After apocalyptic future worlds, there can be few settings less original than the Old West. Chuck in a desert, some dueling and a few authentic guns and you have yourselves a game, right? Well Techland don’t subscribe to that – Bound in Blood, like its predecessor, has ideas coming out the wazoo. Not all are integrated as well as we’d wish, but you’d have to hunt pretty damned hard to find a single dull or predictable moment here.
Wisely ditching the duff stealth (well, mostly) and paying extra care and attention to the combat, this is a huge improvement over the original. Aside from a few graphical quirks – usually related to the new cover system – it’s a rock-solid, spectacle-packed shooter; ramshackle in places but packing such heart only the staunchest FPS pilgrim would complain. All of the Old West is here, from tense duels to busy shootouts to lonely cross-country horse riding.
It’s also a surprisingly well-told tale; a prequel focusing on outlaw brothers William, Thomas and Ray McCall – who later becomes the Bible-bashing hellfire preacher of the original Call – as they track down the legendary Juarez treasure and kill every American, Mexican and Injun who gets in their way. You can choose between Thomas or Ray at the start of most stages, with the former getting a lasso for occasional acrobatics and Ray having the skill to duel-wield. We missed being able to carry a bible and fire bolts of damnation at enemies – an undisputed highlight of the first game – but the vast cache of iconic weaponry just about makes up for it. Apart from the weedy throwing knives and limp bow and arrows, the game’s guns are tremendous fun to use.
The new automatic cover system lets you hug nearly any surface but the limited perspective makes it difficult to aim, and it’s hardly implemented smoothly – a lot of the time you end up putting your arms through walls, boxes and the like. On Medium difficulty the game doesn’t put up much of a fight, so we rarely used it and often forgot it was there. Of more note, the slo-mo Concentration mode has been enhanced: it now comes in three varieties, each designed to make you feel like a true gunslinger and enhancing the already satisfying combat no end.
Stages are consistently surprising, adding welcomely unexpected elements to the familiar formula – random bits which don’t quite gel enough to change the central mechanics but do succeed in staving off over familiarity. For instance, early on you get to play around with buckets of water in order to extinguish a burning barn. Aside from a similarly brief moment towards the end of the game this sideshow exists for little reason save breaking up the shooting. The same could be said of the lasso acrobatics, and of the two free roaming sections in the middle part of the game.
Any other title would have an open-world hub containing each mission, but they’re strangely separate entities here. We’re glad all the Wild West staples are included but the structure’s a little off, like a beefburger with the cheese on the outside. For a game so firmly focused on its two lead characters the omission of co-op is also glaring. It seems set up to include it but, for whatever reason, Techland decided not to go down that path. Although the game’s fun on your own, it’s definitely a glaring, missed opportunity.
If you’re sick and tired of the lifeless brown dirge most shooters dish out the open vistas, rolling skies and unspoilt wilderness of Bound in Blood’s setting will be a breath of relatively fresh air. It’s also, simply, a great first-person shooter – and a bigger, better Western than the first.
Jun 30, 2009