The Call of Juarez games were pretty good Western games; a genre that until relatively recently was underrepresented. Call of Juarez and its sequel, Bound in Blood have gone on to attain niche, cult following – which makes developer Techland’s decision to fast-forward the series to a modern setting rather unusual. More unusual is the fact that it looks and plays nothing like its forebears – but that needn’t be a bad thing.
A gritty, harsh First person shooter, it bears little resemblance to the Call of Juarez games you know (and possibly love) – except perhaps for that fact that one of the game’s protagonists, Ben McCall, wears a cowboy hat. He’s one of three selectable characters you can play the game as. He’s a tough-as-nails, justice-dispensing 30 year LAPD veteran (and a direct descendant of the McCalls from the Bound in Blood). He’s joined by Kim Evans, a rising FBI agent and former hood rat and Eddie Guerra, a DEA agent with his own problems. Together, you make up a secret inter-agency task force whose job it is to find a leak in local law enforcement and bring down the cartels that run drugs, guns and human traffic between Mexico and the western US coast of Los Angeles.
Not my favourite genre, First person shooters – but this one adds a few interesting mechanics to the mix. Firstly, pistols can be dual-wielded, removing the accuracy that comes looking down your sights, but adding to your death-dealing and feeling of bad-assery. Killing enemies – of which there are many in the game’s many cinematic gun battles – increases a concentration meter, which when full allows you to enter a short, bullet-time mode, allowing you to accurately kill a room full of enemies in lightning-quick time. There are a few co-operative gameplay elements too; In order to proceed through some of the heavier gunfights, your partners will provide covering gunfire allowing you to move between pre-designated cover spots – and you’ll be expected to do the same. At key moments you’ll also have to breach certain areas, so you and your partners will have to move in to position to throw open the doors.
It’s heavily focused on 3 player co-op, and though you can run through it with AI partners, it’s best experienced as a threesome. The three agents don’t particularly trust each other, and each agency has its own agenda. In fact, this distrust and separate motives provide the basis for one of the game’s most interesting mechanics. During missions each character will periodically be tasked with performing covert mission or secret agendas given by their respective agencies, sometimes to the detriment of your partners – which you’ll have to carry out without being spotted by your teammates. You, in turn, will have to watch out for your partners’ underhanded shenanigans. Successfully completing these secret missions nets you points, while getting caught red-handed gets them deducted from your end-of level score. The points are used to unlock new guns – so it’s worth trying to do as many as you can. To further increase the tension during co-op sessions, players will be tasked with challenges, such as to be the first to kill the most enemies or be the most accurate. It all comes together to create an uneasy tension that’s mostly lost when you’re playing solo.
The Cartel is a little rough around the edges, and there’s far too much unnecessary and gratuitous swearing (McCall, for example, says a delightfully oedipal epithet every time you enter concentration mode) but I have to admit I had a heck of a lot of fun playing through a handful of its varied missions. It’s especially enticing as a co-op game, so if you can convince two of your friends to buy the game, you’re certain to have a blast with it when it releases at the end of next week. It may not be set in the old west any more, but if developer Techland’s managed to keep the spirit of what made the Call of Jaurez games so enticing and keeps the 3-player co-op interesting through the whole game, they could have a winner.
Call of Juarez : The Cartel releases for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on July 22 2011.
Last Updated: July 13, 2011