We’ve always thought that one of the great tragedies of the gaming industry has been Deus Ex 2 the lack of good games with a western setting. Cowboy simulators are rarer than talking unicorns and it’s a shame that the last truly great wild, wild western is also one of the most unapologetically ugly games to play on a modern system. Sorry Outlaws – we love you, but sprites were well past their sell by date even back in 1997.
The fact that we consider Outlaws to be one of the best western games though says a lot about the original Call of Juarez as, although the game nailed the coarse, gritty feel of the wild west, Techland’s first cowboy game mostly passed by most gamers.
More commonly known as ‘Call of Warez’ in bit-tech.net towers, the original game may have had a lot going for it but it was spoiled by some frustrating design choices and a story that left players feeling helpless as the perspective jumped around uncontrollably. It’s hard to really love a game that gave you a Game Over if you accidentally shot a dead body.
Meet the McCall brothers, Tommy, Willy and Ray. Heh. He said Willy.
The good news though is that Techland’s prequel to first Call of Juarez is a much more polished and playable affair. So playable in fact that it’s a serious threat to Lucasarts’ Outlaws for the title of Best Western Game – that’s how highly we regard Bound in Blood and also a sign of how much has changed since the original.
Structured as a prequel to the first game, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood works both as an introduction to the series for newcomers and as an exciting chapter of the story for fans of the first game. It tells the story of the McCall brothers, William, Thomas and Ray – the latter goes on to appear as one of the two protagonists in Call of Juarez.
At the start of the game the two eldest brothers, Thomas and Ray, are fighting for the Confederacy in the American Civil War which, for those of you who know about as much about American history as a British games journalist who only barely passed GCSE history, was the losing side. Not that winning and losing matters too much to Ray and Thomas though, who’ve only joined the war effort in an attempt to protect their home and ailing mother and who are forced to desert when they hear their home is under attack.
Forced to defect, the McCalls are forced into a life on the lam
Not managing to quite make it home in time the two now-battle-hardened officers have no choice but to take their younger brother on the run with them until the war is over. The trio console themselves with the idea that they’ll find their fortune somewhere, somehow and return home after the war to rebuild their family farm.
As time goes on though it become more and more clear to William, the youngest brother and a preacher-in-training, that their dream has no real chance of coming true. War has changed his brothers and Ray in particular has become a vile outlaw who is constantly putting them in harms way with his viciousness. Thomas’ enabling and womanising nature don’t exactly help either and the group is constantly being chased out of town like lepers on rollerskates.
All of that changes though when the trio hear of the mythical, cursed treasure of Juarez and, enlisting with a local bandit, begin a campaign of violence that they hope will bring them riches they need to return home. In reality though the only thing any of them should really hope for is that they’ll be the last one standing when the shots inevitably start flying around like crazed pigeons.