America may have Clint Eastwood and John Wayne, but the Western belongs to the world. From the Italian Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s to Kurosawa’s influential samurai films, the genre’s imagery and themes has a near universal appeal. That’s one reason why Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, developed by Poland’s Techland and published by France’s Ubisoft, gets a pass. (Don’t get used to it, Frenchies.) The other? It’s a genuinely competent and surprisingly fun first-person shooter.
Bound in Blood is the prequel to the original Call of Juarez, which Techland developed for the PC and later ported to the Xbox 360. It tells the story of brothers Ray and Thomas McCall, two Confederate Civil War deserters who head to Mexico in search of a quick way to get rich and rebuild their charred family homestead. Neither McCall is the main character of Bound in Blood; instead, the game introduces you to each character in its opening chapters and lets you pick which one you want to inhabit at the start of each mission.
It’s not a superficial, decision, either – each brother plays differently than the other. Ray is the no-nonsense, close-range fighter of the two, able to wield dual six-shooters, kick down doors and toss dynamite at his enemies . Meanwhile, Thomas is agile and cunning, more apt to pick people off with a rifle or bow from high ground than run in with guns blazing. They also have access to different Concentration Modes, special abilities that you unlock by killing a certain number of enemies. Ray’s Concentration Mode is more about the sheer volume of hot lead you can fling at your enemies, while Thomas’ prioritizes speed and accuracy over a spectacle.
Unfortunately, with all this emphasis on the brothers’ shared journey and complementary play styles, there’s no option to play Bound in Blood cooperatively, either locally or online. It’s a pretty glaring omission, but understandable – your brother is your guide through the level, letting your know where to go and what to do next. Without an A.I. partner, it would be a lot easier to get lost in Bound in Blood‘s sprawling, occasionally non-linear environments. You also might not get to enjoy the brotherly banter between the two characters, which is among the best of any recent first-person shooter and a definite high point of the game.
While the rapport between Ray and Thomas feels natural, the same can’t be said of the voiceover by the third McCall brother. William McCall’s calling in life seems to be to follow his two older brothers around and nag at them each time they take a life. Between levels, William fills the loading times by wailing histrionically about how his brothers’ relationship is slowly coming undone. Perhaps with a better script or a different voice actor William would be more tolerable, but in his current incarnation, he’s a complete drag.
Thankfully, William’s ad hoc sermonizing doesn’t get in the way of Bound in Blood‘s combat, which is a minor departure from most shooters of its ilk. Bound in Blood is one of the rare first-person shooters where you feel more lethal than the weapons themselves, thanks in no small part to Concentration Mode. Instead of scouring each level for power weapons, you must content yourself with an arsenal that is pretty basic compared to recent fare: six shooters, rifles, shotguns, throwing knives and a bow. Occasionally you’ll come across a canon or mounted Gatling gun, where you can mow down a group of enemies, Django-style, but the rest of the time you’ll be making due with a pair of pistols or a basic carbine.
While even the many variations in six-shooter are distinct from one another, it feels like there’s something missing from Bound in Blood‘s gunplay. Perhaps it’s the sound design, which reduces even the biggest explosions to a mere rumble, or the constant, sometimes painfully slow reloading. Whatever the reason, Bound of Blood‘s combat feels rather insubstantial, which is unfortunate since it makes up 90 percent of the game.
In spite of its flaws, Bound in Blood still seems like an accomplishment from this little-known Polish developer. They’ve crafted likable, compelling characters and introduced enough subtle innovations to the genre to justify its existence. But more than anything, it feels like an authentic Western rather than simply a re-skinned Call of Duty clone. Not all of its embellishments on the FPS formula work as well as they should, but they feel pretty unique. And in a genre as well trodden as the FPS, that’s all it takes to stand out.
Bottom Line: Bound in Blood is neither groundbreaking nor exceedingly polished, but it’s imaginative and faithful enough to its Western roots to warrant a look.
Recommendation: If you’re a die-hard FPS fan looking for your next fix, Bound in Blood might be worth the price. If you’re not, stick with a rental.