Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood

I played the original Call of Juarez, it was a decent Western FPS, it had its flaws but I managed to overlook those and get to the end.

I rented Bound in Blood knowing relatively nothing about it, I knew it featured a pair of Brothers as the main protagonists, that’s about it. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of those brothers was a younger version of Reverend Ray McCall from the first game and that BiB is in fact a prequel detailing the events that caused Ray to set aside his guns and take up the life of a preacher and how he and his brother Thomas came to incur the wrath of the infamous Juarez.

The story itself is pretty good, you get more out of it if you’ve played the original as BiB gives a lot of back story to the events of CoJ, so if you’ve played both games you get the benefit of that feeling of revelation at the points where both games are tied together.

One of the hallmark features of the series has been its dual character setup, in CoJ you saw the action through the eyes of both Billy and Ray, both with different strengths, weaknesses and capabilities, BiB returns to that tradition. Ray returns in younger form while Billy is replaced with Thomas, who plays relatively similarly to Billy, more agile than Ray, able to climb, packing a lasso and the ability to use a bow, Thomas additionally packs some throwing knives. As in the original Ray with his armoured vest is able to take more damage and excels at dual wielding pistols and can use dynamite while Thomas cannot.

The way the dual character setup works differs in BiB, rather than alternating between characters during the course of the game as in CoJ most chapters allow you to choose whichever character you prefer. I thought this interesting at first, however after my first playthrough playing entirely as Ray (except where no choice was given) I soon realised that there was very little difference to the game whether you play as Ray or Thomas.

For most of the game Ray and Thomas fight side-by-side cooperatively, whether you play as one or the other the only real difference is the weaponry at your disposal with only a few short sections throughout the entire game where the characters branch off for a unique perspective. It makes the dual character slightly irrelevant, particularly in light of the fact that Rifle weapons are the most effective in the game and that both characters can use them.

You spend most of the game playing with an AI (no online co-op) brother at your side. I’ll be honest, it’s not ideal. The AI is pretty useless in a firefight, it’s slow (the game has a sprint function which the AI will NEVER use) and if you get too far ahead they’ll just stay where they are and wait for you to come back – if you go too too far ahead you effectively “die” and have to reload a checkpoint. It’s a pretty frustrating experience and slows the pace of the game down.

There are still some niggles leftover from the original that haven’t been cleaned up. Character movement still feels wrong, too smooth, like the characters are gliding around rather than walking or running, the effect is more pronounced when sprinting. The only indication that you’re sprinting at all is the weapon animation, there’s little impression of speed. It’s actually worse than Halo in this regard, and that’s actually a tough ask.

Climbing is still not ideal. The problem with first person platforming/climbing is that spacial awareness is not great. because moving your “head” in a particular direction also moves you in that direction it can be difficult to judge where edges are while moving, particularly if you’ve got to be quick. If future CoJ games are made they might think about allowing 3rd person mode for rope climbing etc.


We’ll start with the good.

The Multiplayer has a few good ideas. I like the notion of “bounty”. Each player starts with a bounty of $100 on their heads, that means when you kill a player you earn $100. For every kill you score the bounty on YOUR head increases, increasing higher still if substantial killstreaks are made (2, 4, 8 etc). It means that the rewards are higher for taking out higher skilled players (and campers – more on that later) and picking on noobs doesn’t carry much of a reward, which I think is pretty cool. I also like the poker theme of the killstreaks “pair” “straight” “flush” etc, that’s pretty cool.

The bounty system also has an impact on the dynamic of the deathmatch system (dubbed Shootout) as the win is based on the bounty an individual player has on their head, therefore very skilled players who manage a lot of high value killstreaks can win very quickly as opposed to the traditional “first to x kills wins”.

I quite enjoyed two of the multiplayer game modes in particular, the first being Wild West Legends and the second Manhunt.

In Wild West Legends one team are given a series of objectives that basically involve planting dynamite in various sequential locations, the other team defend the locations until a timer runs down or until the attacking team succeed. It’s quite a fun mode if it isn’t infested with spawn campers (more on that later) and the teams are even. There’s a nice edginess when you kill a guy a microsecond before he defuses your dynamite, or on the other hand charge into the bank, kill all the bandits and defuse their dynamite a microsecond before it blows. Those are good feelings, those are the moments you play games for, and this game can deliver those moments – as long as the other players are there to play the game and not be dirty spawn camping bastards (more on that later).

Manhunt is another team game, this time each team takes turns attempting to protect their “Wanted Man” for a whole minute in order to score while the opposing team attempt to kill the Wanted Man to prevent scoring and bring their turn earlier. The enjoyment you garner from Manhunt will depend on the map you play, as some fall victim of various spawn point shitstorms the developers included in the game (more on that later).

Now for the bad.

Some poor level design coupled with a spawn system that can only be described as bat-shit mental (at best) can lead to some ultra frustrating multiplayer experiences.

It seems to me that the issue seems to one of QA, some levels play absolutely fine, others are a complete mess.

Some of the game types have static spawn points, most of these have spawn points extremely close to and in some cases actually in sight of the game objectives, this makes spawn camping pretty easy to do and thus an extremely tempting proposition for some players, unfortunately too many BiB players give in to that temptation.

Playing with spawn campers is not fun, even if you’re on their team. If you’re a victim of spawn campers you get the frustration of getting locked in an endless cycle of deaths and respawns. It is a pretty damned sweet feeling if you manage to catch the spawn camper before they get you, but it’s still not a great experience. As for being on the spawn campers team, well with the camper taking out all the opposition before they even get out of their spawn point there isn’t much game for you to actually play, you end up sitting there waiting for the timer to run down. Boring. You start to wish friendly fire was allowed in this game…

Other game types have semi-static spawn points, i.e. there are a number of spawn points throughout the level and players are spawned to whichever point the game feels is most appropriate. Why the game ever feels that it’s appropriate to spawn members of opposite teams at the SAME spawn points, or spawn points in clear view of each other, or at spawn points where enemy team members are close by is totally beyond me, but it does, and it does so with stunning regularity. It’s a source of much frustration, particularly in a full 12 player game when the kills are coming thick and fast, to spawn, move less than 10 paces and then be shot in the back by a dude who just spawned in the exact same place you did is not pleasant. To kill a dude who then spawns right behind you 8 seconds later and shoots you in the back is not a pleasant experience, but this is the design of BiB, and it’s an irritatingly regular experience.

Little tip on improving your chances of finding a good game: use the custom game search, set all the criteria to any/no limit etc, set it up right and it’ll show you all the game lobbies currently available of all types, all maps, player numbers and hosts. I learned that certain hosts pretty much always look to spawn camp or otherwise play dirty, using this method you can at least avoid them when they host. It’s also useful for picking up the “Been There Done That” Achievement, you can cherry pick the maps you need for the achievement rather than going for the crapshoot that is Quick Match.


As it stands I’m sitting at 895 Gamerscore with 3 left to score.

Aside from completing the game on Very Hard all the single player achievements are fairly easy. A few of the took me a couple of tries, but provided you have a look through the Achievement list before you start you should manage most of them in a single playthrough. One thing I liked about the Achievements in the original CoJ was that each chapter had a unique Achievement, like a wee extra goal to shoot for, a challenge you normally wouldn’t think of going for in the course of normal play. For BiB the developers haven’t gotten as creative and there are fewer of such achievements and they seem more straight forward, but at least it’s not 95% story progression Achievements like the majority of games.

The only single player achievement I’m not shooting for is Very Hard completion. Far too frustrating, I did the 1st mission and it took an hour, I was shot through cover that had actually been cover when I played through on Hard, I can’t face another 10+ missions like that. No thanks.

Getting all the Multiplayer achievements will require an investment of some serious game hours without boosting. There’s an Achievement for earning $1 million in multiplayer cash (Which I don’t have, but am considering boosting). In my experience the fastest way is to play Manhunt against skilled opponents (who’ll amass some serious bounty on their heads) and kill a lot of them, particularly near the end of the round. Against crappy opposition you’ll be looking at $10,000 per 20 minute round, against good guys you might make as much as $30,000, say $20,000 average. 50 games, 20 mins each, that’s almost 17 hours of pure Manhunt, take into account all the waiting for games to populate, that’s an awful lot of time. The other multiplayer achievements are relatively easy to get unless you’re incredibly unlucky in drawing teams (or incredibly shit).


Ultimately BiB has a reasonably solid single player campaign and a story you’ll love if you played through CoJ, the multiplayer can be a frustrating experience, but it has the potential to be incredibly fun.

If you have the urge to play a Western-themed FPS BiB isn’t the worst choice you could go for.

And Buy yourself some nice guns, you don’t need the cash.

I’m freedoms_stain, and I’ve had enough of games without automatic weaponry, out.

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