The third game in the Call of Juarez series got announced this week, and, initially at least, I was a bit pissed off. The games have been very Old West focused up until this point, and it’s been one of the main selling points, creating these strong worlds and strong characters, and letting them act out their Old Testament justifications and revenges in the barren plains of that iconic time. With this third game, of course, they’ve moved to a modern setting.
Which sounds like a terrible idea. It still could be a terrible idea, we’ll see.
But, the more I think about it, the more it makes at least some sense. If you look at film and tv of the past few years, the big Westerns weren’t really Westerns. I know we had 3:10 to Yuma and True Grit, but we also had Desperado, Firefly and Justified. These were all inspired by that period of time, and took great big swathes of their aesthetic and feel from the famous films, but they jumped ship in terms of setting. Hell, Rodriguez even called the third Desperado film ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico’; you don’t really get a much bigger nod than that.
This is relevant because Call of Juarez haven’t been really enjoyable games because you’re using six shooters and riding horses. Those things are novel, sure, but the real appeal is in the semi-mystical stories, and Reverend Ray spouting out Bible verses while laying down the hurt on some bandits. It was the feel of the game, the quirky-frontiersmanship of it, where Law is just something someone heard of once, rather than a ruling force. And these are things that, while not as well as in an Old West setting, can easily fit into another time period.
Last year we had Red Dead Redemption, and it was brilliant, and it sold like hotcakes. Obviously CoJ doesn’t have the issue of going up against RDR commercially, but it will certainly get compared critically, and maybe that’s not a comparison they’re too eager to make. RDR was a tour de force, and just like you might not want to go up against GTA, switching settings out of the Old West might be a sound business strategy.
Because, as many modern day shooters there are, they’re all pretty heavily in the same camp of military blockbuster. There might be a handful that buck that trend and go for being a policeman, maybe, but from the information released so far, Call of Juarez is going for a drug gang angle, focusing on the Mexican border. This? This is something that we haven’t necessarily seen before, and if they take that same cavalier attitude to body counts and the legality of what they’re doing, there’s the potential for an experience that’s somewhat unusual. And being unusual and original in a tired genre is far more likely to pay off than being unusual and original in an untouched genre. Then, you become just ‘that Western game’. Do something in a modern shooter, and suddenly you’re ‘That Call of Juarez’ game. And you become worth something a bit more, appealing not only to fans of Westerns, but also all those millions of modern shooter fans.
But that’s just the cynical way to look at it.