In the current generation there is probably no genre more crowded than the FPS. It takes a lot to stand out amongst such a heavily populated group of games, and while one way to stand out is to make a game of extreme quality, a rarely used setting can work as well. Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood has a setting in the Old West which makes for a different experience from the norm and comes as a breath of fresh air to a genre dominated by WWII and Modern shooters.
You control the McCall brothers (Thomas and Ray) as they try to protect their family and make their fortune. The brothers start out as soldiers in the Civil War fighting on the side of the South, but circumstances soon lead them to desert where they become outlaws. They learn about a treasure that could make all of their dreams come true. Overall the story is fairly interesting and the characters are believable with a few notable exceptions. Thomas and Ray have a pastor brother named William who is constantly lamenting their lives of crime and trying to bring them over to the side of the Lord. Sadly this younger brother comes off as whiny, which is especially sad when you realize that he narrates a lot of the game’s storyline. At the beginning of each chapter William will go through a little summary of the situation, usually punctuated by him worrying about one thing or another. He doesn’t ruin the game by any means, but he is certainly the low point of the cast.
The single player storyline allows you to choose between Thomas or Ray at the beginning of each chapter, except for a few where one of the brothers is otherwise engaged with different play styles and equipment. Ray is the bruiser of the family who can take a lot more hits than Thomas due to his armored breast plate (why everyone doesn’t wear one of these I have no idea) and can bust down doors with brute strength. He is best at close quarters combat using duel pistols or a shotgun and has the ability to light and throw dynamite to use it like a grenade. Thomas on the other hand is the more stealthy of the two brothers. He can’t duel wield pistols but he has the ability to use silent weapons like the bow and throwing knives to allow him to sneak up on enemies and is a much better shot with a rifle than Ray is. Thomas can also use a lasso to climb to areas that his older brother cannot reach. Throughout the single player the two brothers are usually together helping each other through each fight, but sometimes they will split up, which allows for some deviation in the game depending on which brother you choose for a mission.
Controls are like most first person shooters. R1/RB fires your weapon and if you are not duel wielding you can use L1/LB to take a closer aim. Pressing down on the left stick ducks and allows you to stick to cover, which can be annoying when you are frantically trying to fight someone and you accidentally press down on the left stick as you move. Triangle/Y is used to reload your weapon and L2/LT sets you to run. Holding R2/RT brings up a rotary menu with all of your available weapons which include 2 different pistols, a rifle/shotgun, and the various other weapons that each brother has access to.
Whenever you score a kill you fill up a concentration mode indicator and you can pick up money and ammo from the corpse. The money is used at weapon shops at certain intervals of the game to buy ammo or new and more powerful weaponry. Being able to replace my rusty rifle with increasingly better versions is very satisfying. Filling up the concentration bar allows you to go into concentration mode by pressing Circle/B. When in concentration mode as Thomas you take out one of your pistols and hold R1/RB while snapping the right analog stick downwards to simulate cocking the hammer of a gun. Each snap downwards will shoot a bullet and you’ll automatically aim at anyone within range of your pistol. This is a nice way to quickly kill three or four people that are in your way. Ray’s concentration mode gives you three or four seconds to track his aim around with the right analog stick and at the end of the concentration mode he will shoot any enemy body part that you tracked over.
There are also duels at certain points in the game during which you move your body with the left stick and your gun hand with the right. The objective is to keep your hand as close as possible to your gun without touching it while moving to keep your opponent in your sites. When a bell tolls you then have to pick up your gun as fast as possible and fire when the reticule goes over your opponent. This was an interesting diversion from the regular gameplay but it sometimes felt forced with people calling you out for a duel when it didn’t make much sense to.
My favorite parts of the gameplay in Call of Juarez are the things that make it feel true to its time. First and foremost among these is the time it takes to reload. If you’re really blasting through your pistol rounds it can take almost as long to reload as it did to use up all your bullets. When you are out of bullets you either need to find a place to hide where you can reload in relative safety or switch to one of your other weapons that is still loaded. This means that there is very little blind spraying in Call of Juarez, even when using a close up fighter such as Ray you have to be really careful with each shot. There is also limited ammo around, so sometimes you may have to start using a pistol even though you much prefer your rifle because all of the enemies you are killing are only using pistols and thus only dropping that type of ammo. Call of Juarez also surprised me with how much variety there was in the Old West pistols and each one I found had its own unique stats of power, reload rate and rate of fire that gave it a specific use. It was also interesting seeing some of the stranger weapons included, like the powerful yet diminutive Peppershooter and the Hybrid pistol which shoots off a rifle round the first time you press the trigger after reloading.
One issue I have with the gameplay is how finicky the game gets when you do something it doesn’t want you to do, and how easy it seems to be to die at times. At the beginning I was tasked with protecting the south side of the encampment but I didn’t know which way that was so I ran off and the game immediately told me I had failed. This is fine most of the time and usually allows you to be amused by your own ignorance, but the game’s checkpoints can sometimes be spread out enough to make this an annoyance. Speaking of checkpoints, this game has the most frequent and jarring checkpoints I have ever seen in a First Person Shooter. Whenever the game saves it will do so completely without warning and will freeze for a second or two. This will often occur during firefights and the unexpected pause really ruins the feel of the game. It also happens very often, sometimes to the point that I felt like every thirty seconds there would be another pause and a checkpoint. At other times the checkpoints were annoyingly far apart from each other, typically during particularly difficult sections of the game.
The most disappointing part of Call of Juarez would have to be the visuals. While the character models were nice and the gun models were detailed there were odd issues with lighting. Shadows on the character models would often flick uncontrollably and become a distraction during in game cinematics. Facial animations during these in game cinematics also seemed lifeless and characters would talk to you but sometimes not face you. It doesn't really make sense for a person to express their love for someone else while running beside them and not looking at them in the slightest. Environments were varied in the single player which has you visiting forests, towns, deserts and mines but the multiplayer maps are not as varied. Music and voice overs were appropriate and most of them were quite good. My only issues with the voice overs were that some of the Mexican characters had seemingly overdone accents and the aforementioned moaning of Pastor William.
The single Player campaign took me 8 hours to complete and there are three possible difficulty settings, with a fourth one unlocking after you beat the game the first time through. There is also some replayability added because of the ability to choose either brother for most chapters, and unlockables in the form of secrets which become screenshots you can look at with Thomas and Ray having a conversation in the background.
Call of Juarez also has a surprisingly fun online multiplayer mode which has all the regular gaming staples such as deathmatch and team deathmatch, as well as the more historically relevant Wanted Man and Wild West Legends. In Wanted Man the highest scoring member of your team is marked as the wanted man who you have to protect for 60 seconds in order to gain a point. The only issue with this mode is that the highest scoring member of your team may not always be the best team player and will run out like an idiot when marked instead of trying to hide somewhere defendable. Wild West Legends lets you play out some scenarios from the Old West. You join either the outlaws or the lawmen and are tasked with a series of objectives usually involving exploding or protecting something. These can be an issue sometimes because they depend on team work for the team to win, but the reward for winning as a team is not as great as just killing people on your own, so it can be hard to get people to work well as a team in this situation.
Just like in the single player, killing someone in multiplayer online nets you money equal to the bounty that person had on their head, and the bounty each person has increases with the kills they get. This is a fun system that rewards you more for taking out the veteran than the nooby who is still trying to figure out the rules. There is also a class system with classes differing based on health, running speed, and the weapons at their disposal. You can use the money you gain from matches to gain access to more multiplayer classes, but it would have been nice if the classes had some different abilities instead of just differing based on stats and weapon choice. Trapper sounds like a cool class that would have some different abilities but it’s really just a tough, slow moving guy with a shotgun. Online can lag, and did so often enough to cause annoyance. Furthermore, there weren't quite enough people online to get into a game quickly and I usually had to wait around for a few minutes before a room can fill and I can start the match, though obviously this could change in the future. The only real missed opportunity I saw as far as multiplayer goes was the lack of local multiplayer and cooperative gameplay. You constantly have two brothers working together who are both playable characters; it just seems natural to allow two players to take those roles.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is a fun diversion from your normal FPS. It may not be the prettiest girl at the ball, the online can lag to the point of exasperation and it has the most annoying checkpoint system I have yet encountered in an FPS, but the gameplay is fun and interesting, the multiplayer gives the game a lot of added value, and the unique setting helps to make this a game worth checking out for any FPS fan.