by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on X360
Another Time, Another Place
Despite having two titles under its belt, the Call of Juarez series has never been spectacular. It was, however, a respectable choice for gamers looking to venture back to the days of dusty saloons and high-noon shootouts in the days before Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption. Now that we've seen how awesome the West can be as a setting, many people want more. Without any word of a Red Dead sequel anytime soon, it seems the time is right for Call of Juarez to grab hold of its six shooter and step into the spotlight, right? Well, not in the way that you'd think. With it's third entry in the franchise, subtitled The Cartel, the series has decided to ditch the old West in favor of modern day Los Angeles and Mexico.
Wild At Heart
Now if you think that one of the biggest and busiest modern-day cities in America might seem like a far cry from the last two Juarez titles, you'd be right. That being said, developer Techland promises that they've kept the West at the game's heart. According to them, they see a lot of parallels running between the wild West and modern day issues. As the announcement trailer states: things change, yet they also don't. Drug cartels are the new outlaws. Whereas people used to fight for gold, they now kill each other for hard cash and dirty drugs. In order to bring good, sometimes you've got to be a little bad. With themes involving dastardly bad guys, good guys that aren't afraid to bend the law, and journeys to strange lands for revenge and justice; it's easy to see that The Cartel is aiming to be a Western with a modern paint job, and not just a modern game with a few western references.
The Cartel will chronicle the journey of three cops as they embark on a 16-mission road trip from Los Angeles to Juarez. There's been a bombing in the US, and all signs point to a Mexican drug cartel being responsible. In an attempt to avoid declaring war, the US assembles a rag-tag team of diverse operatives that they believe can bring justice. So, who are three personas that players will be able to adopt? Well, they certainly appear to be an interesting bunch. First is Eddie Guerra, a sharp dressed gambler with quick wit and a sharp tongue. Next is Vietnam veteran Ben McCall, also the son of a pastor, descendent of Call of Juarez's Reverend Ray, and a person who likes to quote Bible passages while dealing out the damage (although I don’t recall the good book having quite so many f bombs). Rounding out the bunch is a woman named Kim Evans, and FBI agent bent on revenge that bears a striking similarity to actress Halle Berry.
The last title in the Juarez series featured two protagonists and it was a strange and unfortunate omission to leave out cooperative play. It's sequel won't make the same mistake; The Cartel is built from the ground up with co-op in mind. At the start of the campaign the player must pick one character and stick with them for the long haul. It's possible to fill the other two slots with AI bots, but finding two friends to hook up with online is the ideal. Playing with real people that you can speak to and organise strategies with is key as teamwork will be necessary for survival. In situations ranging from driving while your teammates fire out your windows, to running between cover points with only friendly suppressing fire holding your enemies at bay, you'll live and die through communication and coordination. We've seen games like Splinter Cell: Conviction and Army of Two utilize the teamwork focus before, but I'm curious to see how hectic the firefights get and how deep tactical possibilities are with three players involved.
We won't know if the game can deliver on it's promise of successfully blending the Old West and the modern South West until the game ships, but one thing that we can say already is that Call of Juarez: The Cartel has taken some impressive technical steps since the last game in the franchise. For example, an early demo shows our “heroes” enter a bumping dance club. Not only do things look pretty, but the crowd reacts dynamically once gunfire starts to burst out. The game also seems like it will change gameplay up enough to keep things fresh. The story will move from the aforementioned club, to vast outdoor landscapes, to frantic vehicular segments and beyond.
Left To The Draw
Techland is certainly fighting an uphill battle with Call of Juarez: The Cartel. Abandoning its previous setting right at the time it grows ripe for the picking may prove to be a disastrous move. The game could find itself lost in the modern-shooter shuffle and alienate previous fans of the series, or it may breath new life into a series that never quite hit the big time. Left only to fate, I find myself pretty excited to see if The Cartel has reacted to the draw in the right way.