Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood: Early Impressions

So this is a really premature judgement on my part. I’ve only played the game for an hour or so, entirely on the first level, but it did not make a good first impression.

I’d heard it was a good shooter, I think from Justin McElroy, so I gave it a degree of respect to start off. Since there are four difficulties (although only three are unlocked from the start) I chose one level below the hardest, which, in this case was Hard. I’m pretty good at shooter, and so this should be the appropriate difficulty level for me. Instead, I was getting absolutely clobbered. I had trouble taking out even a single enemy that was behind cover.

The mechanics were weird and frustrating. It’s got standard right-trigger shoots, left-trigger aims down sights controls. But aiming down the sights makes everything very aggressively blurry, to the point where I couldn’t tell what I was aiming at, and had to judge shots just by the colour of the aiming reticule. Standing anywhere near fire also aggressively blurred everything. It doesn’t help that the level takes place in a brown mess of a trench environment, making the blurring effect even more visually unpleasant.

The control scheme is tremendously kludgy, and I suspect it was brought over from the PC version of the game. First of all, there’s the basic issue of right-bumper switching weapons, y-button reloading, and x-button interacting. This can’t be customized, and is close to, but not quite like the configuration used in any other shooter.

You can carry two one-handed weapons, a two-handed weapon, and an explosive. A normal game would handle this with three configurations for this (or, even better, two configurations plus a separate quick-throw button for the explosives) that would be accessible via the d-pad. Call of Juarez inexplicably chooses to invent six configurations (two-handed weapon, dual-wielding the single-handed weapons, single-wielding each of the one-handed weapons, and each of the one-handed weapons plus the explosives) and have a single button to pick between them. Holding right bumper brings up a weapon wheel, but unlike games like Bioshock, Call of Juarez doesn’t have the courtesy to pause the action while the wheel is up. Tapping the bumper cycles through the six options. Yes, that’s right, it cycles. Other games with too many weapons (again, Bioshock comes to mind, but others do it too – the Orange Box implementation of Half Life 2 on 360, for example) use a button tap as a quick-swap, so that you can quickly jump between your two most recently used weapons. But apparently that didn’t occur to the developers of Call of Juarez. So I’m stuck either bringing up the wheel, or cycling through a who bunch of redundant configurations in order to get to what I want. During combat. Thanks for that. I think this system came over from the PC, where just hitting a number from 1 to 6 is far less cumbersome.

Then there’s the bullet-time effect. I’m not happy with its implementation either. It’s one of these things where it’s built up by killing enemies, and then you only get one use of it before having to start building it over again. In principle, this could lead to some strategic play. Do I blow it now, or save it for when I really need it? The thing is, once the meter’s full, it appears that you only have a minute in which to use the effect or else it’s gone. So, forget any thought of using it strategically.

There’s a weird automatic contextual cover system that also feels weird. You get close to a piece of cover and your character ducks behind the cover or peaks out to shoot based on where you’re aiming. Look up at the sky and he’ll crouch down, look ahead and he’ll pop up. But it means that the system is incompatible with the manual crouch button. It also creates a degree of uncertainty, where I’m not sure how far I can look down before I’ll be exposed. I feel like this system also came from the PC, since it requires large, accurate swings in aiming to use effectively, something that’s hard with a joystick but much easier with a mouse.

What else? On the technical front, I feel it’s a little off-putting that the game hitches up every time it hits a checkpoint. The level design was pretty uninspiring, with lots of corridors and allies standing in the way to gate progression.

So, yeah, I just don’t get it. I’m willing to try again on Normal difficulty (of course, I’ll have to start over – no chance of there being on-the-fly difficulty changes, even though I doubt the difficulty level changes anything but player life and enemy accuracy). But consider my hopes and expectations dashed.

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