Placed near the end of the American Civil War, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is the story of Ray McCall, the preacher from the original Call of Juarez, and his two brothers. From the original game, I knew that Ray was once a gunslinger and an outlaw before becoming a man of the cloth, but this game gives you the how and why. Which brings me to the perils of prequels: in order for a prequel to work, the events should be as big if not bigger than the original story. In my opinion, Bound in Blood was not as epic or as entertaining of a tale. Already knowing what the culmination of events was leading to left me with a lack of suspense throughout this title.
That is not to say Bound in Blood is not worth playing. You are actually given a lot more freedom to move around in this game. If you are eager to get through, you can choose to abstain from the side missions that reward you with extra cash for helping recover stolen cattle or kidnapped girls. If you’re up for those side romps, you can ride a horse across the Arizona badlands, shooting attacking Apaches or other outlaws (making you the good bad guy). In all honesty, why wouldn’t you? The side missions are interesting and unique and give you a little extra cash.
Money is new to this series. In the first game, you fired your guns until they were just about broken and picked up better guns dropped by your newly deceased opponents. That is still a viable option in Bound in Blood; however, you now have the ability to pick up stolen bank money along your path of destruction. With said funds, you can restock your ammo supplies and buy upgraded, shinier versions of your weapons of choice from the occasional shop or arms dealer. And who doesn’t want to bust into a saloon full of bad guys with two golden six-shooters a’ blazin’?
Ray McCall is essentially the same style of fighter as he is in the original Call of Juarez, but his specialty has been altered a bit. Instead of going into bullet-time mode with a click of a button (granted, there was a small cooldown period), Ray now has to shoot enough of the enemy to charge a meter. When the meter is full, you can enter a mode that requires you to run the crosshairs over any visible enemy on screen, marking them with a red crosshair. Once all his bullets are accounted for, Ray will unleash hell on the marked targets. This gameplay mechanic is more annoying than helpful because you empty your guns in this mode, and if one enemy is off your screen, he will start shooting you while you’re reloading. The old way was better and did not really need to be tweaked. Have the two crosshairs slowly enter from the sides of the screen and give the player an amount of time to shoot where and when he/she wants. This mode does come into play when the brothers are barging through the doors of some building, so you will get a taste of what I am talking about.
Thomas McCall is essentially Billy from the first game from a gameplay perspective. He is more nimble than Ray, so he can climb walls, use a rope to swing across gaps and fire a bow with deadly accuracy. The voice acting for this role, though more authentic than Billy, left much to be desired. The forced Southern drawl is more jilted and awkward than its smooth and gliding intent. Perhaps I am just overly sensitive to this, being from Texas. If John Wayne can play Genghis Khan, who am I to say what is authentic? Thomas’ special gunfire was one that I never truly mastered and therefore, seldom used. I found the bow, which was an incredibly sweet and stealthy weapon in Call of Juarez, to be underpowered and almost useless in Bound in Blood. Once I found a scoped rifle, Thomas became my sniper extraordinaire.
A pivotal gameplay mechanic in any western is the duel, right? Nothing captures the essence of the genre more than two dust-covered cowboys standing off with twitchy fingers and jackets pulled back to reveal the big iron on their hip. Bound in Blood attempted to expand on what I felt was a solid setup in the first game ... and didn’t quite hit the mark. Granted, now you can actually walk to the left and right and your enemy comes in and out of focus depending on where they are in relation to you, but aligning them and pulling your gun hand down at the stroke of the bell became ultimately frustrating for me after the third and fourth attempts in each duel. I literally tried a different mouse to see if that was the issue, but to no avail. If you are dedicated, you will eventually get lucky.
So, here is what I suggest: If you have not played either game, start with Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood so you follow the storyline in a straight chronological order. You will be pleased with the bigger events as you progress into the second game (the original Call of Juarez). The graphics in Bound in Blood are better than the original, but the difference did not strike me as noteworthy. If you have already played the original and are a die-hard western fan, go ahead and pick up a copy. If you are anyone else, this should be a pass.