First Look: Call of Juarez the Cartel
When Call of Juarez The Cartel was first announced a few weeks ago and it was revealed it would be set in modern times, it was hard not to wonder why Techland had made such a decision. Why would they want to abandon what made the series so special and risk being compared with the other modern shooters out there? Come inside and see for yourselves what we thought of our first contact with the game.
Once upon a time in the West
The beginning of the presentation aimed at proving to us that the western genre was not just about a period of time, that it was more than anything else a state of mind that is still very much alive today. To Techland and Ubisoft, a western is defined by a lawless world, a sense of freedom and real tough men. One should then expect a very mature and dark tone where no concessions will be made so the story looks believable. A modern Wild West so to speak, which will bring more variety in terms of weapons, vehicles and environments. Time has changed, not the men, is basically the motto behind the choice of dropping the 19th century.
On paper, the story seems to offer everything a fan of series such as The Shield (one of the developers' main reference) or 24 has come to like. Three characters will be available at the beginning of the adventure, but you will have to choose wisely as it won't be possible to switch characters between missions like in Bound in Blood. Ben Mc Call, the descendant of the two brothers of the previous titles, is an old and grumpy cop from the LAPD who is willing to do what it takes to get what he wants, a probable legacy of his past as a soldier in Vietnam. Kim Evans (a true Halle Berry lookalike) is a by the book FBI agent who still has ties with her past as a gang member. Last, but not least, Eddie Guerra is the seductive smooth talker of the group. He belongs to the drug enforcement squad but he has a little addiction problem of his own with gambling. Obviously, these three cops will have to join forces toward a common goal, but each will have their own personal agenda to deal with too.
It all starts with the protection of an important witness that is supposed to testify against the Cartel. Unsurprisingly, things will not go according to plan and the three main protagonists will start a road trip that will take them to Juarez, Mexico. Like I said before, the characters are not flawless superheroes, quite the contrary actually: Mc Call is looking for vengeance, Kim's brother still belongs to a gang and Eddie owes quite a lot of money because of his gambling problem. The guys at Techland hope to make the story more dynamic and interesting, giving the player a different point of view depending on which character he incarnates. Something that could also give the game a good replay value for those who would want to find out the different back stories and how they interfere with the main plot.
Tea for three and three for tea
In the previous game, many are those who regretted not being able to play the campaign mode with a friend whereas the game almost always involved the two brothers working side by side. Good news, this time around, things will be different as The Cartel will feature a three-player-cooperative mode. Of course, joining or leaving a game will be done seamlessly thanks to the now common drop-in/drop-out system. The developers really had co-op in mind when they designed this sequel and they wanted the payers to experience different things depending on the character they choose. During the demonstration for example, one of the characters got a phone call that the other two could not listen to. A bit later, one character had to defend himself on his own while his two partners were on their way to help him.
Let's now talk about the two story segments we were shown on PC. To discover the whereabouts of a drug-dealer by the name of Jesus, our three heroes find themselves in the streets of L.A at the known address of a suspect. After a cutscene in which the thug is talked into cooperating and calling Jesus' men to arrange a meeting, the player gets to walk back to the car to wait and see what happens. Once inside their car, the three cops witness the arrival of a suspicious car. The newcomers are of course there to talk to the informer, a conversation Ben, Kim and Eddie can listen to thanks to a bug planted in the apartment. Things get ugly for the poor nark but our three friends do not move a muscle (despite Kim's protest) and let him get shot. No time to sympathize though, as the players is asked to tail the car discreetly to find out where they are headed.
So here we are standing outside a private club, trying to figure out how to get inside. Blasting in and gunning anything that moves in is not an option: The game may involve loose canon / cowboy sort of characters, but the three heroes are still cops! Therefore, Ben and his comrades decide to punch their way through a side path, which is an opportunity to witness the hand-to-hand combat system. Despite baring a slight resemblance to the mechanics found it the Chronicles of Riddick, it is yet not as natural and dynamic. But Techland still has time to adjust this, so let’s not make any hurried conclusions. Once inside the club, the dancing customers are somewhat reminiscent of Kane & Lynch, or more recently Heavy Rain. This scene is particularly well executed and it enhances the credible aspect of the game since it shows that its universe is not solely limited to heroes and villains. Shortly after, players will be introduced to Jesus (with some noticeable lines such as “I want to talk to Jesus. – Then get on your knees and prey”) before taking part in a first sequence of heavy shooting.
These action sequences are very classical in their unfolding. However, they were a chance to discover the diversion system that can be initiated both by AI and human players. By triggering suppressive fire on a given target, players will be able to free the way for their colleagues. Upon receiving a signal, the latter will then close in on their foes without taking much risks, and attack from the rear. There is another gimmick called “team entry”. It has already been used in Bound in Blood or even Call of Duty. It affords players with some quality time to aim for their foes while sparing unlucky innocents with the consequences of crossfire. The chase continues outside the club, triggering some scripted events such as the crash of a targeted police helicopter, some cars exploding on the car park, and the use of the concentration mode from the previous episode, which is some kind of shared bullet-time feature that kicks in once a specific gauge is full. Jesus is almost within reach when he manages to escape in a stolen car. There aren’t many options left for his chasers. Therefore one player will find themselves sitting behind the wheel in the middle of traffic, while their friends will have the opportunity to shoot at the runaways to stop them. We’ve been told there is no scripted event in this scene. The civilian vehicles that suddenly crash or explode under heavy fire will not always be the same ones.
You’re having seconds on desert aren’t you?
The second sequence was set a little while after the events described above, in a scenery that was much closer to the mood of the series. Therefore, we met our dynamic trio in the middle of a desert surrounded by mountains and cactuses. The scenario requires Ben to meet with some members of the Cartel in order to recover an important witness who was kidnapped by the organization. Fortunately, Ben can rely on his mates who are supposed to cover him from above and stay on the lookout for any trap. “Surprise!” It was actually an ambush! Kim and Eddie need to hurry to rejoin Ben as fast as possible, since he is trapped in an uncomfortable situation. The duo starts by eliminating a few remote targets with a sniper riffle, before tackling a number of approaching foes. Next step is to jump on a 4WD vehicle that was left around and rush down the path leading to their forsaken friend. Other vehicles suddenly join in the fun, but we could not tell whether Kim and Eddie made it on time since the demo ended on a brutal car accident.
What should we think about Call of Juarez: The Cartel? Ubisoft did all they could to have us buy the idea that the Far West was, before anything, a state of mind. However, it is hard to ignore it is also closely related to a historical context, to the specific values of an era long gone, to an atmosphere that consisted in much more than specific places or a western oriented score. Nevertheless, Techland made significant efforts to create a captivating story that deals with a mature subject. In this regard they may have a card to play compared to the other “plain” war games. From a graphical point of view, the developers used an enhanced version of their proprietary engine – we have been assured that the first level of the game features more graphic assets than in the entire Bound in Blood. The overall visual experience is pleasant, but it still retains a clinical aspect that is common with PC games, especially with regards to the modeling of the urban elements. The magic works better in the desert thanks to a fantastic panorama and realistic vegetation. However, we found the face modeling of the characters to be less convincing and some animations to be a little too stiff. But this is far from a final version so criticism is probably unfair at this stage.
Call of Juarez the Cartel will need to convince players that its scenario and characters have enough flair to transport us all in a modern western setting. From what we’ve seen, it seems to have the best intentions already. The addition of a 3 player cooperation mode is clearly the most brilliant idea here since it is still too rare in current first person shooters. 15 action packed levels, unexpected twists… the result may very well live up to the initial ambitions. The developers even promise brutality-driven interrogation moments in order to bring some variety to the game, in addition to the vehicle sequences (cars and helicopters). Unfortunately, there will not be any wild motorbike sequences at all, which is a disappointment for Lorenzo Lamas fans who logically expected such a feature. The reason for this is that it was apparently difficult to make such sequences fit with a cooperation oriented game. We say let’s wait to see more of the game and put our hands on it before making any conclusions. Before deciding whether this new Call of Juarez has any chance to be as appealing as its predecessors or not.
Note: Again, thanks to Balita for helping me with the second half of the translation and thanks to Plumbdrumb for taking the time to verify everything. :)
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