Near the end of Call of Juarez – Bound in Blood, the two main characters, Ray and Thomas McCall, stand off against their nemesis. He is a Confederate Army General who has yet to relinquish his post despite the end of the war, carrying a grudge against the anti-heroes for leaving the war to save their family homestead.
The setting is perfect, if not cliché, for the western. The town is deserted, and looks to have been for some time. Wind sweeps dust and debris across the front of a broken down saloon wherein the general stands, silhouetted against the hard, grungy environment.
This is where Bound in Blood should end. It’s perfect, beautiful, and tense. Sadly, the design goes elsewhere, choosing to cap the story with countless shootouts and enemy characters that all die in memorable ways more in tune with a summer action movie than meaningful plot device.
This sequel is short, coming in at around six hours when playing on normal, but even without the final hour, it would still have been a satisfying experience.
At the core is a wonderful, forceful feeling from the guns, especially the rifle. Despite the repetition, the immense sense of power generated from aiming down the sights and firing has rarely been captured better in a first-person shooter.
Despite the sluggish movement and canned turret sequences, Bound in Blood generates excitement, and wisely holds off until the end to generate the full thrills. The game builds to its climax without expending its programmed energy too early. A memorable river chase down winding rapids is thrilling, as are the events leading up to it. Enemy counts also stay low until the story requires them to pick up logically, as the remnants of the Confederacy seek their revenge on Ray and Thomas.
Players can choose to play as either character before each mission (although no co-op exists sadly), and while they each have their own attributes, it is not always logical. Thomas can use rifles, but is unable to throw dynamite. An unknown handicap apparently affects his throwing arm, but not his lasso. It makes more sense that Ray has trouble climbing ledges given his gruff, aged exterior.
Levels are generally linear, with open world aspects offering side missions between two of the acts. Bound in Blood succumbs to clichés, including the explosive red barrel, which has to be an inside joke being played on all gamers this generation. However, the wide, usually empty streets of various towns and slower paced shooting offer a unique, captivating experience.
However, it is an experience that fails to translate into multi-player, although the barren lobbies also contribute to the disappointment. Those accustomed to fast-paced space shooters such as Unreal probably won’t make it out of a single match on the eight included maps given the weapon selection and speed. This is a vastly original effort, but sadly one that will be unlikely find an audience.
Ignoring multi-player faults, Bound in Blood is one of the few games that delivers legitimate tension. Stand-offs are nothing short of epic, despite their overuse and touchy controls. Players use the right stick to control their arms, and the left to pace sideways keeping the foe in view. Knowing a bell could signal it is time to fire at anytime, these are some of the best offerings from this sequel.
It’s a shame so few games can capitalize on a concept such as this, one so lovingly crafted, the obvious flaws are secondary to enjoying the experience. That’s Bound in Blood all the way through.