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Hands On: Call Of Juarez: Bound In Blood

This week I had a chance to play through the first few levels of an unfinished build of Call Of Juarez: Bound In Blood. My impressions of the forthcoming cowboy gunslinger meander hazily in the sunset below. (Cut to: distant jangle of campfire guitar on the prairie...)

The modern FPS seems determined to make sure that we are not alone. In Call Of Juarez we get to play through the shooty exploits of two Confederate brothers, Thomas and Ray McCall, the stepfather and step-uncle of the original game's Billy Candle. These chaps aren't exactly Gordon and Alyx when it comes to charms, but nor are they Clint Eastwood loners: they need each other to overcome obstacles, pulling each other up onto ledges, or entering a dual gun-fighter mode where they both hit a slow-mo six-shooter sequence to kill off a swarm of enemies in a single blaze of gunfire. This is, like Gears of War, or Army of Two, a buddy game, with you having a choice between buddies as you play. And yet for some reason not a co-op game: odd.

Anyway, "concentration mode", is the core trick of the fancy shootin' (it can be performed solo, or scripted with gun-chum), allowing you to make precise kills in slow-mo, or to select a number of targets to be rapidly gunned down. It takes on two modes - one with you pinpointing a bunch of dudes you'd like to be dead before the timer is up, and another getting you to fire rapidly as your gun passes over some targets. So it's not quite the same as it was in the original game, but it nevertheless adds that veneer of near-supernatural gunfighter talent that is fundamental to cowboy lore. It also gives this game a mini-game challenge feel that you don't tend to see in FPS.

Of course it's still a game that is largely down to straight-up gun-fights: hundreds of combatants face off against Ray and Thomas, and staying alive becomes a factor of quick reactions - earning kills to charge up the concentration mode - and use of that power-up to overcome particularly nasty moments. It's also remarkably forward in its use of a cover system: you'll find yourself "attaching" to specific bits of scenery as you get close, and leaning around them with mouselook, rather than lean keys. It's a peculiar sensation at first, but it seems to work: giving you an analogue alternative that binary up/down of the traditional crouch-toggle-behind-box. I found pinpointing enemies occasionally tricky - the start of the game is rather grimy and murky - and was thankful when concentration mode had charged back to full.

That's not to say that is this an ugly game. There's barely a moment passes without some tremendous moment of Midwest spectacle: you start with the battered Confederate defences of the Civil War South and then head west, through seven shades of carnage. As Alec noted in his previous look at the game, developers Techland are taking the challenge of the scripted FPS very seriously, and even without the fully-automatic ordnance of the modern world they're conjuring up a very violent, wonderfully smoky, explosion-filled world. Linear, yes, but heavy on the dudes-eviscerated and the gunpowder detonated.

So it looks like this will be a very solid shooter indeed. What is more worrying, however, is that the wild esoterica of the original has not returned for this game. This feels more traditional than the original, despite sitting in the relatively untouched Western genre. The concentration mode is the only notable vestige of that original outing, with the disappearance of Revered Ray's fire and brimstone Bible-carrying rabble-babble is a genuine loss for the character of the series. This does appear to be a far more polished, technically accomplished game, but I wonder if the mad verve of the original, and its broken charm, will evade Bound In Blood.

We'll find out for certain in a couple of months time: Call Of Juarez will be published by Ubisoft on Friday July 3rd.

Oh, and this is the most recent trailer:

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And here's some of my favourite cowboy music to get you in the mood:

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