Translating the stylish successes of the spaghetti western genre into actual gameplay isn’t quite as easy though. When it comes to the presentation and style of the game all you really need to do is make sure that everyone is wearing a hat and nobody has shaved in a week. Base all character models on what the bit-tech
staff look like on a Monday morning, in other words.
Telling the story though the gameplay is more tricksy though and Techland has again taken the rather uninspired route of dolling out bullet-time super powers to the main characters in an effort to raise them above the faceless henchmen that surround them. It may be fun to play, but it never feels very ‘Wild West’ if you ask us. In fact it feels much more like a post-noir detective story, though that’s mainly because the idea of bullet-time is now so closely tied to Max Payne
and The Matrix.
Bound in Blood
does at least expand on the unwieldy concentration mode seen in the first game though. Both Ray and Tommy now get some different abilities of their own to unleash, each suited to their own playstyle. We didn’t get to see them all in our time with the game, but those we did see seemed pretty fun – though some were more fitting than others.
The most impressive new concentration mode attack was a pistol attack we saw Ray try at one point that dropped the game into slow-mo and rooted you to the spot for a few seconds. A crosshair appeared on screen and you had to use it to fire exactly six shots at your foes as fast as you could without turning or moving. When you mark the sixth enemy (or when your concentration runs out) then the events suddenly catch up with your selection and Ray fires those shots precisely – so if you aimed well then you can down six enemies in one move.
It’s not just the power-ups that have been enhanced either – Techland has also gone to town on the levels, making them much larger and more epic in scope. We still saw plenty of very-linear town-based levels, true, but there were a good deal of canyons and wide-open vistas to snipe from too, so both brothers have areas they excel in. The canyons and vistas do mean that there’ll be plenty of lasso-action though unfortunately, as the Tommy’s lasso is the unimaginative replacement for Billy’s whip.
Perhaps the most damning thing about Bound in Blood
though is the utter lack of co-operative play. There’s no co-op option at all in Bound in Blood
, despite the fact that it has two playable characters in almost every level. We asked Ubisoft a few quick questions about the lack of co-op play and they, between talking about the compensatory multiplayer modes, admitted that it had been removed for story reasons. The two brothers eventually turn on each other, a spokesperson admitted to no great surprise, though he said knowing that wouldn’t ruin the game.
Admittedly, we can kind of see where Techland is coming from on that issue. The decision to block co-operative play must have been difficult when the rest of the game design leans so heavily towards it. On the other hand though, the idea of a two player game that starts as a co-op game and gradually becomes more and more competitive is incredibly enticing as an idea. We love the idea that you’d have to forever worry about your ally becoming your adversary, though that idea has been unsuccessfully tried before, elsewhere
Disregarding the disappointing lack of multiplayer though, initial impressions of the game could best be described in the same words that any good English pessimist would describe the English summer: middling, to fair. Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
does look fun, playable – interesting, even. At the same time though, it doesn’t look like anything we haven’t seen before and is curiously similar to the first game in many of the wrong ways.
We hope we’re wrong, but it still looks like we’re going to have to wait for LucasArts to make Outlaws II
before we see a really good wild west shooter. although we weren’t appalled by Bound in Blood
, we weren’t really all that impressed either.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is in development for the PlayStation 3, PC and Xbox 360 and will be published by Ubisoft in June 2009.