Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood – A fantastic Western experience

By NICK McCOY
Tiger Media Network

When people think of Western Games, their minds most likely go to Rockstar’s “Red Dead” series, specifically “Red Dead Redemption” and “Red Dead Redemption 2”. This is for a good reason; both games are some of the finest open-world Western experiences the gaming world offers. “Red Dead Redemption 2”, specifically, has taken the crown as my favorite video game of all time. 

However, another franchise may come to mind: The “Call of Juarez” series. This Western series, created by Polish company Techland, is nowhere near as popular as “Red Dead”, and the less said about the third entry, “Call of Juarez: The Cartel”, the better. That being said, the first two games in the series, as well as the fourth and final entry “Gunslinger”, are fondly remembered for great shooter gameplay and excellent use of its Western setting. 

The first “Call of Juarez” game hardly set the world on fire, but still proved popular with some, and is a decent experience with a decent story, good shooting mechanics, and memorable characters, especially gun-toting preacher Ray McCall. However, it was the second entry, “Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood”, that really put the series in people’s memories. 

Following the first “Call of Juarez”, Techland took an in-depth look at what people liked and disliked about it (very similar to “Gunslinger”). They also decided to make the game a prequel, giving context and backstory to the game’s world and characters. In many critics’ eyes, “Bound in Blood” blew the original out of the water, delivering excellent shooting mechanics and an even greater story.

After playing it, I can safely say that “Bound in Blood” is one of the best Western games I’ve played, and one of the most fun first-person shooters I’ve played, too. While it does fall short in some areas, the good far outweighs the bad, with an amazing story, two memorable main protagonists, and an authentic Western tone. Combined with some of the best shooting mechanics the genre has to offer, and “Bound in Blood” is a truly fantastic experience. 

Release:

  • Released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PCs in June of 2009. 
  • Developed by Techland, and published by Ubisoft.
  • Made available on the PlayStation Store and Xbox Game Store in December of 2011.
  • Added to Microsoft’s Backward Compatibility program, making it playable on Xbox One and Xbox Series consoles. 

“Bound in Blood” is set primarily in 1866, 17 years before the events of the first “Call of Juarez”. The game follows brothers Ray and Thomas McCall, both sergeants in the Confederate army who, near the end of the Civil War, abandon their post in order to defend their family home. Labeled as deserters and hunted by their fanatical commanding officer Colonel Barnsby, Ray and Thomas flee to Mexico alongside their younger brother William, a priest in training who also serves as the game’s main narrator. While there, they ally themselves with dangerous bandit Juan “Juarez” Mendoza and his girlfriend Marisa, as he lures them in with the legendary Gold of Juarez, which is believed to be cursed. As they search for the gold, making allies with an Apache tribe and fighting Barnsby’s army, tensions between the brothers arise as both Ray and Thomas fall in love with Marisa. 

While some people might not expect a lot from the game’s narrative, the story in “Bound in Blood” is fantastic. There was never a moment where the story wasn’t boring or filler, and it tells a gritty, realistic, but still fun story set in the Wild West. The highlight of this game is the relationship between Ray and Thomas; their banter in the game, and their individual scenes together, are just wonderful. The McCall brothers, with Ray being my personal favorite, deserve so much more recognition as video game protagonists. William also deserves a mention, as he makes up the heart and soul of the game. It genuinely feels sad when the brother’s relationship begins to unravel as the game progresses. 

The other characters are no slouches, either; Juarez and Barnsby are both excellent antagonists, for one. What’s also great is how the game sheds light on numerous things from the first game, adding much more growth and context to the characters and the world, as a good prequel should. Those who have played “Call of Juarez” will love all the nods to the first game, while those playing “Bound in Blood” first will still enjoy its story of greed, betrayal, and familial bonds. 

Being a first-person shooter, “Bound in Blood”’s gameplay is an important aspect. And much like “Gunslinger”, “Bound in Blood” is easily one of the most fun shooters I have ever played. While “Gunslinger” is a more fast-paced arcade shooter, “Bound in Blood” is a bit more realistic in its gunfights, but is nevertheless fun. Revolvers, pistols, rifles and shotguns are the main weapons players will be using, and they all feel incredibly satisfying to use. “Bound in Blood” does contain two playable characters, Ray and Thomas, similar to the first game. However, unlike in the first game, where the playable character alternates between chapters, players are able to choose which brother they want to play as, with only a few chapters restricting it to one brother. Ray and Thomas control pretty much the same, but have significant differences gameplay-wise. 

Ray

  • Much stronger and can take increased damage
  • Less agile, and can’t jump as high
  • Can dual wield revolvers, and can reload them faster
  • Can use dynamite and dismounted Gatling guns
  • Can break down doors 

Thomas

  • Much quicker and agile, but can take less damage
  • Can jump higher and climb ledges
  • Has much better accuracy and can aim farther with rifles
  • Can use a lasso to reach higher areas
  • Has access to throwing knives and a bow

There is also a feature called concentration mode, which slows down time and makes dispatching enemies easier. The brothers have two different styles of concentration; Ray tags numerous enemies while time is slowed, before releasing a barrage of gunfire. Thomas, meanwhile, automatically locks onto enemies, while the player pulls back the stick or mouse like the hammer of a revolver. All of these mechanics come together to make “Bound in Blood” a fun shooter, and a phenomenal game. 

Other highlights: 

  • A truly authentic Western tone, inspired by Spaghetti Westerns as well as “Deadwood” and the movie “Unforgiven”
  • Great voice acting all across the board
  • Some impressive graphics and environments 
  • Competent friendly AI

There is, unfortunately, one aspect where the game falls flat on its face: The duels. It certainly wouldn’t be a Western game without some sort of showdowns implemented, but Techland could’ve done so much better. The duels do look and sound fantastic, with the two opponents circling around each other as the tension rises before a bell rings, and they draw their guns. Actually playing them, however, is not fun whatsoever. You are told to use the analog sticks (or a mouse and keyboard) to keep yourself in front of the enemy and to draw your gun…but that’s pretty much it. You will learn that your hand is in the right position when either Ray or Thomas does a finger twitch over their holster, which is where your hand needs to be when the bell rings. Even when you figure this out, you are given so little time to react, and it’s no guarantee that your hand is in the right place even with the visual cue. The worst part is that it takes 15-20 seconds before the bell rings each time, making it an absolutely grueling experience. Overall, duels were done so much better in future installments. 

Some other issues

  • Lip Syncing is a bit weird (easily the most forgivable, but still noticeable)
  • Enemy AI can be a bit questionable at times
  • A truly mind-boggling lack of any co-op mode. 

But at the end of the day, “Bound in Blood” is an excellent game. Its Western setting, gritty story, and gameplay mechanics are used to their fullest potential, and it makes for an amazing experience. While it may not have reached the heights of “Red Dead Redemption”, “Bound in Blood” is a truly worthwhile time that, in my opinion, deserves a lot more recognition. The McCalls brothers’ bloody journey across the frontier is a game you don’t want to miss. 

Nick McCoy is a senior at Fort Hays State University, studying digital media and journalism. An avid gamer and music listener, he reviews video games and songs, and hosts the radio show “The Understanding of Nick” for KFHS.

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