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July 26, 2009
Call of Juarez: Bound In Blood - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
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Gun battle in Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood.
When I was growing up, Saturday night TV used to be high-quality and there was always an entertaining movie to watch. I can still recall countless Saturday nights spent watching (mostly Clint Eastwood) Westerns like A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More or The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The heroes were super-cool, the villains wore black and were as bad as they come. These movie classics instilled in me certain affection for the Western genre as a whole, so it was with much excitement that I sat down to play Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood (hereon referred to simply as Bound in Blood).

Bound in Blood follows the story of the three McCall brothers, the elder two - Thomas and Ray (who you control in-game) - start out as loyal members of the Confederate army in America's civil war. When the war threatens the McCall family farm and their commanding officer refuses to allow Thomas and Ray to defend it, they desert the army and become outlaws.

The opening scene of Bound in Blood actually comes from near the end of the game, and shows Ray and Thomas pointing their guns at each other, apparently arguing over one of history's most divisive objects – a woman. In a lot of ways the story feels clichéd, with betrayal heaped upon betrayal, the youngest brother William, a preacher, trying to help his brothers turn to good instead evil and of course, a good old-fashioned quest for loot. Despite the clichéd feeling that permeates the game, the story is one of the strengths of Bound in Blood, and it's always fun to get to the end of a chapter and unlock more of the story.

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Overlooking the mine in Call of Juarez.
The gameplay in Bound in Blood is standard shooting fare; point at the bad guys and shoot. At the beginning of most chapters you will be given the choice of controlling either Thomas or Ray, both of whom have their own strengths and weaknesses as well as weapon preferences. Thomas is a more precise shooter, favouring the rifle or a single hand-gun, both of which can zoom in on enemies for better targeting. Ray on the other hand takes a more scattergun approach, and is adept at the use of dynamite, shotguns and blazing away with two hand-guns at once. Ray is also a bit tougher thanks to some armor that he wears over his chest, which helps compensate for the fact he's more of an "in your face" attacker.

As you make your way through levels in Bound in Blood, your brother will run alongside you, controlled by AI. The AI for this is actually pretty good. It is rare for your brother to get in your way, he can't be shot accidentally and he's very good at spotting the enemy, which can give you an early heads-up on where you should be aiming. Aside from help in taking down the numerous on-screen enemies, there's not a lot of co-operation between the two brothers. Ray is unable to climb up high ledges, so Thomas will go ahead and help him up. Beyond that there's not a lot of in-game interaction between Ray and Thomas. There is a lot of banter between the two of them though, and whilst none of it is of the knee-slapping variety it's often pretty funny to listen to them crack-wise at each other during levels.

The variety between levels is a bit of a two-faced beast. There's no doubt that most levels are similar, with Bound in Blood simply throwing more and more enemies at you as the game progresses. There's next to nothing in the way of platforming – maybe two or three jumps in the whole game and a little bit of lasso-ing if you're controlling Thomas - there's no problem-solving or exploration and very little use or requirement for stealth.

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The two brothers Ray and Thomas.
What there is, however, is variety in weapons and the aforementioned different skills for each brother. In the opening level alone you get to use hand-guns, shotguns, dynamite, a Gatling gun and cannon. You'll also be introduced to concentration-mode which, after charging up the meter by eliminating six enemies, allows you to decimate them with a bullet-time attack, where time slows down and allows you to target multiple enemies before blasting them into the afterlife. Thomas and Ray each have their own concentration mode attack – Ray can shoot each enemy multiple times simply by moving the analog stick over them, whilst Thomas automatically targets one enemy at a time with the user pulling the right analog stick like a trigger – which reflects their in-game personas nicely. They also have a combination attack they can use at certain times throughout the game.

BiB also has good old fashioned duels though they do not always take place at high noon. Thomas or Ray and one of the story's more prominent no-good villains circle each other until a bell tolls, and then see who can draw quickest and leave just one man standing. The mechanics for this are straightforward though they require a bit of dexterity – keep the brothers' hand close to his gun, then flick the analog stick in the direction of the gun to draw it, before holding down a shoulder button and pulling the analog stick down like a trigger. It's an interesting idea and provides a break, however short, from the main missions.

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On the lookout for approaching enemies.
There are some levels in Bound in Blood where the brothers find themselves with free-time. During these levels you can undertake missions for rewards, like hunting down wanted criminals, defending rail-workers from Indians, or duking it out with someone in a duel. The primary difference between these missions and a normal level is that you go it alone as the brother of your choice – your brother will not tag along. Admittedly these missions end up quite similar to most other levels, but it is nice to have direct control over what missions you undertake.

Bound in Blood features a robust multiplayer mode for up to twelve people, either via the PSN or locally (if have that many committed Bound in Blood friends). There are five different game modes catering for solo (every man for himself) or team-oriented gameplay. In Wild West Legends mode you control historical figures like Pat Garret or Billy the Kid as you attempt to either bring the outlaw to justice or evade the law once more. There are a total of eight different maps, all of which are large and offer plenty of nooks and crannies for ambushes and spots where you can try to hole up. Whichever player happens to be the target at any given moment will always have a little star on-screen, indicating to everyone else where they should be heading. Connecting to an online match didn't take very long the times I tried, but there was unfortunately quite a bit of lag. This resulted in my character standing still for a few seconds at a time, which unsurprisingly didn't end well.

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Trying to take out rooftop enemies in a shootout.
I found Bound in Blood to be a lot of fun for the most part, and the issues I had with it were fairly minor. The on-screen writing for the next objective is frightfully small. I may be getting old, but a lot of the other in-game text is much larger by comparison, so it seems a bit silly to have objectives in such a small font. The dueling controls can be somewhat finicky when you are getting used to them. Often you'll circle around for 20-30 seconds before the bell tolls, then when you try to draw your gun Ray or Thomas will do nothing except get shot-down which results in repetition and frustration. A feedback mechanism indicating what you did wrong would have been helpful, though after a while you will get the hang of dueling and this will become less of an issue.

At certain times throughout the game you will be able to buy new weapons, or pick them up off the bodies of fallen enemies. Whilst some are obviously better than your current equipment (“Rifle” is obviously better than "Rusty Old Rifle" for example), there is no easy way to tell if a new weapon is better than what you currently have in your inventory. Another niggle is that every time you reach a checkpoint (and there are a number of checkpoints in each level) the game will freeze for a few seconds while it saves your progress. This can definitely break up the continuity of a level, and in some levels where there are multiple checkpoints it can be quite irritating.

For the most part these issues are minor and won't be a major hindrance to your enjoyment of Bound in Blood, but with a little more effort these issues could have been eradicated completely.

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Using the whip in Bound in Blood.
For the most part the visuals in Bound in Blood are impressive, but there are a few technical issues. The environments are large and do a top job of making you feel like you're in the Wild West – giant canyons, thick forests, good-looking towns and cramped trenches early on definitely add to the atmosphere of the game. The cut-scenes look good with Thomas, Ray and the other characters looking more life-like than characters in many other PS3 titles. Explosions look great, especially when bits of wood go flying, water looks impressive and the swirling dust that gets picked up by the wind adds authentic atmosphere. However graphics-nuts (like our beloved editor Dave) will find much to dislike too. There's a phenomenal amount of screen-tearing – during cut-scenes, anytime you turn your head, when running or riding a horse - you get used to it, but there's definitely times when it's distracting.

Although you probably won't notice it during the thick of the action, almost all enemies have the same face - if you've seen one Yankee or Confederate you've seen them all and the same applies for Juarez' men and the Apache and Navajo Indians. It's not a major problem, but it is a little strange. You'll also notice a lot of pop-up while exploring the levels – pop-up that is not limited to objects in the distance, but also to objects that are quite close, as more textures are added to objects right in front of you. Personally I didn't consider this to be much of a bother, but it's noticeable all the same.

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Call of Juarez looks great on PS3.
The sound is one of the strengths of Bound in Blood. The music does a solid job of creating atmosphere for the action and the sound effects are pretty much spot on and the voice acting is top-notch (mostly). There were a couple of scenes where Thomas' lines in particular were flat as a tack, but for the most part everyone does a good job with their accents and delivery. As mentioned earlier the in-game banter between brothers can be entertaining – anyone with a real-life brother will appreciate the friendly (and not-so friendly) insults they hurl at each other whilst bringing carnage upon the world.

Overall Call of Jaurez: Bound in Blood is an entertaining game, held back from being a must-have title by a few minor niggles. It's short – taking maybe eight to ten hours to complete the first time through, the missions are a little bit samey and duelling can be finicky until you get the hang of it. However anyone who finds the thought of a game set in the Wild West appealing should definitely check Bound in Blood out. The run-and-gun action is free-flowing fun, finishing the game once unlocks “very hard” mode adding re-playability, the storyline whilst clichéd is engaging thanks to solid voice-acting, and multi-player online (or local if you have mates visiting) adds value too.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSA mixed bag really. Environments look realistic and the cut-scenes are above average. Screen-tearing, pop-up and the fact that every enemy has the same face are disappointing.
SOUNDHigh-quality voice-acting (for the most part), solid sound effects and atmospheric music make this a high-point for the game.
GAMEPLAYFor the most part BiB is a lot of fun. It's easy to pick up and play and there's a healthy variety of weapons. Duelling is a mixed-bag whilst the Wild West setting feels authentic.
VALUEThere are plenty of reasons to replay the game – trophies, eighty-nine secrets to find in-game, the engaging storyline and the unlockable “very hard” difficulty. Multi-player will also add longevity, though some may find the single-player campaign repetitive and it is a tad short .
OVERALLAs a fan of Wild West movies I was probably always going to enjoy this. If you can overlook a few graphical rough-edges and similar action from level to level you'll find a lot to enjoy. Any shooting fans should at least check it out, and Wild West fans should be well entertained by BiB.

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