Hands-on: Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood

icon_previewHere’s the thing about first person shooters; if you can think of a setting where someone has held a gun or shot stuff, chances are a video game has been made on it. So in an oversaturated genre when (rarely) you get to see something different from all the usual stuff, your mind tends to oversell it to you. But if you are aware of this fact, then you could also end up underrating what is essentially a good game. Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is certainly unique enough in its setting and arsenal to warrant a look. Let’s see if we can walk the middle path and find out if it is something you should keep an eye on.

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood (henceforth referred to as CoJ2 in this article because of my amazing lethargy in typing large game names) is a prequel to the sleeper hit Call of Juarez (at least I assume it must have been a sleeper hit because most people that played the first one seem to recall is fondly). Set 20 years before the events of the first game, CoJ2 tells the story of the McCall brothers – Ray and Thomas. We follow the brothers as they start off as soldiers, but soon become deserters to protect their family and eventually end up as outlaws. It’s not going to win any Pulitzers, but the story was engaging enough to hold my interest throughout the preview gameplay.

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Rifles and pistols have a noticeable pause between shots

The game starts off with you playing as Ray, although later on you can pick either one of the brothers (more on that later), while he is serving as a soldier in the Confederate army. The game runs through the tutorial in the trench warfare against the Yankees. The shooting mechanics handle much the same as they would in most games today with the left mouse button used to shoot while the other one is used to aim down the sights for better accuracy (think Call of Duty). Get shot too often and the screen starts flashing red, which means you are close to death (again, think Call of Duty). The game also sports a rather minimalist HUD. Setting CoJ2 apart from most games nowadays are your weapons of modest destruction. Since this is 1864 and automatic firearms are yet to make themselves known, you use rifles and pistols that have a rather noticeable pause between shots, which means you’re forced to make your shots count. AI that is quite effective and on higher difficulties, even a normal fight against three or four enemies becomes an increasingly tense affair if you start to miss your shots.

The game also introduces its rather distinctive cover system while you are fighting in the trenches. Unlike most other games that use a button to move in and out of cover, CoJ2 simply uses an automated system. Move behind any object that can stop bullets (like a crate, wall, rock, etc) and your character automatically takes cover behind it. You can then use the mouse to peek around and shoot out of cover; all of this without breaking the first-person viewpoint. This might feel a bit odd at first, but once you get used to it, it definitely feels like a solid evolution of the tried and tested cover system.

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The game has its own unique take on bullet time called ‘concentration’

To further help you dispatch the bad guys, the game also has its own unique take on bullet time called ‘concentration’. The game uses different types of mechanics for it. You kill enemies to fill up your concentration meter (with headshots, long distance kills etc counting for more) and once it’s full, you press the “Z” key to unleash a devastating attack. This can be in the form of a slow motion Virtua Cop-style shoot up, where you point up to 12 targets that are then dispatched automatically, or my favourite, where the game auto-locks targets for you and you pick them off by holding down fire and moving the mouse back and forth like you were cocking a gun, which feels hugely satisfying.

Soon, however the training is over and we move from the trenches to good old gun-slinging Wild West of the spaghetti westerns in no time at all. And to its, credit the game mixes things up very well and in the time I spent with the demo, I had (like mentioned above) fought in trenches, had a shootout in a Mexican mining camp, fought off enemies while riding a stagecoach, rode a horse, and fought a couple of duels. Duels are one-on-one showdowns i.e. the game’s equivalent of boss fights. During a showdown, your point of view moves down to your hip and you have to whip out and shoot as soon as the bell tolls. It’s a very cool concept straight out of a Sergio Leone flick and it will test your reflexes to the limit. Speaking of Sergio Leone, the music in the game is also heavily inspired by the classic western flicks and matches the visuals perfectly.

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Good old gun-slinging Wild West

The game offers two playable characters – the McCall brothers, who have their own unique traits. Ray is the physical one and he can bash down doors, push things out of the way, etc, while Thomas has better finesse of guns and can use a lasso to get around places. So hopefully it should offer some pretty decent replay value. And with a multiplayer component attached, which sounds quite promising, the game could be well worth your money.

Visually, the game is no slouch and with a bit of spit and polish, it could well look great. And it’s not too taxing on hardware either. At 1400×900, I was running the game maxed out at a silky smooth frame rate on my very average 8800GTS, Core2Duo configuration. There are some minor issues however. In the preview build I played, there were some noticeable clipping issues with NPCs getting stuck into scenery every now and then. The movement of NPCs at some moments also looks odd and out of place. Also missing were rag doll physics when you shoot someone. But since the game is still months away from release and this was a preview build, I would expect all of that to be smoothed out.

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Visually, the game is no slouch

All in all, I feel genuinely optimistic about Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. All the core mechanics that make up the game are solid and enjoyable. And all the flaws that I can pick are fairly minor and can be fixed well in time for release. So let’s keep an eye out for this one because if the stars align, it could be a very good game indeed.

Title: Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
Developer/Publisher: Techland/Ubisoft
Genre: First-person Shooter
Rating: 16+
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Release Date: May 29, 2009 (Source: VGReleases)

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