Decades ago, Italian and Japanese influences helped revitalize the film Western.
Now, as the genre lays fallow on game consoles, Polish development team Techland is trying to bring the Wild West back to life. Its resuscitation plan is ripped not so much from the Western canon, but from Quentin Tarantino — as “Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood” tries to inject a load of adrenaline into the stagnant genre.
Though it follows the 2007 “Call of Juarez” (also developed by Techland), this is actually a prequel telling how that game’s Reverend Ray came to be.
Here he’s in cahoots with his brother Thomas, and shadowed by their other brother William. Ray and Thomas have deserted the Confederate army in order to defend their Georgia home, but when it is destroyed they seek out a fortune in gold to rebuild their family plantation.
Playing solo, you can be either Ray or Thomas. The former is more powerful; he uses dual pistols and dynamite, and can tote a Gatling gun like a water pistol. Thomas is lighter on his feet and a killer with a rifle; he’s the explorer and can use a lasso to reach out-of-the-way points. Thomas’ accuracy is pushed to the point of absurdity — even with a rusty old rifle he can hit a bandit hiding behind a boulder at a hundred yards.
Not that “Bound in Blood” much wants to hit a target as small as realism. Like Sergio Leone’s Western films, you’ll see more explosive set pieces and hats shot into the dust than you will realistic rifle shots. Just check the returning slow-motion Concentration system, which is slightly different for each character.
Using Concentration, Ray gets to quickly line up a series of shots and then fire ’em off all at once. Thomas has to choose targets individually and use a little right-stick action to simulate working the hammer on his pistol, but the result is the same: a bunch of guaranteed kills.
There’s also a revamped mini-game for showdowns, where you’ll slowly circle back and forth to keep an opponent in your sights, slowly inching your right hand down toward a holstered pistol.
When a bell sounds, you’ve got to grab the pistol, line up the sights, and fire before the other guy does. If your reflexes aren’t quite good, be prepared to use the first few plays of each duel as a practice run to get the timing down.
When the story mode is in full swing, “Bound in Blood” develops a good momentum. Comparisons to “Call of Duty” are inevitable: You’re propelled through straight-up first-person shooter segments into mid-size battle set pieces, as well as occasional segments in which you shoot enemy riders from within a wagon or take out a large riverboat with cannon on the shore.
“Bound in Blood” is still a better game than its predecessor. The terrible platforming elements from the first game are mostly gone, and Techland has implemented a cover system that forces you to move slowly.