Friday, July 24, 2009

Review: Call of Juarez - Bound in Blood

I had a bit of a soft spot for the first Call of Juarez. Well, at least for the parts where you played Reverend Ray and not Billy Candle, because I liked playing as the aging ultimate badass bible-verse-spouting invulnerable gunslinger and not so much the stealthy weakling. This game is really a prequel, not a sequel, focusing on the earlier lives of Ray and his brothers, Thomas and William.

Despite having heard bad things about my old nemesis "unlockables" showing up in the multiplayer, I was really looking forward to getting my hands on this title because the "western" genre FPS is such a rare thing. Unfortunately I was a bit let down by this one. I'll just go down the list of gripes here -

1) The Control
CoJ1 had some issue with control, but Bound in Blood makes it worse. Clearly the game was written with console control sticks in mind, which is a terrible thing because there's no worse control for an FPS than a console stick. Yeah, that goes for Halo, too. Well, I take it back.. the only thing worse than controlling an FPS with a console stick is trying to control an FPS that was designed for a console stick... with a mouse and keyboard. The pinnacle of this annoyance is in the "boss fight" showdown sections, where the mouse movement is so divorced from the onscreen effects that it becomes infuriating. You have to move your mouse down and to the left to move your hand close to your gun.. but not TOO close or else you'll suffer a penalty. If you stop moving your mouse, though, the hand will also drift slowly away from where it needs to be. When the churchbell rings in the distance, you're supposed to quickly complete the down-left movement with the mouse to grab the gun and then shove upward to unholster and aim it, and the whole mess is just so counter-intuitive that often it almost made me just give up on the game in disgust, even when I got it right and won the shootout on the first try.

2) The Graphics
Maybe this looks a lot better on console, I don't know, but on PC, the creators of Bound in Blood have accomplished something amazing - they took the beautiful sweeping vistas and rolling wilderness of the american southwest and made them painful to look at. Playing this game for more than a couple hours made my eyes cross and my head hurt. I couldn't quite tell if it was the watery postfiltering, the industry-pervasive abuse of bloom, the impossible to miss mutation of polygons at a moderate distance (even on the highest settings available), the mannequin-ish rigid quality of the models (especially during cutscenes)and their unfocused, soulless eyes, and the overall clutteredness of every level where it becomes hard to distinguish one polygonal construct from another. There's a lot of that going around these days too, CoD:WaW was chock full of it.

3) The Level Design
Even apart from the eye-stabbing quality of much of the scenery is the fact that every bit of the action in the game is linear, if not scripted. Feels almost like a rail shooter at times. There are never multiple solutions to an obstacle, and you can forget running around to flank someone. It gets kinda old. Also, like the first game, it involves a lot more stomping about in caves and the wilderness than gunfights in towns, which goes against my personal preference.

4) The Paradigm Shifts
As part of the console-tardification of the property, Bound in Blood also starts heavily relying on aim auto-correction. It's not even subtle. Often your crosshair will just move itself for you to center on your opponent's head or something. It is at one both disorienting and insulting to the PC FPS player who is used to doing all his own aiming, thank you very much. Additionally, the dynamic of "concentration mode" (also known as bullet time) has changed; before, you needed only holster your weapons for a few seconds for it to become available, and then when you clicked you would invoke bullet time and be able to shoot with both guns independently. It worked very well in the first game. Now, that "independent gun slow motion" bullet time is reserved only for certain scripted events that happen 3 or 4 times per chapter that involve the brothers kicking in a door simultaneously. Two NEW concentration modes have been foisted upon the player (one for each brother), both requiring little to no skill in execution and also irritatingly limited. See, in order to earn a concentration mode, now you must kill multiple enemies within a short span of time to fill your concentration meter, and then you have 60 seconds to use your concentration mode before the meter falls back to half again. This means that whereas there were multiple perfect opportunities in the first game where you got to use concentration mode to awesome effect, in the second game concentration mode often goes to waste by being used on only one or two enemies, or by not being used at all. Also, the new concentration modes (as I said above) require no skill to use. Once slow motion is engaged, Ray's new concentration mode simply involves you dragging your cursor (no clicking required) across every enemy in sight, and when the timer is up ray will simply automatically kill every tagged enemy. Thomas' concentration mode is even worse... invoking it simply guarantees every enemy in view will die because you don't even have to target them, you merely have to shove the mouse forward and back to repeatedly shoot them all. I think this was because in console controls this would translate to someone holding their controller like a gun and strumming their whole hand across the stick as if it were the hammer on a 6 shooter. A perhaps clever gimmick that is entirely lost on the PC version.

I was, of course, also disappointed in the unlockable aspects of the multiplayer, which is a shame because the multiplayer part of the first Call of Juarez was a fun-as-hell casual experience all in itself.

Now, it's not all bad. I do like the genre, I do like the shootouts, and I like the story (especially the origins of characters we came to know "later" in the first game, such as Calm Water and Billy Candle... though it never does give you the story on how or why Ray came to wear an iron conquistador's curiass with a huge cross on it, which apparently far predates his Reverend Ray days). I also REALLY like that they got rid of the "gun takes damage until it blows up from normal use" mechanic, allowing you to spend money to upgrade your weapons to suit your taste as the game progresses. I also like very much that it gives you a choice of which brother to play as in each chapter, letting you decide the dynamic of the level (Ray is tough and slow, best for direct confrontation, while Thomas is quick and nimble, working best with "finesse"). Maybe the problem is that they wrote a western screenplay and then tried to turn it into a game, and we all know how games based on movies usually turn out.

Grade: C-. I want to like it, but it's too irritating to ever play again.


Dimento Graven said...

Ok this post has nothing to do with your review, but that fucked up "flash vortex" banner piece of shit has got to go.

Now I know all the "anti-Microsoft" "internet explorer is the fucking devil" elitist fucktards say, "Oh it works fine with anything other than Internet Explorer, don't use Internet Explorer."

Sorry, I choose to use Internet Explorer, it works well for my purposes and it's used by 95% of the rest of the planet.

Every time my browser tries to load this page, it hits that fucked up banner ad and comes to screeching fucking halt.

Have those fucktards at Flashvortex fix their shit, or get rid of it.

Nig Jackson said...


You suck beyond belief. Update your fuckin browser. Jesus.