Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for I am f***ing awesome. If the mark of a good western FPS is making you feel like the most badass gunslinger this side of Tucson, Bound in Blood is the best yet. It's also a massive improvement on the 2006 original. Chances are you never played that, which is a shame. Call of Juarez was, if not a genuine diamond in the rough, at least a pleasant enough cubic zirconia. It had a decent story and solid shooting, marred mostly by godawful stealth sequences and infuriating stop-start action.
All that's gone for this prequel, replaced with action closer to Call of Duty than Juarez. It's explosive set-piece after explosive set-piece, all wrapped in a cliché-soaked but effective story of two brothers torn apart by greed, ambition and betrayal. Oh, and a pretty girl, of course.
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Lovesick or not, both brothers are raging death machines to the end. As outlaw Thomas McCall, you spit testosterone, chew bullets and bathe in raw cordite. His older sibling Ray makes him look like a snivelling little pussy, taking on mobs of angry locals like a cranky bulletproof tank. Most levels give you a straight choice of who to play, with the second brother acting as wingman. As the agile one, Thomas is all about clambering around the scenery with a lasso and taking out enemies at a distance with a well-placed rifle shot. Ray excels up close, kicking down doors and unleashing hell with his six-shooters and a fistful of sizzling dynamite.
These differences work well, but only up to a point. The levels and story are the same regardless of which brother you choose each stage, making it a choice based on playing style rather than tactics. Only occasionally does your path notably change due to your character's specialist skills, and even then, rarely for long, with many of the differences between the two ending up oddly ignored.
Thomas is meant to be able to use stealth and hurl knives for silent kills, for instance, but aside from the tutorial bit to show you how to do it, it's largely forgotten in favour of zero-subtlety assaults. On Ray's side, the cover system is fiddly and irritating, especially since you can usually get away with just ducking behind a box while your health recharges.
Luckily, the standard combat is satisfying enough that this doesn't matter. The pistols are often popguns, but switch to Thomas' rifle and Ray's dual-guns and it becomes satisfying indeed. Some recurring annoyances threaten the fun at times, such as the overpowered snipers on many of the rooftops and the fact that the AI-controlled brother can die (if you get too far away, it's guaranteed) and force an unceremonious reload. But these are few and far between, and rarely derail the momentum. The fifteen levels rip past at just the right speed.
If there's one problem with the main characters, it's that they're almost too powerful unless you crank up the difficulty. On standard, you rarely need to concern yourself with cash and buying gear. It's strange though that you can't just steal what you want, in much the same way that you can't just shoot the bosses instead of enduring the awful gunslinging minigame that keeps showing up like yesterday's salmonella. You're an outlaw for Christ's sake (literally in the case of one character). If anyone asks: lie!
Bound in Blood is a much more enjoyable experience than the first Juarez. It lacks some of the whimsy (such as Ray massacring whole towns while quoting scripture) in favour of focusing on the shooting, but it's a good trade. As for other games, it's far more satisfying than previous westerns like Gun and Red Dead Revolver, even if its set-pieces never quite make it to the Modern Warfare high benchmark.
An outstandingly manly FPS. Excellent shooting and terrific production values. A great reminder of how the west was fun.