I won Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood last year at a convention, and so I reminded myself that I haven't played Call of Juarez, the first game. Found it in the local entertainment exchange and started playing it Thursday evening, completed it today afternoon. Short version: Call of Juarez is not without some unpolished, rough edges, but it's an all-around good game, verging on very good in certain ways. Read on for the long(er) version.
The game follows the story of Billy Candle, a young man finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Reverend Ray, who pursuits Billy after going through a major breakdown and deciding it's time to become God's justice, not just his shepard. You play as both characters, often going through very similar or identical locations you first visited as Billy, and then as the Reverend. The two heroes work completely different - Ray is an armoured gunslinger who can take a lot of punishment and deal even more due to his good marksmen skills, while Billy is an agile lad who has to sneak his way out of tough spots more often than not.
As both characters, you will traverse the beautiful world of CoJ, vast, spacious locations including forests, mountain ranges and towns. However, here's my first minor gripe with the game. The locations are big, that's true, but their size does not serve any particular role other than being pretty. What I mean by that is that a) the levels are still linear and there are rarely two or more ways of reaching a goal, and b) the extra space is basically wasted because you can explore it, but there are no secrets to be found in the nooks and unoccupied rooms, no item stashes etc. So it's basically there just for laughs, I guess. That was a bit of a disappointment.
The strongest part of the game is definitely the story. It's truly gripping, the finale is very tense and the plot comes together very nicely. There are no loose ends left by the end of the game, you witness a full, realised story line - and I have to commend the writers because of that. However, this great storytelling is a bit tarnished by the uninspired screens when you fail to do something. You just get a black window saying "You are dead." or "Time has ran out." or something to that effect - this is a lost opportunity for throwing some more character there.
The game has a really nice theme. Not only is it the Wild West, it's a warped version of it, grimmer and less idealised I guess. Everyone's a bastard in this game, in some way or another, and some plot twists really give you a serious feeling that this is not some black and white "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" setting. Plus, the Reverend is such an over-the-top character, balancing a certain strangeness and a real menacing aura with pure awesomeness. The guy wears a piece of plate armour, and confuses enemies by reading excerpts from the Bible for god's sake!
The music is also good. Not stunning in any way, it won't stay in your head for long or anything like that, but when it plays, it fits wonderfully. There are separate themes for tense sneaking, crossing indian country, frantic gunfights and everything else you'd expect from a game.
I've had a lot of fun with Call of Juarez. The length of the game is just right, and the balance of the levels is pretty good - even the sneaking sections were quite bearable for me, though at two or so points they were becoming frustrating. If anything, Call of Juarez is not perfect because of the different elements which are simply not polished enough - but as a game, it stands by itself and is very enjoyable. CoJ gets a very easy, and strong, 7/10, with a tendency toward 8/10. A highly recommended game, which, if polished enough, could have been a truly epic experience. As it is, it is simply very good, a definite must-play for FPS or Western fans.