You know what’s all too rare these days? A game with a well-written story and characters. I’ll be honest, I have only briefly played Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, I played the demo, and having repeatedly played Crysis and Crysis Warhead on Delta as (arguably) they were meant to be played, figured I could handle the highest difficulty. Big mistake that resulted in my repeated frustrating deaths. I quickly abandoned the game saying “To heck with this”. Though that incident actually doesn’t figure into my dislike for the Call of Duty series, it’s the fact that Activision churns out the same Call of Duty game every bloody year under a different banner; the story is cheap in each game since at least Modern Warfare 2 and character development is almost nonexistent.
Story makes a good game. Now that’s not to say that a game HAS to have story to be good, I still enjoy Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy despite its story being poor, but if that game had as good of a story as Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood? It would rate way higher in my book. A good story makes a game worthwhile, and can even, in some cases make up for poor gameplay.
I saw an advertisement for Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood on Steam, this was when I myself didn’t have a Steam account, and instead borrowed my brother’s. Interested by the Old West setting and the description, I made the riskiest purchase of my gaming career on my freshly-made Steam account, and despite the cheesy introductory cutscene (the one that comes before the menu) once I played the game I fell in love with it.
The characters of Ray, Thomas and William felt real, instead of being cardboard cutouts like many other game series. The back and forth dialogue between Thomas and Ray during the chapters, while it can get repetitive, adds to the immersion and establishes that these two characters are really brothers.
Even for 2009 the graphics are nothing to write home about, and the animations were not the best either. One particular mistake in animation is when William is present during a chapter. As Ray, AI Thomas and I are busy fighting Ex-Confederate soldiers in Chapter IX, telling William to get a move on. William begins walking as casually as possible, though I suppose that falls a bit under AI as well.
The scenery is amazingly well done. Character models are scarce so you end up shooting the same five guys throughout the game. The audio quality is great, and the music is amazing and fitting for the Old West setting. The enemy dialogue gets extremely repetitive and irritating, at least until the Chapter where Thomas and Ray attack the Alcazar (Where the enemies talk about something else, but I won’t spoil it). And, sometimes Southern or Northern enemies will be talking like Mexicans, and vice versa.
Another thing to nitpick about is the Superb weapons. The Superb weapons look ridiculous (Gold colored with white handles) and definitely out of place in the Old West. Prime weapons can barely get away with it, as most guns back then were black with wooden handles, in other words the Regular condition. I tried to avoid using the Superb weapons but found it was forced on me.
I’ll admit it, I play through Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood on Very Hard mode on the PC (So shame on me, according to Ubisoft I’m a pirate). As Ray you have increased endurance and can double your firepower by dual wielding pistols, you can blow things up with dynamite, use portable Gatling Guns, and generally kick ass and take names. As Thomas you can climb up on things with the lasso (and get shot back down), hide behind cover waiting for your health to regenerate, and study the ground textures when you get shot to death.
Remember, this is Very Hard mode. Deciding I would do something different for this play through, I picked Thomas in Chapter III. Everything was going fine up until I once again came upon the worst segment in this game; the carriage chase. Thomas is weaker than Ray and cannot dual-wield pistols. I was turned into shredded hat-and-mustache about fifteen times before I was forced to restart the entire chapter and pick Ray.
As Ray, I succeeded in the first try, what with two pistols and enhanced stamina. Then I remembered that the exact same thing occurred the last time I played through Bound in Blood, when I decided to do an all-Thomas playthrough. I was made into swiss cheese during the chase and was forced to restart the chapter with Ray instead.
It’s probably a lot easier on Normal, but even on my very first playthrough (In which I was doing Hard mode and playing Ray) it was extremely frustrating trying to survive the carriage chase, unnecessarily so. In short: Carriage chase in Chapter III = Bad, bad, bad move Techland. Don’t make something like that again. I don’t care how great the music is during the chase, it never makes up for the frustration (That track is referred to as Kansas Chase in the game files, in case you’re curious).
Another gripe I have is the Dueling system. I actually like the whole “showdown” thing but in my opinion it gets a little silly having one every chapter, and in the chapters with the side missions, up to two or three times. And while the “shaking-finger no” gesture is supposed to be a fourth-wall reference, speaking directly to the player when they attempt to draw before the bell rings, in my previous playthroughs I can’t count the times Thomas and Ray died in a duel shaking their fingers “no” as if they were trying to create a new dance move.
My main complaint however lies with the actual weapon you use in the duel. I’m not going to blame the developer for this specifically, as I suspect it’s an error they didn’t foresee or possibly a mistake of my own but it actually does matter what pistol I use in a duel. Every time since playthrough number one, I have been screwed going up against anyone but Marshall Mike with a Ranger or Volcano Gun.
This is because of rate of fire. The aforementioned weapons are slow to fire but powerful, the Quickshooter is quick-fire and quick-reload with less power, and the Hybrid and Classic Guns are kinda the in-betweens. Maybe it’s just something I’ve been doing wrong all this time, but I tend to fire my pistol once as I draw it and then due to low-rate-of-fire am then shot down. Still even on the occasions I don’t fire it in the holster (Well aware of that old joke) there still seems to be the same issue. With the other guns I can kick ass though.
The sandbox-styled chapters are a nice change of pace and most side missions are fairly independent of one another, and especially the defense of Freeman’s ranch, which has a decent story. It could be handled better though, I can’t help but look at Red Dead Redemption and point to it. I’d say that the sandbox-ness just needs a little improvement is all. A minor thing, the likes of which I tend to take notice of, is quite a few of the weapons are anachronistic, they didn’t exist back in 1864-1866, such as the Quickshooter (Smith & Wesson Model 3) and the Classic Gun (Colt Peacemaker), and possibly even the Double-Barreled Shotgun (But don’t quote me on that).
Back to the story… The Prologue William provides is a great addition and gives us a look at his character and what drives him, and develops all three brothers quite well. I’ll admit that Bound in Blood does seem to be going down an Old West checklist what with the prison break and similar instances, but the story ensures its independence from the old Spaghetti Western movies.
As a writer, the story is almost always the most important thing to me in a game (though there should always be a balance with gameplay) and Bound in Blood’s is a personal story of three brothers journeying through thick and thin, facing war and temptation, all I can say is it’s an amazing story and because of that, I like it more than some of more well-known titles even in 2012.