Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood Preview (Xbox360)

Knocking back a few bottles of beer and tequila complete with chaser may be very Clint Eastwood of us, but it’s not exactly the best way to begin a multiplayer session on most games. But we man up anyway, knocking back another tequila before stepping through the swinging saloon doors to get some hands-on time with Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, telling ourselves that all this alcohol is nigh on essential for getting into the right mood for the ensuing contest. In reality, it’s 3pm and we’re in Navajo Joe’s bar in London’s Covent Garden, testing out Bound in Blood’s new multiplayer mode with a bunch of (other) sweaty journos.

The original Call of Juarez came out on the PC and Xbox 360 back in 2007 to mostly decent reviews, prompting this follow-up that will also be released for PlayStation 3. Bound in Blood acts as a prequel to its predecessor, telling the story of brothers Ray and Thomas McCall who join the confederate army during the American Civil War. Adopting a distinctive Wild West theme for an FPS was a bold move and Call of Juarez had a solid enough single-player campaign and narrative, but it was multiplayer that won the game the most plaudits, with its own brand of accessible, pick and play gunslinging. So, with the hands of the clock tower fast approaching noon, the time came for us to mosey into town for an eight-player system link shootout.

Stick ‘em up, varmint etc. He’s behind you etc.

Beginning with the intriguingly titled Wild West Legends mode - the first of five different game types that will feature in the final game – the players are divided into two teams, each with a divergent objective. Bandits have to break into a bank and breach the safe, before busting into the stables and finally hotfooting it out of town while the lawmen on the opposing team are tasked with preventing them from achieving these goals. As you might expect, being the bad guys is far more fun during this particular objective, although the same mode on different maps presents each team with a different aim. So, while the bandits get to have most of the fun blowing doors off their hinges with sticks of dynamite and stealing loot on one stage, the roles are reversed on another, with the lawmen destroying the bandit’s valuable gun caches. This changing dynamic keeps the attack and defend gameplay fresh and interesting for both teams, who take turns after each round to play as both bandits and lawmen, ensuring everyone’s happy.

Also guaranteeing that the matches maintain a constant high level of appeal are the thirteen markedly different character classes that range from the gung-ho, dual sawn-off shotgun wielding Hombre, to the dainty Lady’s Gun toting Spy. Each class has preset weapons, which you’re stuck with unless you decide to switch classes between rounds. Determining your favourite class is subject to some in-depth experimentation, discovering whether you prefer the silent bow and arrow of the Native, the range of the Veteran’s heavy rifle or the sheer speed and stopping power of the Officer with his dual Ranger pistols. Despite the wealth of variety on offer, each class is incredibly well balanced and every player will find their own preference based upon the way in which they want to play the game.

Having sampled several versions of Wild West Legends, we subsequently moved onto the free-for-all that is known as Shoot-Out. Basically a deathmatch mode that puts an increasing bounty upon your head as your ‘wanted’ level rises with each kill, Shoot-Out is a chaotic bout of one-upmanship. Consecutive kills are racked up as hands of poker such as a two pair, straight or flush and cause your bounty to accumulate even further. Should you then be killed, the player who offs you receives the bounty that’s upon your head, which then adds to their accrued score. The player that accumulates the most bounty cash then ultimately wins the match in a clever twist on the traditional deathmatch mode. It’s certainly a refreshing change from the standard ‘first to ten kills, wins’ that we’re used to and keeps the entire thing fraught with nail-biting tension until the very end.

This is one of the bits near the stables, which are pretty tough to defend. It wouldn’t be a western if you couldn’t lasso stuff.

There are three other multiplayer modes we’ve yet to play and a total of eight different maps to play them on, each supporting up to 12 players online or locally. Of the three maps we played, the most memorable was Stinking Springs - a gorgeous pine forest area surrounding a lake lined by strategically placed shacks where your objectives lie. Techland’s fourth iteration of their proprietary ChromeEngine produces some exemplary visuals that maintain a smooth frame rate at all times, even when the action gets a bit hectic, which it invariably does. The other two maps we saw maintain the fine tradition of the Wild West with one a dusty street hemmed in by ramshackle timber shop fronts and saloons, and the other a small, walled, sun-blushed Mexican village, built like a fort with huge doors to blast open with dynamite.

With a release date of June 30th in the US and July 3rd in the UK and Europe looming large, it’s heartening to see Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood in such great shape. Graphically, the whole package looks remarkably impressive, with some genuinely appealing locales that are fittingly evocative of the Old West. We found multiplayer to be an utter joy to play, proving a compulsive and entertaining experience even when we were losing. Granted, we didn’t actually lose very often, and we still have the gold cigar to prove it. As a potentially great Western-themed FPS prospect however, we think Bound in Blood might deserve a gold cigar of its own.

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By Jake_SI (SI Elite) on Jun 17, 2009
This looks like an interesting game, haven't played the first one so I might give it a go.
By JustinCO (I just got here) on Jun 18, 2009
I think the release date might be wrong... says March 7th 2009.
By Richie82 (SI Member) on Jun 18, 2009
I think we use the American date method for some reason, so it's July 3rd.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jun 21, 2009
If it improves on the original, I might have to try this for PC. I am a die-hard Western fan after all.
By Jake_SI (SI Elite) on Jun 22, 2009
No, thats not American.. Justin obviously is American, thats why he got confused. It says 3/07/2009 - 3rd July 2009

But in America, they do the month and day backwards, so they would have it 7/03/2009 - July 3rd 2009.
By Richie82 (SI Member) on Jun 22, 2009
Oh, yeah.