Sunday, February 14, 2010

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood (PS3)

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is just straight embarrassing. If I'd been the developer, I would have demanded my name be removed from the opening credits. If I'd been a programmer on the game, I would have demanded that I be credited as Alan Smithee.

Let's start with the most embarrassing part: the damnwriting. (That's one word, by the way, like "damnyankee".) The game follows the lives of three brothers: Old, Middle, and Young (I recall them having real names, but, honestly, I couldn't care less). Old and Middle start out as soldiers in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, but desert just before the Battle of Atlanta to save their family farm--a task at which they fail. This leads their commanding officer to decide, for some unaccountable reason, to swear his life to tracking down and killing the deserters. [Oh, and just so you know their old CO is Real Evil™, they make sure that he has lots of irrelevantly racist dialog.] So, the war ends, and the brothers become outlaws who go in search of the treasure of Juarez--except for Young, who's a priest and just tags along annoying Old and Middle.

The whole story is told from Young's vantage point in a series of still-frame storyboards. And he's incessantly yammering and blathering on and on about turning his brothers to the road of righteousness. Almost immediately, this becomes totally unbelievable, given that the older two brothers kill pretty much anybody who so much as mildly irks them. And yet this obnoxious and whiny brat continues to harp on.

Also, the portrayal of Native Americans in the game is pretty damn painful. It's borderline racist, and definitely totally clueless. While they use the real names of real native tribes, they ascribe to them your standard set of stereotypical "talking-animal" native beliefs. Oh, and of course, they all refer to themselves in the third person, and speak in ridiculous stilted English--not as grammatically incorrect as Tanto, but still ridiculous. It's one thing for characters in the game to have racist views of the Indians (that's artistically acceptable), but it's another thing entirely for the designers to research the actual portrayal from old Western radio plays. Embarrassing.

The levels are pretty generic: your standard 1860's towns, canyons, scrubland, mines, forests, etc. Of course, they add in a fair bit of engineering that would be totally ludicrous to imagine in the time period: like thousand-foot-drop elevators suspended from hemp rope. Nothing spectacular, but anything in the Western genre has a relatively limited vocabulary to draw from, so it's forgivable. Of course, none of the levels really felt like lived-in places; they just felt like game levels or movie sets, which is considerably less forgivable.

The combat itself is mostly ho-hum. You point, you shoot. Damage is handled semi-realistically. Most enemies go down in a couple pistol shots, or just one well-placed rifle shot. Some random enemies take considerably more ammunition to fell. Some of them go down in a single pistol shot to the arm.

What ruined combat for me is the atrocious cover system. Essentially, when you get near something cover-like (a box, railing, fence, rock, etc), you automatically crouch behind it. At this point, the controls change subtly. Your right stick simultaneously controls where you're aiming, and how far you're peeking out around the cover object. This blending of two motions on one stick results in a lot of situations where you simply can't make the shot, because as you approach the target with the reticle, you also slink back farther behind the cover, obscuring your target.

One minor thing that drove me absolutely nuts is the aiming reticle. In a science fiction game, you can make the reticle as prominent and silly as you like, because it adds to the atmosphere. In a game set in contemporary times, I'd like you to build as minimal a reticle as possible that still indicates everything I need to know. In a historical game, I want a reticle that properly reflects the relatively imprecise sighting devices of the time and that does not detract from the atmosphere. To wit, in a Western game, in which most guns have only the barest of sighting devices, a simple dot would suffice. Furthermore, I expect that when I press the precision aiming button, that I aim down the sights of the weapon.

Bound in Blood, instead, gives me a giant goddamn reticle that expands with rapid fire. It seriously obscures half of an enemy. Pressing the precision-shooting button zooms in (while you cant your pistol over gangster-style), while leaving the reticle untouched. This means that as you zoom in to shoot at something far away, you obscure your target most of the time. This is the case with all weapons, except for the sniper rifles.

And on that subject, scoped sniper rifles have absolutely no place in a Western-themed game. The telescopic rifle sight was not invented until 1880 in Europe. While they might, perhaps, have been physically available during the time period depicted in the game, they'd be extraordinarily expensive and delicate instruments--available only to the extremely wealthy hunter. So the idea of dozens of dudes riding their horses around the Wild West carrying imported European optics is ridiculous.

The other great myth of the Western, the fast draw shootout, of course makes its showing in the game. Out of all the Western games I've played, Bound in Blood's mechanics are by far the worst. You use the left stick to slowly circle your opponent, and the right stick to maneuver your hand close to, but not touching, your pistol. Then, a bell rings, and you move your hand to your weapon. Having drawn your weapon, a crosshair appears that moves up your target's torso. A touch of the fire button ends the duel.

The problem is with the first part: circling your opponent while controlling your hand's position. The circling is annoying, and seemingly serves no purpose. Meanwhile, the hand-control mechanic doesn't even make sense. Your hand drifts all over the place, and it's your job to move it back. Assuming that you've gotten your hand as close to your weapon as allowed when the bell goes off, winning the match is a foregone conclusion. The whole thing is silly, and captures none of the lightning-reflexes feeling that a quick draw duel is supposed to.

If you're jonesin' for a Western shooter, don't even look twice at Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. Instead, dust off your PS2 and fire up Red Dead Revolver. Or, do what I am, and wait for Red Dead Redemption.


  1. James Shields @ sk8tbdkid@yahoo.comMarch 6, 2012 at 2:19 PM

    Ummm. they had sniper scopes in the Civil War (1861-865). Also, the colonel is supposed to reflect the attitude of Confederate racism (not that all Confederates were racist). He wants to kill deserters because he blames them for the Fall of Alanta. Also, the Native Americans in the game obviously didn't make a whole lot of contact with english speakers which is acceptable.

    Also, the reticule is fine. I like it the way it is. And the duels are easy. If you fail is is operator error. And the cover system is the best of its kind. You just need to pay attention to the tutorial messages, instead of trying to figure out the game itself.

    And the levels in the game look authentic western. And each one was unique.

    Also the characters are Ray, Thomas, and William. You obviously are either deaf, or don't like to play video games where the story matters.

    You probably hated Fallout 3 too.

    And my final point that invalidates your argument is: Thanks for trashing a religion. Makes you sound like a jerk-off. You might not follow a religion but you don't have to trash it. I don't like JB or his music, but I don't trash his videos on Youtube. I have more important things to do.

  2. I could not agree more. Thanks Mr Shields, well said!


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