Gameplay (4 out of 5)
The gameplay is a standard mix of FPS features. They borrow liberally from the Call of Duty interface. This is not very original, but it certainly was a nice improvement to the fairly clunky one in the first game. You can carry 2 pistols, a shotgun or rifle, and 3 speciality weapons. If you are shot, then the screen turns red and blood drips down the sides. You can crouch and hide to recover fairly quickly. Surprisingly, it’s fairly realistic, by game standards. Even at medium difficulty, you tend to die after a few shots.
There is one major change in Call of Jaurez: Bound in Blood that certainly deserves mention though. There is no Billy in this game. This means no forced stealth missions. They even seem to mock this a little bit by starting what seems like a stealth mission halfway through the game, only to immediately shift it into a large gunfight in an Indian village. Getting rid of forced stealth gameplay was such a welcome change.
It’s time for the quick rundown. I’d say there was about 6 or 7 hours in the single player campaign. There were 15 chapters, 2 of which were series of optional side missions. You have the option to play through most of the game as either of the two brothers. You can play as the agile marksman Thomas or the close range fighter Ray.
There is an effort to break up the gunplay a bit with some platforming and minigames. Climbing ropes and navigating numerous ledges are still important parts of the game. The teamwork aspect seems a bit tacked on, since it’s just a matter of Ray kicking down certain doors and Thomas giving Ray a boost. They play fairly well though and are welcome additions.
The concentration modes are a bit of a letdown though. They are basically just borderline cheat codes that let you kill your enemies in 3 seconds. You don’t even have to aim or really fire. The dual concentration modes follow the old slow motion model, which i personally perferred. I don’t see the reason for the shift.
There are also several duels that feature a fairly complex minigame where you actually move your hand with the mouse to draw your pistol after a bell and use the keyboard to move your feet. It’s not the most intuitive contol scheme, but it really draws you into the tense duel.
The Weapons (4 out of 5)
Call of Jaurez features a number of weapons for you to use to shoot up the West. There are shotguns, rifles, scoped rifles, a bow, and 5 different pistols. You can buy new weapons with money that you earn doing side missions and collecting cash from dead bandits. You can buy higher quality pieces to make the end missions easier, so there is a real sense of achievement as you advance.
The one real reason that the weapons deserve a separate mention is that they handle so well. They are accurate enough for satistfying gameplay, but heavy enough to give the fighting a good feel. It’s really cool to have a slight drag as you round a corner and bring a shotgun around to take out another thug.
It is weird that there is still a crosshair when you’re aiming down the sights. That’s just a minor complaint though.
Graphics (4 out of 5)
The graphics were quite nice overall. The character models are just great. The details on Ray and Thomas are amazing and all the little touches really bring you into the game. My personal favorite was the fact that the shadows really did reflect your actions. There is even an accurate shadow for a thrown knife while it’s in the air.
The settings generally look good too. I like the way that the tunnels, mines, and towns are done. The only place that suffers is the forests. The foilage in general isn’t done well. It seems very flat and stiff. It’s just a little out of place considering how rich some of the environments are. That’s really the only thing holding it back though.. This is somewhat forgivable considering how well optimized it is though.
Story and Sound (4 out of 5)
The story is actually pretty good considering that it’s a little limited thanks to its position as a prequel. If you played the first one, then you already know who can die and who can’t. That said, it crafts a pretty good story. The only problem is that there are some problems with the larger story of the two games. The character of Thomas just doesn’t add up, since he mysteriously becomes an awful abusive husband and father between the 2 games. There are also some minor annoyances with the way a few characters acted. I won’t spoil that though.
The sound was a plus though. The music as a whole was just nice. Call of Jaurez features a full soundtrack that could be right out of a real Western. It’s a bit cheesy, but this game is meant to be like all the old Spaghetti Westerns so it fits alright.
The other really nice thing about the sound is that Thomas and Ray actually come across as brothers having a conversation. The lines have a good bit of substance behind them and it really seems like the voice actors got into the game. There is one other really nice thing that I wish more games would utilize: they don’t just congratulate each other randomly for good shots. It seemed like the game actually considered just how hard the shot was. I didn’t hear congratulation for easy rifle shots, but I almost always heard a “good shot” for picking off a moving target from 200 feet away.
System Requirements (4 out of 5)
The requirements aren’t too strict for a new game. It calls for 1 gig of RAM, a 256 Mb Video Card, and either a Pentium 4 or Pentium D processor from Intel or anything above 3500 for the AMD Athlon 64 line. I used my XPS with a 2.6 GHz dual processor, 3 gigs of RAM, and an Nvidia 8700M GT card. I was able to run everything on the highest level at 1920 x 1200 resolution. I also suffered very few slowdowns or lag during the single player campaign.
Overall, it seems to just be very well optimized. This is one of the few games I’ve played in which I didn’t have to kill the shadows to play at full speed.
Multiplayer (1 out of 5)
I really wish that the multiplayer was good. I really wanted it to function well. At the moment, it doesn’t.
Before I tear it apart, I’ll go over the basics. There are 4 modes of multiplayer with a number of maps crafted from the game’s levels. They boil down to deathmatch, team deathmatch, objective based team matches, and a protect the VIP game. There are also 8 new classes to unlock as you earn money in the matches. There is actually a lot of room for different gameplay. You can choose to be a sniper, a gunslinger, a demolitions man, or a stealthy native. It could provide some variety. Unfortunately some of the upper classes seem to just offer unfair advantages that unbalance Call of Jaurez multiplayer for the time being.
The real problem is the setup. In my attempts to play, I’ve seen a number of horrible problems. There are apparently no dedicated servers. There were about 14 servers running. 7 were empty. Half of the ones with people on were listed as a bad connection. The ones that were up suffer from absurd problems. There seems to be a weird glitch that causes players to flicker. It’s either horrific server lag, cheating, or a little of both. There’s also no voice chat support and a weird spawn system.
A few clans might make it work, but there is no hope for casual multiplayer without major patching.
Overall (4 out of 5)
Call of Juarez is a bit of a mixed bag in some regards. The single player is quite fun and offers something for everyone. The levels are fresh and challenging. The graphics are nice. The story is interesting. Unfortunately, the multiplayer is terrible. The game is a bit short for the price and there isn’t a lot of replay value. The concentration modes aren’t as satisfying as other slow-mo bullet-time type powers. If you don’t like the duels, then they are game breakers until you win by luck. It will probably still be love it or hate it.
In the end, it’s probably the best Western game we’ll see for a long time though. I personally liked it and found it to be well worth the purchase. Just keep all of the above in mind if you aren’t going to be hooked on the western theme alone.