Call of Juarez: The Cartel Preview

Call of Juarez: The Cartel Preview

  • By: CM Boots-Faubert
  • Posted 24th Mar 2011

Call of Juarez: The Cartel

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The Call of Juarez series was one of several game series that helped to re-establish the Western as a legitimate -- and popular -- setting for video games. The Western-themed first-person shooters of the series were widely accepted by both gamers and critics/reviewers, though a valid point was made with respect to Bound in Blood having what felt like an abbreviated single-player story mode -- an issue that was often raised by reviewers.

The series began with the game that established the name -- Call of Juarez (2007), and presented gamers with a narrative-driven tale of the legend of the Gold of Juarez -- a literal King's Ransom that was collected to free Moctezuma, a hostage of the Conquistadors.

Due to circumstances and disaster the treasure was lost long ago, but the story of it was enough to drive many men to attempt to find the Aztec treasure, a treasure that is rumored to be cursed, and that cost many lives in the search for it

The protagonists -- Billy and Ray -- are an unlikely partnership whose relationship is based upon a series of love/hate events and who, in the end, appear to be intertwined by destiny, or fate -- call it what you will.

The next game in the series -- Bound in Blood (2009) -- is a prequel to the previous game, but the dynamics revolve around a rather similar plot.

The McCall Brothers present as the protagonists, with Juan Mendoza (AKA Juarez) factoring as a main character and antagonist. The focus in this one is another treasure -- the Lost Treasure of Cortez, -- and culminates in the events that caused Ray to join the priesthood, filling in a lot of the blanks from the previous game as well.

We tell you all of that because while none of it really applies in The Cartel , which is set not in the old West but in modern-day Mexico, it is helpful to be aware of the background and history of the previous games to better understand the spiritual link present in this one.

The classic old-west feel of the previous games is replaced with a vivid but no less appealing presentation of the modern wild-west. Despite being cut off from its roots as a bang-bang-shoot-'em-up outlaw story, The Cartel nonetheless delivers where it counts, and while the amount of the story we were able to experience as we played the all-too-brief demo was not sufficient to permit us to offer a definitive opinion on it, we suspect that the story will be every bit as deep and cohesive as that of the previous games.

Like many gamers when we first heard that Techland was developing the game as a modern FPS title rather than sticking to its historic roots, we were afraid that it would end up being a shadow of itself, and that it would lose the energy and the strong character-identity and place of the previous story lines -- but now that we have played the game at PAX East, most of those fears are gone.

Obviously with the passing of a century of time we will not be seeing any of the characters from the previous games -- but one of the protagonists in this new game is a peace officer named Ben McCall, a descendant from the McCall clan who establishes the connection between the previous games in the series and this one with a tacit link.

The developers made a significant attempt to retain the character qualities between the previous games, but as much of the meat of those stories was vested in the environment and in a social structure that is no longer present in the region in the modern era, the character of Ben McCall is somewhat washed out in the sense that it lacks the bigger-than-life punch that we found in Billy and the McCall brothers. Still, they did do a nice job in giving Ben a unique if ghostly relation in developing his persona, which means casual gamers will likely not be disappointed here.

Game Play
Up to three players take the role of law enforcement agents and do battle with the drug cartels that even now make the border towns of Mexico among the most dangerous places on earth, and the backbone of the game is the three-player, drop-in, drop-out co-op mechanism that has you playing with two of your mates as the two-man, one-woman team determined to bring the fight to the very heart of one of drug cartels who have turned the region into a battle-zone.

The two levels that we were able to play at PAX East perfectly showcased the width of the game, with the first featuring gun play and the range of motion in a hostage rescue scenario, while the second demonstrated the vehicles and dynamic shooting that clearly remains true to the roots of the series.

Playing The Cartel should mean sharing the adventure with two mates online, and while this formula has been tried before with varying success, it may really work in this game, and if it does it will surely add to our enjoyment rather than detract from it -- though you can still play the story mode of the game single player if you do not have -- or want -- mates to play with...

The different elements of the game that are intended to define it as a modern era Western were not all present in the demo, so it is difficult to say whether or not Techland has succeeded at that stated goal, but even if in the end it turns out to be a modern FPS Action-Adventure game set in the Southwest, it still showed enough quality and intensity in the brief parts that we saw to warrant considering it a must-play for 2011.

We were told that the game can be played as a mixture of single-player using the AI, and multi-player with your mates dropping in upon invitation, and if that works it will certainly add to the fun in this title, but there is one aspect that must be carefully considered if you are a fan of the previous games in the series -- and that is the setting.

The Cartel is set in the modern era -- be absolutely clear on that -- and cars have replaced horses, Mexican drug dealers have replaced Native Americans, and what morality you will find in the game is a fluid mixture based upon the personalities of three widely disparate law enforcement agents whose only common bond are the badges they carry.

In the end we saw just enough to tell us that we want to see more, but not enough to allow us to form a finished opinion of the game.

Official Title: Call of Juarez: The Cartel
Developing Studio: Techland
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: Summer 2011
Platforms: Xbox 360 / PS3 / Windows PC
Genre: FPS / Action-Adventure
Ratings: M for Mature