Heed the Call… Or Not
Posted by deckard47 on July 16, 2009
I’m about to go into a bit of a blackout, working and blogging-wise ( and I bet you won’t be able to tell the difference!). For reals though, I will be back at full capacity(or perhaps, stronger than ever before) on the 22nd. I know, it’s a long time. Luckily for you, I bear greetings from the land of Juarez, to lessen the sting of this news. Hopefully I’ll soon bare tidings from the first new Monkey Island episode, but you’ll have to wait a bit for that.
So, Bound in Blood, then. I was amused by the relationship on display, that of the three McCall Brothers. We have Thomas, the “sensitive” (he kills slightly less people), “attractive” (is it the stache?), blue-jeans wearing brother. He’s so sensitive, he totally has sex with lots of women. Right.
Next is the youngest McCall, William. He is a priest, and thus gets some floppy emo hair, and spends all of his time complaining about how evil his brothers are, and how God really does love them (which is wrong, no god could love Thomas and his stache). Of course, his earnest, priestly demeanor is shaken when he is (no!) forced to kill a man, rocking his preconceptions, and his world. Yeah, it’s pretty contrived.
Next we have Ray, the eldest McCall. Ray is the “mean” one, the one who enjoys being mean and killing people (a bit) more than his brother does. Ray is constantly angry that Thomas keeps on “stealing his women.” I guess we’re supposed to be interested in this hilariously manufactured brotherly strife, but it just comes off as offensive and trite. Oh no, they’ve just met a totally hawt woman named Marisa (you could cut her totally authentic “Mexican” accent with a knife). They both want to have sex with her! But, she (in a horrible, painful cutscene) tells Thomas that she has “fallen in love with him.” I don’t know what to say. Was it the stache, the killing, or the jeans?
Unfortunately, not only does Ray want to have sex with Marisa, but both brothers must contend with her equally”ethnic” boyfriend, the pointedly dark-skinned “Juarez.” As is always the case, in games, his skin is quite dark, and his accent thick (it sounds likea B-side from a South Park), while her skin makes Sheva’s look dark by comparison. Also, I wanted to warn any of you who are suffering from sea-sickness or vertigo not to watch the cutscenes featuring Marisa. She (in her normal walking animation) swings her hips so much, you’re afraid she’ll injure her comrades.
And I haven’t even gotten to the representation of Native Americans ( everyone, regardless of background, refers to them as savages). Suffice it to say, if you want an inoffensive, progressive portrayal of Apaches, Navajo, and Cherokee people (the tribes that are lucky enough to be included in this game), you’re better off watching something more accurate and insightful, like the Indian in the Cupboard or The Last of the Mohicans. Which is depressing.
All of this, and I’m still playing, and I still like it better than Resident Evil 5. I’m not sure why this brand of cultural ignorance is less offensive to me, but it’s definitely less barf-inducing. Oh, and before we get off the topic, the game’s portrayal of Antebellum America (what there is), the Confederate and Union Armies, and slavery is particularly strange. The only mention of slaves occurs when Thomas and Ray return home, to find their farmlands burning. Thomas asks (when Ray says “farmer so-and-so is dead”) simply “Slaves?” Ray replies in the negative, and does so once more when Thomas repeats the query when they find slaughtered cattle.
The only other moment when we hear tell of slaves is when the diabolical Confederate Leader (dead set on hunting down the deserting McCalls after the war) states that with the treasure of Juarez, he can create a new south, and re-subjugate the “dark-skins,” or something. Really, it’s as if they wanted to point out that Bad Men like slavery. They just forgot to make a point of how your two PCs (player characters, here) Bad Men are quite sure that their missing slaves caused the damage to the farm, at first.
I understand that this is not a weird thing for two returning slave-owning murderers to surmise. It just surprises me that in 2 thousand and fucking 9, we still need these gruff, scarred Bad Men growling about their slaves, their money, and the sex they want. I get it, guys, cowboys are iconic. The fact that no one can think up of another kind of hero for this time period is beyond stupid. Think of all of the people who aren’t white slave-holders. Think of all of the people who you could play as, whose stories would be every bit as violent and unpleasant (because that is a constant, it seems). Right off the bat, a story about a Native American fighting against the “settling” of America seems pretty fucking resonant. The same could be said for any number of oppressed groups (like those slaves, and those free black people, who the McCalls are so slightly perturbed about). Of course, if you go there, then you have to think about what should and shouldn’t be a game (plus, you’d have to have an adult, a smart, knowledgeable, socially conscious adult, write your script. I don’t think that’s legal, in most video game companies). Although, if the video game industry is happy with depicting the American assault on Japanese islands in the Pacific, it doesn’t seem like they’d balk at portraying the violence and cruelty that were part and parcel of American slavery and American “settling.”
So how’s the game? Apparently it’s a lot like Call of Duty 4, although I found that game’s pacing and enemy waves to be artificial, merciless, and unpleasant. In Juarez, you never hit those stupid spawning enemy walls. The game is amazingly pretty. Say what you will about the story, the places they’ve created are beautiful in a “natural” feeling way that you hardly ever see in games. It doesn’t feel plastic and empty, falsely empty, like Bethesda’s offerings. It feels empty in a very real way (aside from the bad pop-in and long-distance textures). The gunplay is really quite fun, the corridor-like settings are never around long enough for you to recognize your lack of true mobility, and everything feels just right.
Surprisingly, out of all of the bad, hammy, accented voicework, the person who voices Ray comes out way ahead of everyone else. His character, while a dick, feels like a person who could actually exist, as opposed to William’s earnest, strident preacher, Marisa’s doe-eyed, only-as-ethnic-as-necessary beauty, Thomas’ generic “good guy,” or any of the other characters.
The multiplayer is also tons of fun. In various settings adapted from the game, you can engage in DM, team DM, objective-based play, and a few variations. It should feel pretty mediocre, but the trappings of the setting (and especially the faux old-timey firearms) combine to make everything quite entertaining. Even better, the game features range of classes that can be leveled up over the course of a match, though the experience is not persistent over multiple matches. What is persistent is the experience you’ll earn toward unlocking new, more versatile classes. Unlike so many other MP offerings, this one is a lot of fun, and it definitely has legs (maybe not CoD 4 legs, but then again, what does?).
Call of Juarez is, much to my surprise, a pretty fun game. It’s more fun to play than almost all of the shooters I’ve had the pleasure of playing this year. It’s also, in keeping with almost all major releases these days, highly offensive and unthinking in its characterizations and storytelling decisions. It makes everything John Wayne ever did look only mildly offensive. It’s not horribly, purposefully racist, it’s just horribly, pseudo-knowingly ignorant and bigoted. Which is a shame, because I’d love to like it a whole lot more than I do. Chances are, I should look to another genre for my nuanced portrayal of America in the 19th century, especially with the absolutely adolescent Rockstar aiming its juvenile, “colorful” guns on the setting. At least with Call of Juarez, I’ll have something online to play once I’ve followed the main campaign to its bloody, doubtlessly family-shattering ending. If I’m extra unlucky, Rockstar’s game will give me side-quests where I can ride around hunting down dangerous savages who have made off with white women. And suddenly that sounds hideously possible. I should shut my mouth, in case Rockstar designers are listening.