previews\ Mar 17, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Call of Juarez: The Cartel


Call of Juarez: The Cartel is a three-player co-op shooter that aims to take the Wild West into a modern day setting. Why three players, instead of two or four, you ask? “What's the logic behind two and four?” argued Blazej Krakowiak, brand manager at Techland, while showing off the new game. "When we finished Bound in Blood, one of the main fan requests for the series was online co-op. We decided, why go with two [players]? We had an idea for a story with three characters, so we have online co-op for three players."

The game begins in modern day Los Angeles and tells a road trip story of three lawmen determined to stop the Mexican cartel. If you know the premise, you've probably also heard the controversy surrounding it. "People who talk about the controversy know nothing about the actual game,” says Krakowiak. “As you saw you are playing as cops going against a cartel, there can be nothing wrong with that. On top of that, this is a completely fictional story. There is no political statement intended anywhere.”

Although The Cartel pulls much of its setup from reality, the goal here is a Wild West story. The three protagonists (Ben McCall, Eddie Guerra, and Kim Evans) are the kind of loose cannons that make perfect fodder for unassuming western-style heroes. “They don't always do nice things, but they do what they think is right. The story usually has a dark tone because the characters are struggling with themselves,” explains Krakowiak.

Those who remember the name McCall from previous Call of Juarez games will be happy to know that's no coincidence, either. Ben is a direct descendant of Ray McCall from the original game. He's a less righteous killer than his ancestor, though, putting a cynical spin on the Biblical verses his pastor father taught him. "My sword shall devour flesh, and I will bathe in the blood of my motherfucking enemies," he yells in a street shootout.

While fans of the original games may gravitate towards Ben, he isn't meant to be the main character. "All three characters are main characters, you're never playing as a sidekick. You're always in the spotlight," Krakowiak assures us.

The story moves players from LA to Juarez, with the vast deserts in between bringing the western vibe to life. “When you think about it, the space between Los Angeles and Juarez didn't change that much. Of course there are some cities, there are roads, but there is still a lot of open space,” says Krakowiak. That open space sets the mood, but it's also used to stage the gameplay. One mission we were shown had Ben engaged in a small town shootout, while his two partners sniped from hundreds, if not thousands of feet away. This isn't some gimmicky turret sequence, either—all the players are in full control of the characters, and over the course of the mission, they travel the huge swatch of land to reconvene.

While it might sound like you'll spend all of your time out in the middle of nowhere playing cowboy, the game does have some very modern settings. The other level demoed was an LA night club; the huge crowd and neon lighting was the polar opposite of the Wild West. It also looked very cool. Techland is still using their in-house engine, and while the game is a little rough around the edges in its alpha state, the tech has some tricks at the ready. The nightclub scene was packed to the rafters with people dancing—far more characters on screen than we're used to seeing. Krakowiak said the engine's ability to render massive crowds is something they'll use in the game when appropriate.

The nightclub scene eventually turned into a shootout that escalated outside, where we got to see a few more of the game's co-op tricks. Concentration mode is back, allowing you to enter slow-motion and shoot several enemies in quick succession. Any nearby co-op buddies will also reap the benefits.

During heavier shootouts, it will be important to take cover. In The Cartel, the game helps automate the process by suggesting cover points and encouraging you and your teammates to bound from cover to cover, providing suppressing fire for one another. As the characters bark orders at each other, you can use the cues to move through the shootout successfully—all without the use of voice chat.

Call of Juarez: The Cartel could wind up being a thoroughly enjoyable co-op experience. My one fear right now is that the setting may be too drastic a change for fans of the original. Chasing gang-bangers through the highways of LA in an SUV is more akin to GTA than a western, and the modern crime aesthetic can be a bit overbearing at times. (Naked strippers with mosaics covering their crotch? No thanks.) Still, Techland seems faithful to the western theme. "We felt the Western was more about the mood, the feeling, and the attitude than time and place, and the guy with the six shooter," says Krakowiak.

We won't have to wait long to find out if they've succeeded. Call of Juarez: The Cartel arrives in stores this summer.

About The Author
Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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