|System: Xbox 360, PS3, PC|
|Release: July 19, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language|
by Robert VerBruggen
From the success of Red Dead Redemption, it's clear that there's an appetite for Western-themed shooter games. The Call of Juarez franchise has been going down this dusty, dangerous, gun-slinging route since its inception, and the upcoming iteration, The Cartel, promises to be the most interesting yet.
The major change here is that the game will keep the Wild West aesthetic of its predecessors, yet will be set in the modern day. The developers have described the story as a "road trip" from Los Angeles to Juarez, and the tale focuses on border violence and Mexican drug cartels. Not surprisingly, the politically incorrect subject matter, coupled with the series' tendency to take things not-so-seriously, has already inspired protests from some interest groups.
All of the gameplay has been built around three-player co-op; if you're playing alone, the A.I. will handle the other two characters. In addition, the single-player mode will tell the story from different perspectives depending on which protagonist you pick, meaning that you have to play the game three times if you want to see all the different cutscenes.
One of those players is the "main" character, Ben McCall, an LAPD detective and a descendant of Ray McCall (the protagonist of the original game). It's interesting how The Cartel's writers managed to update the McCall cowboy persona for the modern day. Ben is a Vietnam War vet getting close to retirement, and he has a temper, a sense of justice, and some loosely-held religious convictions. Hopefully, he will come through as a fully developed character rather than a collection of clichés.
As drug violence spills into the United States, the DEA, FBI, and LAPD team up to take action. (Just try not to think too hard about why the LAPD would be involved in a mission to Mexico.) From there on out, judging by the trailers released thus far, it's a blood-soaked road studded with strip clubs, gangs, violent Tarantino-esque cutscenes, intentionally cheesy one-liners, and shootouts. Presumably, the ultimate goal is to take out the cartel's leader, Jesus. In some ways, it feels almost like the TV show Breaking Bad in how it depicts Mexican cartels, except from the perspective of law enforcement instead of a rival American drug dealer and without all the thoughtful parts.
In addition, there have been some updates to the gameplay since the previous games (2005's Call of Juarez and 2009's prequel, Bound in Blood). It's a long way from L.A. to Juarez—a thirteen-hour drive, according to Google Maps—and that means you won't always be on foot. The previous games' horse scenes will be replaced with car chases. This should be a nice change of pace, but long-time fans will dearly miss riding horses, a staple of Westerns. Perhaps that will be the test of whether this game can succeed. Do people play Western games because they want to experience a different way of life, or do they just like the overall tone and violence?
There will be fifteen missions in total, in which players will grab one of the thirty available weapons and try to accomplish various objectives. Mission types will include raiding drug strongholds, protecting witnesses, and going undercover with drug gangs. There will also be competitive multiplayer modes, but at this point, little is known about them. Hopefully, these will include some interesting vehicle-based and Western-themed modes in addition to the standard deathmatch, etc. Past installments of the Call of Juarez franchise have been known for their superb multiplayer modes, so we're not expecting to be let down on this front.
Graphically, the Call of Juarez series already has some accomplishments under its belt, and early indications are that The Cartel will be no exception. It will be one of the first games to use the Chrome Engine 5 (along with Dead Island), and early videos show detailed environments, well-crafted (if slightly cartoonish, like Saint's Row) character models, and smooth movement. It might not blow the competition out of the water, but it should rank among the better-looking games of this year.
The sound should be another high point, as long as it never crosses the line from delightfully ridiculous to offensively stereotypical. The trailers feature loud gunshots, location-appropriate music, and over-the-top voice acting. (Well, maybe the voice acting is just bad, but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt until I've seen the whole game.)
The West has served as a setting for countless great stories, and it looks like The Cartel could be another one. With a new time period to tackle, some new game mechanics to exploit, and some controversy to draw attention to the project, Ubisoft and Techland should be able to earn The Cartel to some decent respect 'round these parts.
CCC Contributing Writer