Review: Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood

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The first-person shooter genre is woefully short on westerns, and I have no idea why. For a genre built around gunplay you’d think there would be more titles set in the period of America most defined by guns. Yet our options are limited to just a few each generation, and a decade ago it was the Call of Juarez series. Bound in Blood was their second release, mostly unconnected from the first game as I understand it but built upon the same concepts of shootouts and duels. More importantly, it makes those concepts a fast-paced, rip-roaring good time with a few little bonuses to sweeten the deal.

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Bound in Blood is the story of the McCall brothers, Ray, Thomas, and William, and like any good story about brothers it revolves around a woman. After seeing their home razed by Sherman’s men in the Civil War, Ray and Thomas desert the Confederate army and become drifters out west with their preacher brother William in tow. There they lose themselves gunfighting and sticking their dicks where they don’t belong, until a sheriff runs them off to Mexico. A few more gunfights find them in the company of Juarez, a bandit lord hunting for a legendary treasure with a beautiful maiden, Marissa, at his side. Ray and Thomas may be out for the gold but their real quest is for the girl, and their long and bloody road might just come to a dead end for them both.

It’s a classic western tale rife with betrayals and revenge, perfect for pushing you the many frontier towns and mines full of gunslingers. There are plenty of cutscenes to keep you in the story, featuring some finely-detailed characters and some fantastic voice work from the brothers. Ray and Thomas are quintessential anti-heroes, charming and arrogant and flawed, always ready to spar with each other or make sport of their bloody work. Certain scenes are put together well enough to get a fist pump from me, like William trying to convince Ray not to kill a particular bounty target. It’s a mark of a fine narrative to have characters you’re not rooting for, but you nevertheless want to see their whole story play out.

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Said story plays out over more than a dozen twisting levels, taking you from the trenches of the Civil War to the hidden temples of the Aztecs. Most levels let you play as either Ray or Thomas, with the other backing you up or taking alternate routes. Ray is the brawler, focused on dual pistols, shotguns, and a special power that lets him paint targets to cut down all at once. Thomas is more of a sniper with his rifle and throwing knives, and can lasso or mantle his way around high places and pop off enemies in sequence with his special. No matter who you pick you’ll be running and gunning through dusty streets and musty caves, stopping only for dramatic door-kicking scenes or duels where you reach and draw your shootin’ iron with the mouse.

These many elements give the game some much-needed variety, because the basic FPS action is pretty straightforward. Other than a smart cover system that lets you peek over and around things with just the mouse, you’ll just be pushing forward and blasting whatever enemies cross your path with pistols most of the time. You can do a little scrounging to turn up secrets that unlock art and photos, and money to buy better guns every few levels, and there are even a few open-worldish interludes where you can explore the town of Juarez and do side missions. Still, all of this is built around a very basic combat system with a period-accurate but understandably limited arsenal.

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This is not to say Bound in Blood is bad, by any means, just not as robust as more modern games or even its successor, Gunslinger. All it has over that one is length, which isn’t always a plus if you get stuck on a frustrating sequence like the stagecoach escape that tripped me up. But this is still a title to be treasured, a quality western shooter with a story and combat that fit the setting perfectly. Being a little dated and a little limited isn’t nearly enough to keep Bound in Blood from being a hell of a good time, one that’ll last you a nice long while and keep a grin on your face the whole way through.

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