New Kid in Town

Matt Carey has joined Electro Candy as a writer and will assist in providing game reviews.

Matt’s first review for the site will be Batman Arkham Asylum
arkham cover

To whet your whistle, Matt has agreed to let me share with you, a recent example of his writing.

Call of Juarez: Bound In Blood
Call of Juarez Bound in Blood cover

As a genre, the Western hasn’t been overused in video games. Odd when you consider how many movies have been made on the subject over the years. Strangely, the first I can find any details of is an old Atari 2600 title entitled “Custer’s Revenge” in which the main pixelated character had to avoid falling arrows, make his way across the screen and rape a Squaw, handily tied to a cactus. Bad taste huh?

Since this questionable excuse for a game, there have been a few to grace our screens during our puberty and young adulthood, bringing us up to date on the 360. So far, there have been two Stetson-wearing trips down the Old West; the enjoyable but limited Gun and the enjoyable, but only for 5 minutes, Call of Juarez. And it is a sequel to the latter that I find myself reviewing today.

I’m glad to say that CoJ:BiB is a lot more fun. The only thing is, I’m not entirely sure why.

Graphics

The first thing to note is the graphics. I’m a big fan this time round. It’s easy in a game like this to focus on the immediate surrounding foliage and other such decoration, but look beyond the bells and whistles and you realise that as much care has gone on all the way to the Blue Ridge Mountains (Georgia) as they tower menacingly in the distance keeping a watchful eye on proceedings. This is perhaps the first improvement of note as the atmosphere created is of a world that is familiar to you, having seen it multiple times on the silver screen, but keeps itself as alien enough to you as a time gone by should be. From stunning vistas to run down, dirty, dusty Arkansas drink-waters, the level of detail is convincing and engrossing, although not the most advanced in the world. The only real let down occasionally is the character models, that, whilst perfectly adequate in portraying what needs to be portrayed, do have a tendency to once in a while tug back the curtain and remind you that you’re not actually there. This is infrequent, though there are a hundred games out there with vastly superior models, performing much more convincing facial expressions and gestures.

One nice little touch of note is the wildlife. For example, there I was, hiding by a tree, trying not to get shot, when all of a sudden a rather large spider wandered up the bark in front of me. Totally pointless, but a nice little touch nonetheless.

cojbib2 screen 1

I don’t really like harping on too much about sound. Any game that has had half an ounce of care paid to it, no matter the final outcome, pretty much has the sound nailed. So, a Smith & Weston sounds like a Smith & Weston, a horse galloping along the grass sounds like a horse galloping along the grass. The biggest compliment I can give to any game regarding the sound, whether it’s music or effects, is that I don’t notice it. That doesn’t mean it’s crap. Just that it’s doing what it should do and doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. That is, as they say, a good thing.

Storyline

There is very little innovation possible by way of storyline in Westerns. The restrictive settings geographically and historically mean that there is only a few directions a narrative can be taken, so it is with some relief that Bib’s is refreshing, if not wholly original at times. With the game centred around the exploits of the brother protagonists, Ray and Thomas, we find the most refreshing opening two levels in any Western game to date.

It is strange that, considering how important the American Revolution is to American history, very few games have touched the subject matter. Yet here, the story being told unfolds in the midst of the conflict, as you find yourself as one brother in the trenches desperately attempting to hold off the Union onslaught and provide support and rescue to your sibling. Whilst the set pieces are not of Saving Private Ryan quality or scripting, the effect is similar; playing a Western game and immediately being presented with something entirely unexpected is as refreshing as it is enjoyable.

Within these two levels we are taken from the trenches into open woodlands in level one, to broad expansive fields and farmland surrounding small communities in level 2. The thrill of walking around such a large open area with the threat of enemy soldiers appearing from nowhere at any moment is a thrilling one, with the section in a corn field being especially memorable. Very few video games that focus on times gone by truly convey what it must really have been like to be there under those exact circumstances, but BiB does admirably.

It is somewhat of a shame that after this the developers have tried to cram in as many Western clichés as is humanly possible. Robbing banks, high noon shoot outs, run-ins with the sheriff – it’s all here. Thankfully, the storyline wrestles this out of mediocrity.

I’m not going to give too much away on this one, suffice to say there’s a love triangle, and old war commander that “wouldn’t let it lie”, and of course, the obligatory gold all featuring in a multi-layered smorgasbord of storytelling, inter-weaving itself beautifully. It doesn’t always hold together well, but on the whole, a very well developed, multi-faceted plot, with more twists and turns than the last week of transfers in the Premiership.

call of juarez screen 2

Multi Player

And so, on to the obligatory multi-player modes. That I actually tried this time round. It’s fun, but it’s not the most in-depth addictive experience in the world. As you would expect there are numerous game modes, including the obvious team death match. However there are a couple nice little game types in there that, whilst really just variations on similar modes in other games, do provide enough fun for a short while, even with their pitfalls.
As you would expect, there are different character classes available, but instead of being able to upgrade stats and weapons, the game allows you to buy temporary, one match only upgrades.

This seems a bit pointless, but as there is little else to spend your dosh on, aside from more character types, you may as well.
Ah yes. The money. Each player during the course of a game has a wanted level. As you kill more people, your wanted level goes up. When someone kills you, they earn whatever the amount your wanted level is. This is a cracking idea, but again seems a bit pointless when you think how little there is to spend the money on. But then, it’s no more pointless than just getting points, so maybe it’s a good idea badly implemented.

Game Modes

Of the game modes on offer, there are two that really stand out. Wanted and Wild West Legends. The former of these sees the players split into two teams. One person on one team becomes the “wanted” man, and it’s you and your team mates’ duty to ensure they survive for a minute. Do that and you earn a point. Fail, and the opposition get a chance at the same.

Legends is a bit more old school, and is not going to alienate anyone in its simplicity. Go here, rob bank, go here, get horses, escape. Rocket science this is not. But then, it doesn’t need to be. The mode is fun, if somewhat repetitive, and is a nice variation on a tried and tested formula.

Gripes

The biggest gripe I suppose is the controls. They just feel……loose, if that’s the right word. Hey, it’s my review, and I’m gonna stick with it. Anyway, as I was saying, the controls feel loose. It feels like swimming in a river with a strong current. The act of swimming is easy enough, but getting to where you want to go is another thing entirely. Obviously, just walking around is not so much of a problem. Aiming is. Maybe it’s just me, but the amount of times I found myself running circles round a guy, desperately trying to strafe his ass, and missing terribly I might add, was ridiculous.

There also doesn’t seem to be a great deal of variation in weapon strength. I chose to use a rifle, which is obviously a bit stronger than a pistol or two. So, imagine, there I am, face to face with my foe. He has two pistols, I have my rifle. We’re fairly close, and I offload into his chest. Then he pumps four rounds into me and I go down. Now, that doesn’t seem too realistic to me.

Wonky gun logic and weird aiming aside, there is still fun to be had in the multiplayer, and I personally will definitely return to it a couple more times before the game gets traded.

The biggest problem with the game in general is that it just doesn’t grab you. With games like GTA4, or Half-Life 2, the game sucks you in and before you know it, you’re late for work and desperately trying to sound ill on the phone to your boss. With BiB however, you are perfectly content to just do a level to completion, and then turn it off for something more appealing. Even getting the thing in the disc tray seems to be a chore at times. And this is strange. The game is good. Very good on occasion. The flaws are few and far between, and there isn’t much there to criticise.

Yet still, the most I can afford it is an hour at a time, maybe less. I can’t really explain this accurately, but in describing it I would compare it to the Jeremy Kyle show. You’re quite happy watching it for half an hour, but more than that and the incessant shouting idiots from the four corners of the UK gets too much.

Rating

7 out of 10

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