X360, PS3, PC Thursday, June 18, 2009 | 11:31 PM

Fanday: Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood

Fanday: Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood

Truth be told, it’s not always easy to come back to reality after a big event like E3. Still, however big and exciting the surprises were in L.A, life goes on and games keep being released. That’s why last week, we were happy to go to Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood’s Fanday for you guys. It was a good opportunity to give the campaign and the multiplayer modes a try. The game ships on July 3, so for those who want to tease their appetite, come on inside for our first impression on the game.

A little History:

The first Call of Juarez may not have been considered as a must-have but it still was a decent game. The game had its flaws but Techland still managed to carve out a little place in the over-populated world of First Person Shooters. Obviously, one of the reasons for its success was that not many games have taken place in the Wild West in the past few years. That’s exactly the kind of fresh air that some players are now looking for.

Two years after its release on Xbox 360, here comes the sequel. Well, not so much a sequel as it is actually a prequel. Bound in Blood is indeed set 20 years before the first game, and this time the whole McCall family is involved. Ray, who hasn’t become a priest yet, Thomas and their younger priest brother William (Dee Dee was to be born about a century later…). I’ll spare you the details about the whole story to let you discover it for yourself but it’s very easy to saddle up as it is not a sequel per se. You should just know that the adventure starts in 1864, about a year before the end of the American Civil War.

Just like in the previous game, you will get to play two different characters, except this time, at the beginning of each chapter, you will have to choose between Ray (who is keen on close combat and dynamite, the real tenderfoot type) and Thomas (whose arsenal is more about sniper rifles and lassos). Hopefully it will allow the player to vary the way he approaches different situations. Also, the missions can unfold a bit differently depending on the character, so maybe we can hope for some kind of replay value too.

The campaign mode:

Let’s put it bluntly, we can’t say we are very big fans of the franchise. To tell you the truth, I did not even finish the demo of the first game and got fed up the moment I was asked to pile up some crates in the barn. For that matter, we were really looking forward to finding out if the sequel would be more appealing to us. Well, if you’ll forgive me for spoiling the answer so soon, we definitely had a good time.

On a technical standpoint first, the game runs on Chrome Engine 4, Techland’s latest version of their homemade 3D engine. Whether it is on PC or console (PS3 and 360 versions), the game looks great and is enough of a looker to make you want to try it out. The environments are rather pretty, with very nice lighting effects, a realistic vegetation representation and they convey a nice impression of semi freedom. Don’t get me wrong, this is no open world like in Ubisoft’s latest games, but the environments are big enough to avoid the corridor feeling many FPS suffer from. The forests look great. There are little creeks and the trees and bushes blow in the wind. No really, if it weren’t for the violent gunfights, you could think you’re in that idealistic bucolic place where you can surrender to the most poetic daydreams ever. On a less naively sentimental note, the destructible environment (like the chairs, the lamps, the railings, the chickens - !!! – etc) is a nice touch though it was already there in the first game. It may be far from
Red Faction: Guerilla or Battlefield: Bad Company but it still is a nice addition to make the environment more “lively”.

The game is not perfect though, there are some cheap textures, some tearing issues – we haven’t played the final version so it might not be a problem when the game is released – and also some stiff animations sometimes. However, the first impression you have with the visuals is still very positive – all the more compared to some games that are currently released – and the smooth framerate is a sight for sore eyes.

Ok, so the game looks good, that’s a start, but if it handles like crap, it’s of no use is it? One of the main flaws of Call of Juarez was the unplayable platforming sequences which plagued much of the experience. Even though you still get to use a lasso once in a while, the good news is Bound in Blood focuses on the gunfights, giving up the awkward platforming for good. Overall, the game is fun and easy to pick up though it doesn’t have the same energy and precision as the Call of Duty franchise. Headshots seem efficient enough but sometimes it feels that the enemies can digest more lead than the player. That being said, switching to the proper weapon can prove you wrong rapidly. Hopefully, this impression of clumsiness soon vanishes as the memories of modern warfare eventually fade out.

Going along with today’s trend, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood features a whole new cover system, similar to what you would find in Killzone 2. The major difference with Guerilla’s title is that you’re not required to hold a button to stay hidden, which is more practical and comfortable. On the down side, it makes it easier to pop out of cover as the character is not literally stuck to his cover. As for the rest, Bound in Blood is pretty standard in terms of controls: there’s the usual dash button (the pace depending on the character you play or the character class in multiplayer), there’s a jump button, you can hold two handguns at a time, zoom in on your target when holding one weapon etc. Following the first game’s tradition, the game features a focus mode which basically is a sort of fury that the player can decide to unleash once he has killed a certain number of enemies in a row. It actually allows the player to slow down time for a few seconds. You are then free to move the crosshair around in order to lock your enemies – each can be targeted several times, just to make sure. At the end of the “countdown”, your character will automatically shoot the indicated targets. There are also similar slow motion sequences that are completely scripted and where you can shoot in real time – much like with May Payne’s Bullet Time.

Showdowns are also very specific to the franchise. They were not particularly interesting in the first game and it seems the original Tex-Mex recipe hasn’t changed much in Bound in Blood. You can see your character from behind, the camera being focused on your hip, and the left stick lets you move your character around his target while the right stick controls the right hand. If the hand gets close to the gun too early, Ray – or Thomas – uses his finger to let you know time hasn’t come just yet. In the end, there can only be one. The sequences probably won’t engage players long after the first few attempts but they at least give some immersion.

Talking about immersion, the soundtrack is pretty nice overall. The music score can have a nice Mexican touch at times while sounding more adventure-movie-like all of a sudden. As a result, it definitely feels like an old western movie. The voice acting is pretty decent, but expect some harsh language, after all, the Ingalls are not part of the cast here. Some may find it a bit grotesque but the pill is swallowed much more easily than Dr. Doxey’s elixir.

As far as the game’s longevity is concerned, we have been told to expect 10 to 15 hours of gameplay. The usual 3 difficulty settings will be available and choosing the hard mode should do more than just weakening the player’s resistance to gunshots. Maybe we can hope to see the AI offer more of a challenge than what we got to experience. Indeed, we sometimes witnessed some odd AI reactions and it’s a shame the first game’s issues carried over. Sure, they take some cover but they don’t always seem too hasty to do so. Nonetheless, the first level taking place in the midst of the American Civil War had some tough moments – so unless you consider that my poor skills were to blame, the game should not be too easy.

To finish with the campaign mode, the game’s experience should offer much variety as you will be able to ride a horse, canoe down the river (much like in http://www.abandonware-france.org/images_abandonwa...Colorado in the old days), protect a stagecoach during an attack or even use a cannon from 1864.

The mutltiplayer mode:

Attempting to deliver a multiplayer mode that can interest the players for the long haul is no easy task when blockbusters like Call of Duty 4 have been the yardstick for almost two years. Bound in Blood should not be revolutionary but it will feature up to 12 players online on 12 different maps. We were shown the Wild West Legends mode, a sort of scenario driven team deathmatch where the good guys – the blue team – must fight the bad guys – the red team. This mode is basically about attacking or defending an area (like a bank for example) and objectives are updated in real time. In the bank attack scenario for example, once the money has been taken, the robbers need to get to the stables to find horses and escape.

Another classic is the deathmatch mode (called Shootout here) but the difference is the existence of a bounty system that makes it a bit more tactical. The more money a player gets from killing the others, the higher the price on his head and the more interesting it becomes to shoot him down. The only problem is that it’s not clear who has the lead so you never really know who the most interesting target is. The silver lining is that in 15 minutes, a lot of things can happen and reversals are many.

Added to that, you will also find a VIP mode (where one player needs to be protected by his team), a wanted mode (all against one and one against all) and a more standard deathmatch mode called Poose.

There are 13 different classes: you can play as a Native, a miner, a trapper or even a spy – if you want the complete list, just take a quick look at this screen. Each class has its pros and cons, its own arsenal and you will also be able to upgrade your character little by little. We’ll need to wait and see if someone equipped with a sniper rifle is not given too much of an advantage though.

After a few games, we had to admit that it was pretty fun to play. After all, there really is nothing like walking down the streets of a deserted town from the Old West or fighting in the middle of the forest near what looked like a trapper camp. It doesn’t mean everything is perfect though: we found the respawn system to be a bit faulty at times and in some areas of the maps you can find yourself in a dead-end, which can be annoying. Also, in team deathmatch, it is not always easy to know who is on your team: the good guys are dressed in blue but it’s sometimes hard to see, especially since you have to point your gun at the player to see his name and team – which takes some precious time.

It is difficult to make any guesses as to how successful the game’s online component will be, but it’s definitely worth a look. Too bad the developers did not add some type of horde mode where players would have had to work together to defend a fort or the sheriff’s office. A coop mode would not have hurt either but well, I guess we’ll have to content ourselves with the standard… content.

What to think of Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood in the end? If the game was released at the end of the year, it probably would not stand a chance against all the triple A titles that have been announced. The thing is that the game is actually released a few weeks from now and it makes a big difference. Indeed, Techland’s game could very well be the perfect game for the summer, especially since not everyone can afford a holiday in the Old West. And honestly, a game where you can shoot chickens can’t be bad, can it?

All comments

Commented on 2009-06-19 04:34:40
You've tried your best to interest me in this game, but it still fails to grab my attention. Anyone think differently?

( what made you guys give this game such a big story/spot anyways? )
Commented on 2009-06-19 06:38:43 In reply to speedyg725
Posted by speedyg725
You've tried your best to interest me in this game, but it still fails to grab my attention. Anyone think differently?

( what made you guys give this game such a big story/spot anyways? )
Nope. Totally agree...I wanted to like it, but it's just too basic

that and old guns are boring lol
Commented on 2009-06-19 07:01:46 In reply to speedyg725
Because it's apparently not a bad game and it was a nice surprise. Especially considering that it's usually pretty quiet in the summer. :)

Also, because I'm a real chatter box and once I get started there's no stopping me.
Commented on 2009-06-19 17:47:46
Not bad, but this doesn't impress me enough to buy it.
Commented on 2009-06-20 03:34:53 In reply to Driftwood
Posted by Driftwood
Because it's apparently not a bad game and it was a nice surprise. Especially considering that it's usually pretty quiet in the summer. :)

Also, because I'm a real chatter box and once I get started there's no stopping me.
Haha, yeah i'm thinking i'm gonna go rent the game once I'm done with Prototype. Looks like you've influenced me after all. :)
Commented on 2009-06-21 07:55:58
You guys should try a little harder to sound, ya know, something otehr then "meh, we don't like this game and are too tired/busy to be as serious about this as we could" lol. Cause from what I've heard, this game is worth more of a look then you guys make out.

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