Writing mainly about videogames.

Call of Juarez Bound in Blood artwork

Call of Juarez Bound in Blood is a relic of its past. It's the game designed for 7th-generation consoles in the time when developers kept churning out below-average PC ports that had intensely claustrophobic FOVs, lots of blur that messed with the player's view, and copious amounts of screen shake that sometimes was so intense it felt nauseating. The former can at least be solved by installing a mod, which I am very thankful to the modder for, given that, according to them, it was a huge pain to implement.

Even with the FOV out of the way, one can't help but see all the other 7th-gen mechanics that make the games of that era so reviled. Cover systems, scripted sequences (lots of them), and, specific to this game, companions that make the experience feel mildly like a never-ending escort mission. Playing this game on a PC in 2021, as more games actively embrace the higher skill ceiling of FPS players on the platform, feels pretty jarring, to say the least.

That said, this game does have some noticeable highlights.

The setting instantly differentiates the game from other 7th-gen console shooters that typically focused either on WW2 or the contemporary conflicts of the time. Described by the developers as sort of an inspirational mishmash between classic and spaghetti westerns, it definitely leans towards the latter as gunplay sacrifices authenticity for the sake of flow and dynamicity. The McCall brothers blast single-action revolvers like they're six-bullet Glocks, and the game does embrace the absurdity of the combat somewhat by also giving them special abilities that help the player trounce through the shooting galleries of enemies. Both emphasize the different gameplay mechanics of the two protagonists: Ray, who dual-wields the weapons, specializes in explosions and prefers to come in guns blazing, got the ability that has the player mark the enemies on the screen to then end them in one fell swoop, while Thomas, who's agile and uses long-range weapons like bows and rifles, insta-locks onto the enemies and has the player pull the hammer, killing them one-by-one.

Character differences play out not just in-game, as the story at its strongest explores their relationship on the quest towards finding the medallion, the series' MacGuffin. The brothers' desertion from the Confederate army drives both to the life of crime, as their younger brother, William, tries to be the voice of reason and direct them away from the path by preaching Christianity and reciting the Bible. The spiritual undertones are prevalent in the story as the overall conflict is essentially portrayed as the McCall brothers straying further from God as the story goes on, ending up finding him in the tragedy that happens during its most climactic moment.

Although it's not preachy whatsoever, Christian themes do bring to question the story's various moral judgements. The game was entirely written by a white Polish team of developers drawing inspirations from multiple western movies, so some of the bad stuff can probably be attributed to that, but the game slips a lot when it comes to addressing race politics of the time. It does acknowledge those things, McCall family being former members of the Confederate army and likely owning slaves, while Barnsby, the game's villain, justifies his motifs by wanting to restore the Confederacy and being extremely racist, but the themes are never addressed meaningfully. Worse, the portrayal of Native Americans in the game is not good, as they are for a solid 70% of their presence portrayed as savages and targets to shoot, and the subplot involving two Apache members of the cast resolves in one of them turning peaceful by essentially realizing that he was racist against white people.

Christian ideals in question also preach not being corrupted by material possessions, yet one thing that is lumped in with those moral corruptions ends up being a woman who is the romantic interest of both main characters of the game.

The romantic subplot itself sucks and is the worst part of the game, as the misogynistic writing shines in its incredibly corny segments that interject the story cutscenes and rarely the gameplay moments where the supposedly tense situation abruptly turns into a badly written romantic exchange between her and the main character. This does sour the experience midway through the story quite a lot, although it's easier to tune out of it somewhat by the end of it as the core conflict wraps up and leads towards the dramatic resolution.

Call of Juarez Bound in Blood did not age quite well. The 7th-gen FPS shenanigans keep reminding the player of themselves, and the plot has some pitfalls, which, admittedly, are not unique to the titles of that era. Still, I feel like the game has an ounce of genius in it, and I'd probably suggest it to someone seeking to revisit or experience the better of the 7th-generation console shooter wave outside of the massive titles that defined it.

Misc. details

  • Resolution: 1920x1080
  • Input device: Keyboard and Mouse
  • Difficulty: Normal
  • Playtime: 9.6 hours according to Steam (took 2 hours to get back after I borked my save). Game says that I completed the campaign in 5 hours, 36 minutes, 31 seconds.
  • Character played as: Thomas
  • Mods applied: Realism Mod's FOV patch
    • Has mild in-game cutscene zoom in quirks, but other than that it doesn't break the game at all, besides the saves which are only compatible with the mod

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