When Ubisoft announced that a new Call of Juarez game was in development by Techland, it wasn't all that surprising. After all, the franchise has carved out an audience for itself due to its first-person depiction of the Wild West era. However, when they announced that it would be called Call of Juarez: The Cartel, and would take place in a modern day setting, many people were left rather stunned. It sounded rather cool, but many people wondered if the entire premise of the game, what made it stand out in the first place, would be lost as a result.
When sitting down to see the game first-hand, this was one of the first things that Ubisoft gave assurances about. They were keen to stress that despite it being set in the modern day, the Wild West was very much alive. Horses have been replaced by bikes, there are still wars between different tribes and there plenty of guys around who want to kick some ass first and ask questions later.
Focussing again on the story of a McCall (a descent of the McCalls in Bound in Blood), you'll start off in Los Angeles and end up in the town of, you guessed it, Juarez, as you try to uncover a huge conspiracy. Ben McCall is actually part of the LAPD, and he's accompanied by a guy named Eddie Guerra and a girl named Kim. Because of the whole conspiracy thing, three organisations are tasked with uncovering it, as none of them trust each other. Eddie is with the DEA and Kim is with the FBI.
Due to this, all three characters will be present at all times, allowing for some nice friendly banter as they go through the story. It also means that there will be drop-in, drop-out, 3-player co-op action. When doing so, each character will also have their own sub-plot. For example, if you jump in as Eddie, you might be privy to some conversation trees that the other characters aren't aware of.
The gameplay looks as though it will be fairly similar to the previous Call of Juarez titles in terms of look and feel. There are some additions though - namely the different guns you have to play with now. Melee combat has also been introduced, as because of the times, you can't just go shooting at random citizens in the street.
We saw two very different situations - one, an investigation which started off with a fist fight with some bouncers, lead into a fire fight in a night club and culminated with a high-speed car chase. Another, face off in a traditional Wild West setting, except now with back-up sniper rifles, armoured people carriers and driving scenes.
It looks as though Techland really want Call of Juarez to carve a name for itself as a full-on brand, not just as "that first-person shooter in the Wild West", and if they can make all the different gameplay elements marry together nicely, who's to say that The Cartel won't help it break the mould? When the game releases during the Summer of 2011 on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, we'll have to see for ourselves.