Frontier days

As a genre, Westerns have seen a sporadic, if fruitful, revival since Clint Eastwood’s seminal 1992 film Unforgiven. Good Western games, on the other hand, are few and far between.

As a genre, Westerns have seen a sporadic, if fruitful, revival since Clint Eastwood’s seminal 1992 film Unforgiven. Good Western games, on the other hand, are few and far between.

Still, my expectations for Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood were pretty high. The prequel to 2007’s Call of Juarez has seemingly doubled its budget and production value, offering a high-end, gun-slinging experience filled with plenty of shootouts, horseback riding and duels in the street.

The game picks up toward the end of the Civil War, during Sherman’s march through the South. Ray and Thomas McCall are two brothers from Georgia who desert their unit in order to save their country homestead from encroaching bluebellies on their way to Atlanta.

Reaching their country mansion and finding their younger brother alive, the McCalls swear to rebuild their home and restore family ties after the war. What follows is a rip-roaring tale of greed, lust and betrayal revolving around cursed Aztec gold buried somewhere in Mexico and the attempts of several parties to try and seize it.

The plot may sound like a serial yarn (and in a way, Westerns are arguably an extension of such generic explorations) but Bound in Blood has got it where it counts—its authenticity and attention to detail is instantly recognizable walking through a desert town or surveying the wide-open vistas of the game’s surprisingly large levels.

Ray and Thomas themselves are equally full of rough-and-tumble charm, thanks to a well-written, authentic script and strong voice acting. Throughout the game you’re given the choice of which brother you want to play, and each has his merits, depending on the gameplay style you prefer.

Both brothers have abilities the other doesn’t posses as well, often sending them off down separate branching paths or accomplishing different tasks within the same level, giving Bound in Blood some incentive for replay.
That being said, the game plays about how you might expect a well-designed, first-person-shooter Western would. The McCalls have a knack for getting into trouble wherever they go, whether it’s with Indians, other outlaws, Mexican banditos or ex-Confederate soldiers. Even the weapons, which have names like “classic gun” or “quickshooter” (as opposed to, say, a Colt Single Action Army), add a certain character rather than detracting from the overall experience.

But the real treats of the game are probably the levels themselves; they’re filled with the sun-soaked streets of Mexican border towns, wide-open desert prairies and craggy Arizonan cliffs. On the rare opportunity you get to take on a side mission, you might just want to take out a horse and ride—you can practically feel the grit in your teeth.

And while the game isn’t exactly a serial, its progression may make it feel a little like one. The sporadic “breaks” you get from the main narrative missions feel like a bizarre but limited attempt at an open world.

Aside from shooting baddies, there is scant much else to do, so don’t expect to, say, have a shot of whiskey, play a hand of cards or get friendly with the town strumpet.

I was personally hoping for a tale that was slightly darker, but this one’s almost more of a family drama. Dueling isn’t handled quite as smoothly as it could be, which is also a shame, but it’s still a rush when you do manage to pull a shot off before your enemy.

If you’re looking for a good Western action game with a slightly arcade-y feel, Bound in Blood is still a rollicking good time—and is definitely worth a fistful of your dollars. Besides, any game with a mad Southern general who wants to resurrect the Confederacy can’t be all bad, right?