"It can be a bit much to take in all at once, but Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood delights in telling its twisted tale in an unconventional and sometimes surprising fashion. The next likely event is seldom clear as the player careens wildly from one volatile shootout to another, never far from disaster and a few profanity-laced one-liners. You might not always understand what just happened, but that's okay; the only details you really have to keep in mind to stay on top of things is that you're one of two treasure-seeking brothers and that your job is to shoot the crap out of anything that moves."
The fourth chapter in Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood begins with an Aztec warrior informing the members of his tribe that they will be buying rifles from Mexicans so that they can slaughter the white people encroaching on their lands. As the chief speaks, an old guy without many teeth suggests that war is not what the people need and warns that removing their sacred amulet from its safeguarded location is inviting trouble. Undeterred, the persistent chief sends his young son forth to procure the weapons so that the tribe can have its war.
Meanwhile, at a cantina not far from Juarez, Mexico...
Two grizzled cowboys named Ray and Thomas McCall are doing their best to get drunk while their priest-in-training brother William insists that God intended for men to get rich through hard work and sacrifice, not by treasure hunts or robbery.
There's certainly been plenty of hard work and sacrifice for the two older brothers, who began the game by shooting at each other in an apparently lethal duel. That is in the future, though, not the present. In the present, the two bad hombres are recuperating after fleeing a town up north because Thomas couldn't keep it in his pants and they wound up having to shoot the marshal after the lawman called them out for screwing his coquettish daughter. This after the two gunmen had fled west to Arkansas when deserting the Confederate forces to protect their homestead gained them the ire of a general who isn't about to forget their sins just because the Civil War has concluded.
Confused yet? It can be a bit much to take in all at once, but Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood delights in telling its twisted tale in an unconventional and sometimes surprising fashion. The next likely event is seldom clear as the player careens wildly from one volatile shootout to another, never far from disaster and a few profanity-laced one-liners. You might not always understand what just happened, but that's okay; the only details you really have to keep in mind to stay on top of things is that you're one of two treasure-seeking brothers and that your job is to shoot the crap out of anything that moves.
The cantina is as proficient a location as any when it comes to providing targets. A sexy young woman soon enters the bar for no apparent purpose other than to walk around in a circle until someone accosts her. A lanky fellow and his portly companion do so almost immediately. After a brief exchange where she punches one man in the face (he had it coming) and is about to be hauled off to destinations unknown, one of the McCall brothers decides to announce his presence by shooting the less dangerous of the two men in the head. Because if you're going to leave someone alive to exact revenge, you should always make sure that the one left standing is the one more likely to kick your ass. Right?
As the bad hombre shuffles out of sight with the beautiful and suddenly defenseless girl dragging behind him like a squirming sack of potatoes, you assume control of whichever brother you like--Thomas can lasso his way up to higher places and Ray can throw dynamite--and take pursuit with your sibling following along in surprisingly-efficient AI form. The cantina is suddenly swarming with armed goons who fire at you from the balcony overhead and from behind stone columns along the room's sides as you duck behind the bar for cover and exchange shots. Once you've decorated the room with enough corpses to fill a Rob Zombie movie, you'll burst through the front doors and stumble onto the street for a quick-time event wherein you must swing a cursor over highlighted adversaries and squeeze the shoulder buttons like nobody's business. Bang, bang, bang, goes your gun, and if you've shot enough thugs you might be able to survive behind cover as you pick off a few more vaqueros who have climbed onto the church roof across the street to snipe you.
Work your way along that same dusty street and you'll come across many more thugs. They dash between buildings, take cover behind stone columns, even duck behind crates and reach a hand over to fire a few wild shots in your direction. Basically, they do whatever you might do in this and plenty of other games like it, which is rather refreshing. There still are occasional morons, but they're actually quite rare. Even on "Easy" difficulty, your opponents can frequently send you back to the most recent checkpoint. All it takes is a barrage of bullets or a stick or two of dynamite. You can duck behind cover to slowly regenerate health, but not if you've been flanked by persistent gunmen.
Because it's so easy to take a dirt nap if you let your mind wander, there are a lot of checkpoints throughout the game. At first that's rather annoying due to a three-second delay each time you pass through one while the game saves your progress. By the time you reach the end of the game's uneven first stage, though, you'll hardly notice the pauses except perhaps to be thankful for what they signify: a chance to tackle more challenging areas without the fear of constant reruns. The developers wisely placed the most lethal areas just after checkpoints so that you can attempt them as much as you like without being forced to repeatedly sleepwalk through easier segments just ahead of them. As long as you trigger each checkpoint (yes, it's possible to miss some of them), the pacing is ideal.
The game also excels in the aural department, particularly when it comes to speech. There's banter aplenty between Thomas and Ray, who do everything from accusing one another of being slow in the head to complaining when the other shoots an enemy first. While there's a lot of heartfelt swearing over the course of the proceedings, there also are moments of emotion and even moral dilemmas. Lines are delivered with sufficient passion that it's difficult to picture Ray without hearing his lazy drawl or Thomas without recalling the sly smirk that lies behind his every word. The supporting crew is solid, too, and the soundtrack also fares well. There's a nice selection of ethnic music that fits the various locations, plus some heavier selections for the oh-so-frequent shootouts.
Visuals don't fare as well as audio does, but they're still impressive. There are some truly stunning vistas here, from the expected views of distant mountain ranges to the minutiae of rock formations, pine trees, corn fields and grassy deserts. The attention that smaller details are given is what really brings the environments to life, whether you're watching a wooden fence turn to splinters in the face of a shotgun blast or the rain spilling across the roof of a stagecoach or even a dust devil swirling through an eerily quiet street. Shadows also are given their fair share of attention. Wandering through a canyon outside of a settlement, you'll see a gunman's shadow dancing across the wall before you otherwise would know he was there. That kind of stuff rocks. The down side to all of that, particularly in more open environments, is that draw distance sometimes seems almost non-existent. There are occasions where you'll be wandering across a prairie as shadows, clumps of grass and pebbles blink into sight just a short distance ahead of you. It's difficult to knock what's there once it appears, but the pop-in remains jarring just the same.
Longevity is another of the game's strong points. A single trip through the adventure will take you around seven or eight hours and there's a good chance that you'll want to go through again to experience things from the perspective of whatever brother you didn't utilize the first time around. Finding all of the hidden unlockables can also take awhile. If that's not enough, there's also a robust online mode featuring several arenas and a class system that allows you to find and improve the character type that most closely matches your natural style of play. Various game objectives, including one where teams try to defeat opponents' wanted men, keep things fresh and interesting as you rack up bounties. Besides that, there's the option for LAN play if you'd rather not take your chances with the general Internet populace.
There have been several Western-themed games in recent years, most of them quite good, but Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood may very well be the best of them. With generally polished play mechanics and visuals, excellent voice work and a reasonably lengthy single-player campaign that you'll probably want to experience at least twice, not to mention an online mode that can extend your play time by hours on top of that, the title has a lot to offer even if you don't fall in love with the unique story and its brutal anti-heroes. Do yourself a favor and answer the call of Juarez!
Staff review by Jason Venter (July 04, 2009)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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