a review of Call of Juarez: Bound In Blood
a videogame developed by techland
and published by ubisoft
for Microsoft Windows, the microsoft xbox 360 and the sony playstation 3 computer entertainment system
text by Brandon Parker
TWO YEARS AGO, I wrote how I was in favor of cooperative games featuring characters with an antagonistic relationship towards each other in a game that takes advantage of that, at least in theory. PRESENT DAY: game developers continue to taunt me before robbing me of this experience like a band of god damn highway thieves.
This time, it’s personal.
Maybe you think I’m kidding. I’m not. Somehow, they knew. These developers, it’s almost as if they scanned my brain with their satellites, then held a meeting and decided how best to personally heck me over with the information they obtained. Not all that unlike what the CIA used to do, before my psychiatrist made a deal with them. They’d leave me alone if I started taking my medicine. So far they’ve kept their word, but you can’t trust anyone in this sick world.
Before this one, my only experience with the series was seeing my brother play part of the first one, Call of Juarez (not bound in anything, more a gentleman’s handshake kind of deal). What I saw was a preacher man delivering a sermon from what must have been the King Badass version of the Bible, all fire and brimstone. Then he pulled the cover off his cart, revealing a big hecking gatling gun which he used to immediately start spreading the good lord’s word around. Preaching to the left and right, up and down, just preaching all over the place to anyone in need of spiritual guidance.
It’s accurate to say they got my attention with that scene, but you know how it is: you mean to play a game and, for one reason or another, and you just never get around to it. Say you couldn’t find a good iso, only a rip (theoretically, for example) and christ, this isn’t 1997, that’s no way to play a game. So you forget about it.
Call of Juarez: Bound In Blood is the prequel to the first one, and it’s about two guys. Preacher Man from the first game, not yet a preacher, and his brother Josh Brolin. And the facts are there’s not a single good god damn reason in the whole world you could tell me that would make Bound in Blood‘s lack of co-op play make any kind of sense. They had a real ideal setup for co-op here, but like so many before them it seems, faced with the fearsome sight and awesome power of this creation they nearly created, they turned and ran to go settle for something less.
There’s rarely any instances in the game where you’re without your AI brother. There’re even these parts where you do this little cooperative bullet time deal. Your brother takes up a position on one side of a door and there’s a marker for you to take your position. Then you both go in, guns blazing, just like real brothers. All I can figure is they originally did attempt to make this co-op, and ran into budgetary or technical difficulties of some kind. I really hope they didn’t cut it out soley because of those very rare occassions where you’re solo in the game for a bit, out of fear people would complain over having to sit there and watch for a whole minute, but not wanting to compromise their story, because they couldn’t figure out how or it wasn’t technically possible or something.
Unfortunately, that seems sort of likely, but to hell with those kinds of people. I mean, why not have a co-op game where, for a little while on one level, each player alternates sitting out for a bit for whatever reason; then you meet each other in the middle, or whatever. That’s how we co-op’d games the old fashioned way, anyway. How about a co-op game, where the two players really do have to face each other at the end? Or maybe halfway through the game, one of the guys decides to be a real bastard about things and kill his partner, maybe even in one of those noninteractive cutscene things, you can’t even do anything about it, then works without a parter for a level or two, until he finds a new guy to work with or whatever.
I know there’s a lot of people out there that would have a stroke if they weren’t pushing buttons constantly the minute they turn the game machine on until it’s off, but forget about those guys, I don’t see why if the story is decent it should have to suffer for the addition of cooperative play. Basically, I’m saying they should have put co-op in here whatever the cost, they could have even done something interesting with it, but there was no excuse for this huge hecking blunder, disaster, etcetera.
Who am I kidding. Anymore it seems you’re allowed one interesting idea per game and it’s made a bullet point on the back of the box, possibly the whole game’s concept is built around it even, with every PR release hyping it up, going on about how innovative it is (then later all the reviews talk about this innovative(®) new feature(™) with the same wording from the press release like they suddenly just hit upon the idea themselves for the first time while playing the game and must now report it you). Then this incredible new feature and every other possible behavior and action in the game is explained in terms a kindgartener would find insulting in the mandatory tutorial, so forget about anything unexpected ever happening in a videogame ever again.
I apologize. I’m probably being unfair to the developers there. Anytime they do try something new, imagination starved sad sacks in forums across the internet airwaves band together to pound their keyboards and scream at the heavens like neanderthals. Remember when Team Fortress 2 first came out? Piece of stuff. Didn’t have grenades like the old Team Fortress. How can you even call that Team Fortress? You just can’t. Now I don’t even remember what a “Team Fortress grenade” is anymore. Doesn’t matter, though; currently, the game’s too occupied with being a piece of stuff because it’s turning into an MMO, since you can get new items. If you didn’t know, in MMOs you also get new items. Chew on that bit of evidence for a bit, Valve, then get back to me on just how damning it tastes.
Hell, anymore it seems a game is half-designed by what a couple of loud mouthed commenters on Kotaku whine about after seeing five screenshots from it. Did you hear about the new new Splinter Cell? Let me tell you about the new new Splinter Cell. First they had the old new Splinter Cell. It looked to take place mostly in the day light and you had to run from the law, hide in crowds, wedge chairs under doors and Sam, having gone undercover and off the grid for whatever awesome rogue operation he was working was looking appropriately disheveled and badass. It’s news to me but apparently a lot people had a big problem with that, so now they came out with the new new Splinter Cell, which is dark and looks to play just like the old ones, only faster paced and taking place on an NSA Casual Friday.
It doesn’t end there, you’ll want to look at this, but I caution you to prepare yourself:
“It’s been a long time between missions, but Sam Fisher is back – and thankfully sans-hobo beard. Revealed officially at Microsoft’s E3 2009 press conference and later replayed at Ubisoft’s, Splinter Cell: Conviction looks like the fresh direction the series desperately needed” – IGN
“What was initially a game about a hobo with a manpurse wandering the mean streets of Washington, D.C. has now become a slick, focused look at what happens when an über-badass like Sam Fisher directs himself towards someone foolish enough to kill his daughter.” – 1up
“The 100% more grizzled adventures of super spy/hobo Sam Fisher will continue this calendar year” – Kotaku
“GameSpot and 1UP both have Splinter Cell: Conviction first looks, checking out what at first glance looks like the Sam Fisher hobo sim.” – Shacknews
“Hobo Sam Fisher is no more; the vagabond that wandered the last build of Splinter Cell: Conviction has been sent to the barbers for a trim and a good old scrub, sent back into the world of espionage wearing a tight-fitting polo and sporting some grey-flecked five o’clock shadow.”
– IGN Uk
“First things first: far as I know, the Sam Fisher we saw in the early concept footage — you know, the one who more closely resembled a hobo than a special agent — is nowhere to be found in Conviction” – Destructoid
“Second, Sam Fisher no longer looks like an emo hobo. Maybe — just maybe — he’s an emo hobo in disguise, walking amongst the world’s non-transients, hiding his penchant for My Chemical Romance and malt liquor behind his clean shaven face. We’re on to you, Fisher.” – Joystiq
Sorry about that last one. God knows we all could have done without it, but this is serious now. It’s so obvious, isn’t it? I’ve uncovered, within the so called “videogame journalism industry,” a sinister and far-reaching conspiracy against Sam Fisher’s beard. That’s the only explanation. One guy dissatisfied with Mr. Sam Fisher’s hair style is one thing, but we’ve got pretty much every single “major” game news website here talking the same line about “say goodbye to hobo Sam Fisher!” and “THIS AINT YOUR DADDY’S SPLINTER CELL!” before going on to talk about how this “radical new direction” is better than the old “radical new direction” because it’s closer to the even older “well trodden direction.” It’s almost as if one guy is writing every article on the Internet! And he works for Ubisoft!
I’m baffled as to what the reviews will be like. Do you think maybe “A refreshing new take that gives the Splinter Cell® franchise just the boost it needed towards a new, yet still familiar direction — 9/10!” or “The classic yet stagnant series recieves an exciting new direction© that revitalizes the franchise — 9.2/10!”? I feel it could still really go either way at this point.
Personally I won’t stop until I’ve followed every strand in this vast and weblike conspiracy to its source. I must uncover the beard’s secrets, I must know what the big hecking deal with it was. And the emo thing, I’ve thought real hard about it and I don’t even know what they mean by it, unless I missed a screenshot where Sam Fisher had eyeliner on somewhere.
Is it possible that there’s a really simple explanation behind all of this? It being that the sight of a geniune man or even a videogame facsimile of one only confuses and frightens the videogame player and sends them into a panicked state of shock? I don’t even want to know what they’re saying about Max Payne now. Let me ask you this: Was Serpico a hobo? The answer is heck no, he was a god damn hero and heck you, you’re the hobo.
I feel as though I’ve wandered some ways from the original subject matter. Just remember, the three branches of videogame government — the designers, the forum dwellers, and journalists — they all work together and use checks and balances to keep stuffty games possible, and every conspiracy seems to lead back to Ubisoft. Enough of this depressing sort of talk, though, let’s get back to Call of Juarez, and how stuffty it is for not having co-op. The first Call of Juarez starred the gunfighter/priest guy who wears a spanish breast plate. That’s kind of a unique fashion item there for those times, it’s certainly an interesting visual. Probably the first thing some artist came up with while doodling then decided they had to make a game starring the guy. So when you announce the next game is a prequel involving Priest and brother Brolin on a quest for some Aztec gold, you’d think they’d work in some kind of explanation for that breast plate in there too.
Usually that’s what these whole prequel things are for, unneccessairly explaining things that didn’t need explaining, while overcomplicating your lore and destroying the mystery of whatever iconic stuff you created last time. Turns out everybody is connected and related. But here after a short tutorial in the civil war, they desert and head home, then it cuts to a few years later in Arkansas and he’s suddenly got the breast plate on. Like they just don’t give a stuff, he picked it up on the way in Branson or something.
You’d think that would have been something easy, something they could have explained without it coming off sounding silly or making a big thing out of it. Anybody else, they wouldn’t be able to help themselves, it’d be the whole idea they built the prequel around in first place, but these guys seem to have some sense. But then again, in the first game, right as it begins, before the preacher decides to return to his sinning ways and dust of his iron shooters, he’s giving a sermon and he’s wearing that breast plate. They didn’t stick it in the room with the guns you get later, during the awesome “Old Badass Comes Out of Retirement” part, he’s just wearing it as his Sunday dress while preaching to the town. I wonder what the towns people all thought of that. So the whole breast plate thing, while a good visual, never was all that well thought out it seems.
The rest of the story, though, isn’t too bad. Actually it’s kind of good, against all odds, despite being both a videogame and a prequel. Probably because they keep it fairly simple. Two brothers desert their army then drift around as outlaws while looking for a lead on this gold thing they heard about. They’ve got to deal with a bandit leader who knows something about the gold and their former general who is having trouble letting go of the fact that they deserted his army and the war is over.
It’s kind of hard to blame him, really: the McCall brothers are two unstoppable killing machines, and he probably could have won the war with them alone. It’s strange, because this is a prequel, but it’s got a simple and fairly coherent story. The first one, I think if I had played it first I would have chalked it up to another silly and overcomplicated videogame plot. Some kid’s got a stepfather who has a crazy preacher brother, and forgot about the stepfather, he’s not important, and then the kid’s real father, etc. So they put more thought into the story than the breastplate, good for them.
I heard or read somewhere before this game came out, I thought, that this was going to be a “mystic” western. Dead Man type stuff, is what I mean. That turned out to not be the case, but damn, that and co-op would have been something. Something called Game of the Year 2009, easy, if it had been true. There’s a part where you have to go through an indian burial ground, and I was just waiting for all kinds of weird stuff to start happening. Basically, if you ranked this game on could-have-beens, it’d be off the hecking four star chart, but what you’re actually left with isn’t half bad either. I’ve seen what co-op can do to more mediocre games, so it kills me seeing this, with its great setting, characters and story, and then looking like it was designed from the ground up for co-op before having it yanked out then suddenly sent out the door, now only a gaping, unsightly hole where it used to be, but what can you do?
Call of Juarez: Gentlemen’s Agreement let you set a whorehouse full of sinners on fire, then hold a bible in one hand and revolver in the other, preaching quotes from the bible with the right mouse button while you shot dead the survivors who stumbled out on fire with the left. So clearly these guys know what it’s all about, and this one was such huge improvment from the first one in the technical-like and polish-wise departments that they’ll get it next time for sure I bet.