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Techland's Blazej Krakowiak speaks with us about Call of Juarez's new direction...
From lawless crooks of the Old West to present-day lawmen, Call of Juarez: The Cartel really has moved the series' setting and time frame in radical new directions. The themes remain similar though, once again sprawling across the west coast of America into the northernmost reaches of Mexico and featuring just as many cowboy hat wearing, gun-toting nogoodniks. Following a recent first look preview of this third Call of Juarez instalment, we caught up with Techland's Project Coordinator on the game, Blazej Krakowiak...
How recent is the build we saw at the preview event?
This was an alpha-level fragment of the game prepared especially for the presentation. Techland's work methodology is a little different so you can expect more changes and improvements than you normally would between alpha and release.
The city sections on display in the demo seemed to be fairly linear. Will there be opportunities to explore urban areas more freely?
The Cartel is not a sandbox game. It's built around the 3-player co-op and it has to work for 1, 2 or 3 live players at all times. Sometimes the characters split up and cooperate from a distance but there's always the urgency of the task at hand and of the unfolding storyline. They literally don't have the time to explore the city and besides they know it very well. Aside from the in-game pacing and dynamics, there's also the issue of keeping the players together and following the objectives. We were happy with the exploration maps in Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood and we know that players liked them but The Cartel simply has a different pace and structure.
What can you tell us about the planned multiplayer modes?
The co-op campaign for three players is very important to us as cooperative play was at the top of the list of requests from fans of the previous CoJ games. There is a competitive multiplayer mode in The Cartel but we will present it closer to the game's release.
How will gameplay in rural areas differ to action in the cities?
There is no general rule, only the natural flow of action and story within the game. You will see more combat at extended range outside of the city limits, more opportunities to use vehicles and, since there are fewer witnesses, even more heated firefights.
How much work is left to be done on the in-game A.I. and animation?
We're working on both.
Will you be able to commandeer any vehicle in the game?
We considered adding many different types of vehicles but in the end we decided to stick to cars because that way we could ensure that in co-op all players could get into the same vehicle and stick together. A high-speed car chase with two other players shooting from the windows while you drive is a great, classic experience.
What gameplay feature would you single out as unique to Call of Juarez 3: The Cartel?
We already mentioned the 3-player co-op. This is one of the key new features in The Cartel. It's a drop-in/drop-out functionality which works great for 1, 2 or 3 live players. Whenever one of them must quit the game, a competent AI is ready to take over immediately. Making the game and the story work around this was a pretty big challenge. We also added more co-op enabled features: the trademark Concentration Mode is back and now it works for all 3 characters. When one team member triggers the CM, the others get the bonus as well if they're close. The Team Entry allows tothers to join a character preparing to breach a room full of enemies to concentrate the team's firepower.
We also have a very interesting feature called Team Cover: whenever our characters encounter fortified opposition one character can start shooting and automatically switch to covering fire mode. When the enemy is suppressed, the shooter orders the other two characters to move and flank the enemy. While reloading, the character warns the others to take cover for the moment. This is all done using in-game voiceovers and it works just as well with AI or live players. As you can see, it's a mix of the fan favorites put into overdrive and new ideas. If I had to pick one feature as the most important one, the 3-player drop in/drop out co-op would win.
What was behind your decision to leave the 'Old West' of previous Call of Juarez games behind in The Cartel?
We wanted to do something interesting with the franchise once again. With all the experience and, you might say expert point of view, Techland has after working on Wild West games for so long, we knew that Wild West wasn't about time and place but rather about the attitude. When asked about Bound in Blood and the relevance of the genre in today's world, we always confidently claimed that its values were universal and The Cartel is a way to prove that. We still have the iconic locations and landscapes, changed by an occassional road, motel or gas station but still giving the same feeling of freedom and space. We can still see modern gunslingers featured in the most popular TV shows and movies: real men who dispense justice as they see fit. Neither black nor white, those characters are compelling to watch and follow. We still have the dark, mature tone of stories set in a lawless world. All that and the Western treatment we're giving the game from the art direction point of view should be both familiar and refreshingly exciting for the fans of the series.
There's also the whole new set of opportunities: while the iconic Western sights are still to be found, we can now use even more varied environments, integrating the modern elements into some of them. The urban landscape is a very interesting setting for the story and we also want to give it its own Wild West flavor. We traded horses for cars which means that we can move around more quickly. There's also the modern arsenal of weapons at our disposal.
We can't reveal too much from the the way the story unfolds but the important thing to remember is that The Cartel for us is still a Western through and through.
The McCall brothers weren't always likeable in Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. Have you gone down a similar path with the protagonists in The Cartel?
Characters who are neither black nor white are a crucial part of the Western genre. The protagonists in The Cartel are law enforcement officers but they're not exactly saints. Their motivations, personalities and attitudes make them more interesting and human. This is one of the things we like and consider important in our games. You can expect the same great quality of writing and voice acting in the third game in the series.
Do you have a response to the Mexican town of Ciudad Juarez's recent calls to have the game banned throughout Mexico?
There is only one reasonable response: please find out what the game is actually about before you judge.
TVG would like to thank Blazej Krakowiak, Techland's Project Coordinator on Call of Juarez: The Cartel, for taking the time to speak with us about the game, which is due out this summer on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.
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