Call of Juarez: The Cartel E3 Preview
- By: CM Boots-Faubert
- Posted 11th Jul 2011
Call of Juarez: The Cartel is the upcoming first-person shooter developed by Techland as part of the Call of Juarez series, and is the third game in the series, and the indirect sequel to Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood , the second game in the series.
The Cartel continues the western-themed game world, but rather than taking place in the past as the first two titles in the series did, it is set in modern-day Mexico and the US -- where up to three players take the roles of law enforcement agents who are battling the drug cartels that have turned the US-Mexican border into a very dangerous place to be: Ben McCall, an LAPD detective and descendant of Ray McCall from the previous games; Eddie Guerra, a Drug Enforcement Agency officer; and Kim Evans, an FBI special agent.
The trio are investigating drug cartel kingpin and all-around-nasty-bloke Juan Mendoza -- a man who rules his crew and army of drug smugglers with an iron fist and brutal violence that does not stop short of executing law enforcement officers when the need arises.
The E3 demo of the game saw us getting more hand's-on time through a co-op mission that opened in the city of Juarez over the border into Mexico. Mendoza's soldiers have the trio pinned down in an old church and, despite the obvious risk to life being outnumbered and outgunned, their goal remains unchanged: capture Mendoza and bring him in!
The main focus for the demo was, in addition to the door-breaching sequence which included the game's version of the to-be-expected bullet time effect that all shooters feature today, also focused upon the car-driving and car-chasing mechanisms in the game, as shortly after we broke out of the building the drug kingpin roared off in a lightly armored SUV forcing us to give chase.
That was where the demo began, and as it played out we were treated to a better understanding of the dynamics in co-op play, the individual challenges that have been added to the game that create a sense of competition between the players, and a much more robust sense of place that has appeared since our original demo back in March at PAX East.
As we have previously noted, the classic old-west feel of the series has been replaced with a vivid but no less appealing presentation of the modern wild-west -- though judging by the comments of some of our colleagues and gamers who also demo'd the game and who are fans of the series, this was not the game world that they were expecting or want... Considering that the series was one of several that helped to restore the classic western as a viable game genre, this is easy to understand.
Our own play both at PAX and E3 leads us to the conclusion that gamers who are looking for a repeat of the experience of the previous two games will be slightly disappointed, but those who are willing to judge the game -- its story and the game world -- on its own merits will likely discover much to be pleased with.
An odd aspect to the bullet-time effect in the game that sets it apart from that in most other games is that each of the co-op characters adds their own contribution to the concentration meter that powers it -- and when the meter is activated, the slow-down effect happens for all players at precisely the same time, and they each essentially burn the same meter.
The car chase was another shared element in the game -- one of the three co-op characters drove while the other two tried not to get killed while doing their best to disable the SUV by shooting at it from the rapidly moving perch as passengers. This focused our attention on the gunplay in the game, which felt different from that of the previous titles, and not simply because we were using different and more modern weapons...
The mechanics of shooting brought games like Call of Duty: Black Ops to mind, having a looser and more casual feel to it than in the previous titles, a style that reminded us more of the arcade-like spray-and-pray approach. The connection to games like Black Ops manifested itself in the point-of-view style of aiming, where the background goes out of focus so that the much smaller area that makes up the aiming point becomes the focus of your attention -- but this is not a bad addition to the game to be sure!
As the demo progressed the co-op challenges system appeared -- something new to us -- in which each of the players is presented with specific performance-related goals like being the first person to score a certain number of head-shots, or engage a certain number of enemy in multiple fighting or melee combat. Each player was prompted with the same goal -- hence the competition part -- and the player who managed to achieve the goal received a chunk of extra XP for their trouble, which is a rather unique element and one we suspect will encourage gamers to form regular party-play groups.
An added element to the mission was the addition of a secret goal for each of the players -- an action that only they were assigned and that has certain risks inherent to it, the assignments being not perfectly legal or moral and, as a result, not something you want to be caught doing. While succeeding in carrying out the secret assignment resulted in acquiring a nice chunk of XP as a bonus, getting caught in the process by one of your co-op teammates resulted in the loss of XP, while they gained a chunk for nailing you!
The demo mission eventually took us to a point during which the mechanics of squad-strategy and play were laid out, and we learned that co-op does not just mean that you are playing with other humans, but that you each will be called upon to play specific roles, like laying down cover to allow your teammates to leap-frog ahead to take out strategic targets that otherwise would have wiped your entire group.
It turns out that acquiring XP in the game is actually more important than you might think, since it is the key to unlocking new weapons and better kit, so learning to maximize your score as you play and picking up extra bits of XP as you go is a very smart approach.
Having detailed why it is likely that gamers will want to form regular groups to play this one, we should probably add that you do not have to -- the game can be played in single-player mode, with the other two being controlled as NPC's, and the AI is smart enough to not make that a problem for you -- for the most part -- but The Cartel was really made to be played by a group of real players, and it is very likely that you will find it to be a much better, and much more entertaining play when you do so.
In addition to the co-op story play there are multi-player and PvP modes in the game, including a Team Deathmatch Mode and a Co-Op Team Play mode that pits each group against each other in cops vs. cartel play, though full details of these modes have yet to be made available. Their inclusion as part of the game is not really a surprise, as it is another to-be-expected element in the modern action-adventure shooter. The only oddity is how close to the vest Techland has been about these modes -- with the release date so rapidly approaching this was one of the game elements we expected to hear about before now and yet we still have not.
Observations and Conclusions
In single-player mode The Cartel is a very different game largely due to the fact that when they are controlled as NPC's your "partners" are really not that at all -- each distrusts the other, each has turf issues, and each prefers a different method for solving problems and pursing their investigation. That is not a game element that is likely to pop up when you are playing with mates unless they choose to role-play in the game, though the player challenges and secret assignments will nicely replace that element by causing some self-serving play in any event.
The big news at E3 was the secret assignments that you get from your agency -- which in co-op play certainly present an opportunity to score extra points by pulling off your own assignment while busting your teammates when they try to do theirs -- though it should be pointed out that when you are playing in single-player mode, only you get assignments, which makes that less of a carrot and stick element.
The game settings include everything from the frenetic hustle of modern-day Los Angeles with its clubs, dark alleys and drug scene to the border town ambiance of Mexico where a grudge and $20 can get someone killed to the deserts where bodies get discretely buried -- and we got to see some more of that this time around. We also got to see a little more of the weapons, a little more of the challenge system, and a little more of the enemy this time around, and the modern-day take on the game hopefully means that they have not included that quick-draw minigame that made the second title in the series so lame...
The Cartel was first demonstrated at Penny Arcade Expo East 2011 (see Gaming Update's PAX East Preview ) so this is an updated preview for the game, which is being developed for Microsoft Windows, the Xbox 360, and the PlayStation 3, and is set to be released in North America on July 19th for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, and on September 13th, for PC.
Official Title: Call of Juarez: The Cartel
Developing Studio: Techland
Release Date: July 19th Console / September 13th PC
Platforms: Xbox 360 / PS3 / Windows PC
Genre: First-Person Shooter / Action-Adventure
Ratings: ESRB: M (for Mature) / PEGI: 18