This week, Zero Punctuation reaches 100 videos and reviews Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood.
*Party whistle blowing*
So to mark this occasion, I will be reviewing a game very close to my heart, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. Well, alright, this was the game I had lined up to review anyway, but what the fuck do you want from me? It’s just a number. 101 is also a number, as is 99. And 99 at least looks a bit like someone getting bum-fucked. But Call of Juarez is still sort of special because I genuinely do feel like I have a spiritual bond with the Wild West. I wear an old-fashioned hat, I once ate a horse, and I never wash.
Bound in Blood is a prequel to the first Call of Juarez (and no, for some reason I cannot pronounce “HWA-rez” any other way) and follows the adventures of three brothers: Ray, Thomas and Wee-um, who lose their mama and homestead and decide to dedicate their lives to ticking off everything on the Western story checklist: outlaws, sheriffs, noble Injuns, evil backstabbing Mexicans, gunfights, showdowns, chairs being smashed over people’s heads, and a spicy undercurrent of homoeroticism. And in true Western tradition, your level of badassness is dictated by the size of your hat. Ray and Thomas both wear big hats and therefore eat danger and shit bullets. Wee-um doesn’t get a hat, so the best he can hope for is to eat Weetabix and shit healthily. Together they search for a cursed Aztec treasure and fight over the affections of a redoubtable Mexican lady with that uncanny spaghetti-western love-interest talent for almost getting raped by everyone she meets. Seriously, leave this bint alone in a waiting room for an hour and she’ll find a way to get raped by the chair.
The game is based mainly around shooting and is viewed from the first person perspective, and someone should really come up with a name for that. At the start of each mission, you choose which of the two effectual brothers you want to play as, and the AI will control the other. As Thomas, you can shoot more accurately, throw lassos, and climb ledges. And as Ray, you can open the pause menu, restart the mission, and choose Thomas instead, you fucking idiot! Ray takes less damage, but health regenerates anyway so it hardly matters. And he can dual-wield pistols, which means having twice as many weapons you have to stop and reload every 15 nanoseconds.
It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that a shooter with two central playable characters has a co-op mode, which it why it is surprising that it doesn’t. Okay, there are a few missions where the brothers are separated, but even so, the opportunity was standing on a piano with its trousers down and they couldn’t have missed it harder. They could even have had three-way co-op: let the third guy play as Wee-um. Press “X” to hide, press “Triangle” to quote bible, right trigger to poo pants.
The trouble I often have with Western games is that historical accuracy demands that the guns all be absolute shite. And indeed running and gunning with most of the tools Call of Juarez hands out will leave you with so many bullets stuck in your face that you’ll look like a renegade cenobite. The emphasis is instead on cover-based accurate shooting, yet another reason to never use Ray. And thankfully you take cover just by moving up to it, rather than the Gears of War method of pressing a button that Velcros your spine to the wall. It feels kind of like a rail-shooter with the tracks torn up, if that makes any sense. You spend most of the combat hiding in a box, popping out to shoot at heads as they peer quizzically over cover like wooden ducks. But enemies are so crap and your health regenerates so fast that the veteran fans of shooters will probably find the combat a bit unchallenging - if they can avoid drooling into the controller long enough to formulate an opinion.
But then comes the showdown mini-game, which is thrown into the chapters where they didn’t feel like putting in a proper boss-fight, which is every chapter. You have to side-step around the enemy, keeping your hand next to your holster with the analog stick. Then when the bell rings, the first one to draw and fire a magical regeneration-canceling insta-kill bullet wins. It’s alright at first, but towards the end the baddies can draw so fast I could only win by counting the seconds til the bell rang and starting to draw an instant beforehand. You have to do this with every major bad guy in the story. So, what, we’ve been shooting at each other all week, killing so many of each others' friends that our mutual Christmas card lists now fit on post-it notes, and now you want a fair fight? Why do I have to go along with this? Why can’t I just press a button marked “Fuck Off” that makes my idiot brother sneak up behind them and smash a chair over their head?
There’s nothing wrong with a game being linear, but Bound in Blood doesn’t agree. It does everything it can to disguise its linear nature. The levels are huge and sprawling and actually look really pretty. If it were a character, it would probably get raped at some point. There are even a couple of mini-sandbox levels, were you can either do some optional missions or go straight on to the next bit of story. But there’s no way to come back, and after two of them the game just shrugs its shoulders and tosses the whole concept. For the most part, the action follows a strictly linear path, generally indicated by your ‘tard AI brother standing on the next objective and yelling at you. Progress is made by staying close to your NPC allies for long enough for them to remember what they're supposed to be doing. But the levels are big and demand exploration, and at one point I had to restart a mission in the mountains because deviating from the trail to play with some dead Indians apparently upset Ray’s path-finding. So he sat at the start of the level sulking and waiting for me to apologize.
This may surprise you but - *party whistle blowing*. . .sorry - Call of Juarez is actually a good game. I’ve had a lot of stuff to complain about, but there’s a lot to like too. The shooting ultimately works and the story and setting is surprisingly well-realized. I know for a fact there's at least one guy at RockStar who’ll be disappointed because he was hoping I’d totally bag it out and clear the way for their upcoming Red Dead Redemption thing. But hey, if that’s good too, maybe we can have another of those cross-dressing art competitions. And if not, second place isn’t so bad. It’s just a number after all. Like, say, for example, 100. *Party whistle blowing quietly*
We don't like his type around these parts: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
So where were all those protective indian spirits when the smallpox blankets were being handed around, eh
(The Zero Punctuation full theme song plays with scenes from his previous 99 videos as well as one from this one, in order. When the theme concludes, it cuts briefly to a shot of Yahtzee's boxers from the LittleBigPlanet review, with a grainy filter and a high-pitched, high-volume screech.)
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 The count in the episode is different from the count of this wiki because the three pre-Escapist episodes and the 2008 clip show are not counted by Yahtzee.