The major surprise about Call of Juarez 2 is that the "Call of" turns out to be just as important as the Western-evoking "Juarez." For while the first game was a bold melting-pot of stealth, exploration and apocalyptic Bible-quotation, it rather seems like this wants to be Call of Duty: Cowboy Warfare.
It's quite the tonal shift, but it's not hard to see why developers Techland have elected to go in this direction. The public at large, after all, really likes Call of Duty, but both the World War II and modern combat themes do have a certain whiff of over-familiarity to them at times. Cowboys'n'injuns, though? Not a lot of that. With Rockstar's recently-announced Red Dead Revolver 2 on the Arizonian horizon and Neversoft's never-confirmed Gun 2 possibly still in development, it looks like we might be in for something of a Western trend.
Story-wise, CoJ 2 is a prequel to the first game, documenting the events that led to one of CoJ 1's two protagonists, Ray Cooper, become an amusingly OTT fire'n'brimstone preacher. So, we're pinged back to the American Civil War, as Cooper and his brother go AWOL from the Confederate army, only to be pursued by their vengeful former commander. Being both vengeful and a pro-slavery asshat, we can expect this fella to be quite the rotter. In the first mission, however, you're throw into a veryCod-esque 1864 trench battle against the Yankees. It's explosive, it's good-looking and it's pretty intense - a far cry from CoJ1's rough-edged relative quietness.
The stealth character of the first game, Billy, is both gone and lacking a direct equivalent here. Instead, there's a choice of two Coopers - the tank-like Ray, and the more agile, sniperesque Thomas. For most missions you'll get to pick your preferred Cooper, for others a specific bro is mandatory. Sounds ideal for co-op play, but there'll be no such mode - because, apparently, of the inherent troubles of the player's slow-motion powers, and because Ray and Tom eventually turn on each other. Drama!
Techland claim Thomas's grappling hook allows for some rooftop acrobatics, but we'll have to see how that plays out - what I saw was strictly run'n'gun fare. Strictly linear too, but apparently there'll be some greater degree of freedom (details of which they refused to share yet) later in the game.
Doubtless, this'll be related to the horse riding - which is one of several places any COD comparison stops. You might be restricted to specific paths, but the sheer scale of the outdoor locations is startling - vast vistas, very deliberately designed to evoke classic cowboy movie scenery. Adding to this hyper-real sensibility are the aforementioned concentration powers, of which there are four, all of which involve slow-motion to some extent. The dual-pistol, dual-crosshair mode of CoJ1 returns, or you can queue up a bunch of perfect shots in advance then let 'em have it as one quickfire barrage of flawless death. A shoot-from-the-hip duel power sounds perfectly John Wayne, too. Add to that steampunk gatling guns, stagecoach heists, canoe mini-games, a mouse-waggling lasso power and refreshing colourfulness, and we've got something a whole lot sillier than CoD after all.
Call of Juarez 2 may all about the true grit, but it's also knowingly cartoonish. While it's faintly upsetting that a compellingly different series has sidestepped into the mainstream quite so much, hopefully its playfulness in the face of so many oh-so-grey Gears of War and CoD imitators will make it something special. Have a trailer to see what I mean: