enough to stay alive when need be, but isn't so lame that they can't handle things for themselves. I was rather amazed at just how capable most of the characters were in the game, and there was perhaps just one or two moments where I had a cheap death.