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Call of Juarez: The Cartel preview: This means juar

Justin McElroy

I, like many long-time fans I'd imagine, despaired a little bit when I read that Techland was taking their Western franchise in a more modern direction with Call of Juarez: The Cartel. It's a fear the developer is used to addressing.

"When we worked on the other Call of Juarez games, we always believed that there were themes of the Western that are still relevant today," said pitchman Blazej Krakowiak. "This is our chance to prove it."

To hear Krakowiak tell it, the studio isn't trying to drag the modern era into its Western, it's trying to bring the west into the modern era.

Gallery: Call of Juarez: The Cartel | 6 Photos

It's well over 100 years since the events of our last trip to Juarez, and the only noteworthy connection to that world is Ben McCall, a law enforcement agent descended from the McCall brothers of Bound in Blood.

Things have gotten bad in Los Angeles, where an attack on a law enforcement agency by a Mexican drug cartel has citizens calling for the military to take the fight to drug lords south of the border. To avoid this act of war, the U.S. is calling in some bad dudes from assorted law enforcement agencies: McCall, Eddie Guerra and Kim Evans.

The two-man, one-woman team is at the center of one of The Cartel's major hooks in the form of three-player, drop-in, drop-out co-op. This isn't just teammates blowing the enemy to hell though, these are three distinct roles that players can switch between at will.

That said, the desert setting of the hostage rescue could have been pulled straight from a John Ford western.

In one level I was shown, a kidnapped team member attempted to shoot his way to freedom while a second rushed to his aid. In another example, one member of McCall's team raced after drug runners in a high-speed vehicle chase while two others laid down covering fire from the car's windows.

The teamwork aspect manifests in more subtle ways too. Racing between cover spots (identified by a silouette of the player's character) automatically prompts AI teammates to lay down covering fire, a favor you're expected to return.

Not only will you and online friends have to really rely on one another to fulfill certain roles, but you'll have three different perspectives on the campaign, which could provide some compelling reasons for multiple playthroughs.

Now, as far as Techland's earlier promise to make the western modern, it's tough to tell at this point. The club stage my demo began in certainly looked great (it's generated by Chrome 5, the newest iteration of the dev's proprietary engine), but it had little of the grit might associate with the West. That said, the desert setting of the hostage rescue could have been pulled straight from a John Ford western.

I left The Cartel's PAX East demo unsure if this newest iteration will marry the heart of a western with a modern setting. If Techland makes good on their ambitious three-player concept, I doubt I'll remember to care.

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