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Game Review

If someone sauntered up to ya, spit out his chaw and started talkin' 'bout a Western, yer brain might jump to the title of an old Louis L'Amour paperback you once picked up in a used bookstore. Or maybe you'd think of that John Wayne DVD that's collecting dust at the back of your video cabinet. But odds are, a video game probably wouldn't be the first thing that came to mind.

The designers at Ubisoft, however, are hoping their newest title, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, will change all that. It's a hi-def, grab your six-shooter, tumbleweed tale of greed and lawlessness. And in an interesting way, the game's cinematic horse-opera storyline—rife with themes of honor, betrayal, love and even faith—makes this a bit more than just your average M-rated shooter.

The Deadly McCalls
Gamers strap on their holsters and alternate playing as one or the other of two brothers—Thomas and Ray McCall, a couple of rough-and-tumbles who know how to handle a gun and aren't afraid to spill some blood if that's what the situation calls for. The action begins when Ray and a small band of Confederate soldiers battle through Yankee lines to rescue Thomas. When the McCalls are side by side once more, players get a feel for their different gun-blazing ways.

Ray is the bigger of the siblings, and his bull-like traits make him the more slam-bam of the two. When choosing him to play through a chapter, gamers wield duel pistols, kick down doors, toss dynamite and even hoist a Gatling gun to blow opponents away.

Quicker on his feet, Thomas is a better choice when a more stealthy approach is called for. He can use a lasso to climb up in a tree or scramble to the top of a building to take out foes with a long-range rifle or silent bow. He's also an expert with a sneaking, close-up blade attack.

Once they fulfill a requisite number of kills, both brothers can click into a concentration mode which slows down time and allows quick trigger-flicking shots at multiple targets.

From Shoot-Outs to Prayer Books
After the McCalls make it through their initial battles with the Yanks, they realize their family farm is in danger, so they defy orders and run to defend their mother and younger brother, William. And that sets the game's central story into motion. The farm is destroyed, the McCalls' mom dies and a slightly crazed Confederate officer vows to track down and kill the deserters. The three brothers must stay one step ahead of him while setting their sights on a fabled treasure with which they can rebuild the farm.

From there, the action ranges from gun battles with bands of outlaws to running from pursuing Apaches to quick-draw shootouts with a vengeful sheriff and other gunslingers.

That's to be expected in this kind of game. It's the addition of younger brother William that stirs things up.

William is a man of the cloth and not only is he averse to his brothers' death-dealing, bloody ways, he's dead set on bringing them to the "light of the Lord." The results of his words of faith, a humbling failure and ultimate sacrifice are what give the game a totally unexpected redemptive twist.

Still Bound in Blood
But a redemptive twist doesn't mean redeemed. To get to final scenes of grace, gamers have to wade through a tide of death and destruction that's about six feet high. Blood flow is limited to a light spray when shots find their marks, but bodies pile like cordwood throughout.

Foul profanities boom out, too. F- and s-words—along with just about every other vulgarity you might expect from a typical R-rated spaghetti Western—assault players at every turn. And even though William's faith is a big part of the plot, it doesn't stop other characters from regularly blaspheming God's name.

Add in crude jokes, lusty references and sexual innuendo, and you've got an unnecessarily messy game-world version of the wild and wooly West.

I guess it's back to John Wayne and Louis L'Amour.

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Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC




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Bob Hoose Trent Hoose

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