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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (348)

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Far Cry 5 4/5
Jotun 2/5
Armada 4/5
RiME 2.5/5
Song of the Deep 4.5/5
Shadowrun: Hong Kong 4/5
Destiny 2 4/5
Shadowrun: Dragonfall 4/5
Shadowrun Returns 3/5
Kirby Star Allies 3.5/5
Dark Quest 2 3.5/5
Never Alone 3/5
Octopath Traveler 3/5
Guacamelee! 2 4/5
The Incredible Adventur... 4/5
Fallout 4 3/5
Tomba! 5/5
Odallus: The Dark Call 4/5
Dragon Quest Builders 4/5
Call of Juarez: Bound i... 3/5
Drakkhen 3.5/5
Unravel 3.5/5
Zero-K 2/5
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes... 4.5/5
AereA 1/5

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Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood   PC (Steam) 

The Middle Child    3/5 stars

“Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood” (“Bound in Blood”) is the second entry in Polish developer, Techland’s, Western-themed series of FPSes. Released a mere 2 years after the original “Call of Juarez,” “Bound in Blood” was the first entry in the series to grace the PlayStation 3 as well as the Xbox 360 and PC. With so little time between the first and second games in the series, one would think they would be nearly identical, however the FPS genre was undergoing some paradigmatic changes during the mid-‘00s, which ultimately have nothing to do with how different and how much worse this sequel feels when compared to the original or the much-later “Call of Juarez: Gunslinger.”

Presentation
“Bound in Blood” doesn’t really look or sound all that different from the original “Call of Juarez.” The 3D engine that powers the game is largely unchanged, as it still suffers from draw-distance issues, which seem even worse since even grasses, shrubberies, and forbs miraculously appear out of nowhere as the player moves around. Other than that issue, the visuals are generally slightly improved over their predecessors, with nice environmental design, clean textures, and significantly better character animations for both lip synch and motion capture. Flaws in the old engine are still apparent, though, as characters’ hair generally looks like awful globs of toothpaste instead of actual hair. In general, I found the game’s ‘realistic’ (read: brown and gray) color pallet really works against it from a gameplay perspective, as I would frequently get shot without even an inkling of where my opponent was, since the drab environments and the drab character wardrobes all blend together.

Audiowise, “Bound in Blood” is adequate. The soundtrack is mostly forgettable, though it shows the beginnings of mixing classic Western soundtrack tunes with modern rock. The voiceacting is quite nice, with a return performance from one of the main actors/characters from the first “Call of Juarez”… yet for some reason Techland cheaped-out on the recording quality, lending every spoken line of dialog an irritating accompanying buzz.

Technically, “Bound in Blood” isn’t the worst thing I’ve seen from a PC game, but it’s far from the best. While it never crashed on me like its predecessor, and the load times are much, much quicker, “Bound in Blood” is the only game in the ‘Call of Juarez’ franchise that forces the player to create a login in order to play the single-player Story Mode. Even worse, there’s a glitch with the video encoding for the pre-rendered cutscenes that play at the beginning of each chapter that causes them to play upside-down and backwards on Windows 8 and Windows 10. Techland couldn’t come up with a fix, yet a modder was able to provide one simply by re-encoding the videos upside-down and backwards so the game renders them correctly. Finally, “Bound in Blood” suffers from incredibly horrific screen tearing that makes it all but unplayable. There’s no V-Synch option in the game’s settings, yet there is one that can be manually added to a configuration text file… which doesn’t improve things much. In order to make the game playable, I had to force V-Synch through my GPU’s control panel, which is something one shouldn’t have to do. At least the UI is drastically improved over the original, and includes native Xinput support.

Story
Interestingly, while it is not widely advertised, to my knowledge, “Bound in Blood” is actually a prequel to the original “Call of Juarez,” fleshing out the backstory lore for the first game with a tale of brotherhood and jealousy in the remains of the post-Civil War Southern United States.

Our heroes are the McCall brothers, Ray, Thomas, and William. Ray and Thomas are on the line in the Confederate army, while William, a priest in training, holds down the family farm. Disgusted with the Confederate leadership’s incompetence, and fearing for the safety of their pacifist brother and elderly mother, Ray and Thomas go AWOL to protect their home, only to arrive too late.

Their home in ruins and their mother dead, the three McCall brothers head to Texas and Mexico in order to avoid the consequences of their dereliction of duty. Once the war ends, Ray and Thomas find themselves slipping further and further into degeneracy and outlawdom as William tries desperately to get them back on track and save their souls in the process.

The brothers soon hear of a fabulous Aztec treasure hidden near the town of Juarez, Mexico, and fall in with the local Mexican strong-man in order to find it. Both Ray and Thomas end up coveting said strong-man’s woman, and subconscious fears of betrayal begin to fray the familial blood bond between them.

Interestingly, Ray is the same Reverend Ray from the original game, while Thomas and the Mexican strong-man’s woman are the parents of Billy from the first game (who is named after the third brother, William). In general, I’m very pleased with how well Techland tied to the two games together, but by making this one a prequel, it’s fairly obvious how it’s going to end for anyone who has played the first game. Playing them out of order, with “Bound in Blood” first, might actually be the best way to experience the narrative.

Taking place over 15 stages, “Bound in Blood” took me roughly 12 hours to finish. However, completionists who attempt to uncover all of the game’s secrets without a guide will likely spend much more time with it.

Gameplay
Like the other games that make-up the ‘Call of Juarez’ franchise, “Bound in Blood” features both cover-based FPS gameplay and one-on-one duels. Like its predecessor, “Bound in Blood” also features two different playable characters – Ray and Thomas – with slightly different capabilities. While the original “Call of Juarez” split the game equally between its two protagonists and placed obstacles in their way that catered specifically to their strengths, “Bound in Blood” is much sloppier in this regard. While there are a few stages where the player is forced to play as Ray and a few stages where the player is forced to play as Thomas (and one stage where they both get to so something), the rest of the game allows the player to choose which brother to play as, and this is where their individuality really falls apart.

Both brothers can carry a long gun (either a rifle or shotgun), two pistols, and their specialty weapon(s). Ray specializes in dual wielding and explosives, so he can either wield one pistol, two pistols, or a pistol and dynamite. Ray is also slower and can’t really do much platforming on his own. Thomas, on the other hand, can’t dual wield, but can still carry two different (or identical) pistols. Instead, he gains access to some stealth weapons, including a bow and throwing knives, as well as a lasso, which can be used to grapple onto specific pieces of the environment. Both brothers also have access to variations on a bullet time ‘Concentration’ mechanic, which fills a gauge as they rack up kills, and once full, gives them a minute to activate it before the gauge empties again. Ray’s Concentration effect allows him to sweep the targeting reticule across enemies to line up auto-targeting shots that will land once the concentration ends, whereas Thomas’ Concentration effect allows him to auto-target any enemies within range by wildly shaking the targeting reticule for the duration of the bullet time (or until his pistol is empty). Ultimately, Thomas is very poorly utilized, with his platforming skills used entirely as gimmicks and his stealth skills used exactly once (when they’re introduced) then never touched on again.

“Bound in Blood” sits rather uncomfortably between the original “Call of Juarez” and the latter day “Call of Juarez: Gunslinger” with regard to its shooting. Like the latter, it features the modern shooter mechanic of regenerating health, but doesn’t make quick-heal items (like Whiskey) available. The targeting reticule is a bit on the large-and-opaque side, making it difficult to line it up with the highly-camouflaged and very-far-away enemies the player will face. Sadly, even the semi-permeable cover from the original game is back, with enemies able to wing the player no matter how deep in cover they are. These enemies also have absolutely unreal accuracy from impossible ranges. However, it does bear mentioning that the cover system in “Bound in Blood” is really good, as it causes the player’s character to ‘stick’ to the corners of environmental objects and peek around them by moving the targeting reticule. I would like to see this cover mechanic used in a FPS with more polish on the rest of its gameplay.

“Bound in Blood” also sits midway between the original and “Gunslinger” with regard to its arsenal. The player will find (or buy) a large number of different guns in conditions ranging from Rusty to Normal to Prime to Superb, with each quality tier offering a significant stat bump. Unlike the original game, weapons don’t degrade with use, and the player gets to keep their loadout for each brother from stage to stage through the entire game. There are not, however, any RPG elements or Perks like in “Gunslinger.”

In addition to the fact that the game’s stages don’t really do much to cater to the strengths of each brother, I found that most of the stages are annoyingly railroad-y, forcing the player to keep up with their AI controlled brother or rush to a waypoint or face an instant Game Over. Combined with the fact that the game features over 80 ‘secrets’ to find, which require the player to scour each stage thoroughly (or just use a guide like I did), the game’s pacing becomes really annoying, really fast. Hell, the first stage, which takes place on a Civil War battlefield, annoyed me so much that I didn’t go back and finish the rest of the game for a week after starting it, as the first impression is grim: Run to a waypoint, kill some guys, run to another waypoint, kill some more guys, kill some snipers hiding in the trees which are impossible to see without the huge waypoint stars stuck to them, sneak up on some guys and use Concentration, use a gatling gun to kill some more guys, run to another waypoint, killing guys along the way, use the world’s least accurate cannon to shoot rafts, then blow up a bridge while avoiding fire from unkillable enemies. Not only is that stage a ‘rush, rush, rush’ extravaganza, but it’s really, REALLY long. In fact, most of the stages in “Bound in Blood” feel overly long and drawn-out, usually lasting roughly 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half. There are a handful of non-linear stages, which are more fun from a pacing standpoint, but are still overly large for their own good (especially with no in-game map), necessitating horseback riding to get around.

Finally, the ‘Call of Juarez’ franchise gimmick, dueling, deserves a final, disreputable mention. While it isn’t as horrible as the floaty-cursor dueling in “Gunslinger,” the beautiful dueling from the original “Call of Juarez” has devolved in “Bound in Blood” by a large margin. Instead of showing the player a countdown to draw, the player must listen for a bell (eliminating half the cues). In “Bound in Blood’s” dueling system, the player has control over their character’s gun hand as well as their position in the duel. Thus it’s necessary to use the aiming cursor controls to move the character’s hand as close to their holster as possible without actually touching it (doing so causes them to wiggle their finger in chastisement and move their hand away) while simultaneously watching the side-to-side foot-shuffling movement of their opponent and matching it, so the opponent always remains in focus in the center of their field of view. When the bell rings, the player must move the aiming cursor the last remaining distance to the holster, then upward as quickly as possible, firing once the reticle is on the opponent’s core body. I found the gun hand controls extremely flakey and unpredictable, leading me to repeat all but two of the game’s duels half a dozen times or more.

Overall
As the middle child of the ‘Call of Juarez’ franchise, “Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood” unfortunately includes the flaws from both the older and newer entries in the series. As such, it’s a far more annoying game to play than either the original “Call of Juarez” or “Call of Juarez: Gunslinger.” Fans of Western stories who have played the first game will likely still find some enjoyment in this less-polished sequel, but anyone looking for a fantastic stand-alone Western-themed FPS should look elsewhere.

Presentation: 3.5/5
Story: 4/5
Gameplay: 3/5
Overall (not an average): 3/5

 

 


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