With the runaway success of Red Dead Redemption, and, at the cinema, the Oscar-nominated True Grit, Westerns would be appear to be very much on the agenda in recent times. So what has Polish outfit Techland done with their slightly popular Wild West franchise? Turned it into an 80's action movie, of course. The Cartel is, to put it mildly, something a departure from the first two instalments. Whereas the original game had you hiding in the bushes with a whip, the second had you wandering round frontier towns; number three will see you careering down four lanes of traffic toting a machinegun.
Not so much A River Runs Through It, as a great big fucking freeway. This is drummed home in the intro, which shows a clichéd view of the Wild West and its distinctive rock formations, before the camera pans out to reveal that we're looking at a poster and the real location is thick with traffic. It's a neat conceit that prepares you for what's ahead, namely a modern Western. Or as Ubisoft/Techland's somewhat clumsy tagline asserts: The Wild West Lives On In Modern Days.
Out go the Native Americans, in come the Mexicans, and we are literally told by a Frenchman - that Mexicans are the new Indians. The game has already garnered some controversy due to the ongoing drug wars in Mexico, with some officials calling for it to be banned. (By unfortunate coincidence, one of the major traffickers from Mexico to the US is called The Juarez Cartel). The Call Of Juarez series probably doesn't have the profile or marketing budget for any major hullabaloo, but drug-related issues aside, there is also some treatment of Mexicans that wouldn't be out of place on Top Gear: at one point, a reticent suspect is asked, "You got beans in your ears, asshole?" Lovely stuff.
In gaming terms, the real controversy lies in the present day Los Angeles setting. It's still a Western, we're told, "a lawless world where good guys fight against bad guys and let the bullets speak for them." Apparently, Westerns feature "Real Men," and to emphasise this we're shown a picture of Clint Eastwood and also one of hard-hitting cop show, The Shield. Presumably this is a subliminal attempt to induce the media-friendly soundbite: 'Clint Eastwood meets The Shield.'
What really happens is that three maverick cops meet each other and embark on a "hellish road trip" that spans 16 co-op missions. The entire game is played co-operatively, either with the AI or with drop-in/drop-out humans. As such, you'll have to choose your character at the beginning of the game and stick with them throughout, although unlike the previous games there are no tangible mechanical differences between them.