For 8- and 16-bit console old-timers, Western videogames were common and good enough to keep most people happy. The pornographic Custer’s Revenge might have set some folks on the wrong trail, but the Commando-style GunSmoke was old-school tough (and funny), the arcade shooter Mad Dog McCree was entertaining when drunk, and modern-day attempts such as Red Dead Revolver and Neversoft’s Gun have added enough ballast to the vision and viability of Western games existence, that more are cropping up.
Thanks to Hollywood’s years of Western productions and the world’s collective idealization of the West, everyone has their own take on the era. Which makes Ubisoft’s Call of Juarez series an interesting piece because neither the publisher (French) nor the developer (Polish) are American.
But the proof is in the pudding and Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is Ubisoft’s second effort in the series, which means the first pudding was good enough to try a second bowl. Like the first game, Bound in Blood is filled with all of the staples and clichés of Westerns past: untrustworthy Indians, chaos-filled saloons, prostitutes, foul language, violent gun fights, and the amorality and flagrant disrespect for the law that’s attracted us all to the era in the first place. Naturally, it’s rated “M.”
Like all good sequels, developer Techland has assessed the original’s faults and plans to make the second effort better in all respects, something that was difficult to put fully assess in our eyes-on preview. The first game determined level-by-level which characters you played, Billy Candle or Reverend Ray, but in this sequel the beginning of each chapter offers a choice between the two characters, Reverend Ray or his brother Thomas. Ray is a tough-ass preacher and stone-cold killer who wields a six-shooter, wears armor, and kicks in doors. Thomas, his brother, is similar to the first game’s Billy. Thomas is a more agile, platform-oriented long-range shooter who climbs onto rooftops and snipes from afar. The option to pick either character in addition to co-op sections is attractive, giving Bound in Blood potentially solid replay value.
Like the first title, gamers are treated to Concentration mode, which is built up by killing enemies and collecting items. Like Bullet Time, Concentration mode slows down time, giving players an advantage in tough situations. There are four kinds of Concentration modes, one enabling co-op attacks and two others specifically tailored to each character. The fourth kind takes place during showdowns. Just like the first game, showdowns are quick-draw events, but in the sequel players must time their attacks and aim more quickly than their opponents if they want to live (and progress to the next level).
For instance, in the first showdown you’ll confront an angry sheriff (whose daughter you’ve just slept with). The camera is placed right behind your character’s shoulder and you must steadily move it to keep the sheriff in the center of the screen while simultaneously keeping your hands close (but not too close) to your guns. If you have the sheriff in line when the bell rings and press your triggers at the right moment, the gun cursor will ascend up his body and you’ll have the chance to blast him to death. The fastest to their gun usually wins.
Players will experience an attractive Western atmosphere of wide open canyons, small, wooden towns, and the ability to ride horses for mobility and for engaging in gun-fights. The screenshots show a pretty enviroment that offers a good sense of the Wild West. Ubisoft tells me the first game offered more platforming while the sequel is less platform-oriented and more action-based. It’s also a story-driven game that follows the mysterious “call” of Juarez. (Surprise!)
Techland is putting more time and concentration into the game’s multiplayer modes, which were plentiful enough the first time through (with six modes of play), but since it was the team’s first effort, all sorts of little things like missed animations and tiny issues added up to a less than stellar experience.
So…we’ll see on this one. The first Call of Juarez was not radically brilliant and scored a MetaCritic rating of 71 on Xbox 360 (72 on PC), for what that’s worth. But MetaCritic isn’t the be-all, end-all, and there are many, many good fun games that score in the 7s that are often underappreciated by game critics. Hopefully, Techland polishes this one up well and gives it the love and attention it requires.