Call of Juarez: The Cartel First Look Preview – On the Highway to Hell
Written Thursday, March 03, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
We thought that Wild West games might be red hot right now, given the huge success of Red Dead Redemption in 2010, but for Call of Juarez: The Cartel, developer Techland has decided that Red Dead is soooo last year, so it's out with the old and in with the new. The third game in the series is leaving the Western genre behind, although Techland says that the spirit of the Wild West lives on The Cartel's new hip and edgy modern day setting.
“We're trying to push the franchise to the next level,” declares Ubisoft's International Product Manager, Aymeric Evennou during the first presentation of the game. And that next level apparently means uprooting the series and taking it to an all-new gritty and mature backdrop inspired by TV shows like 'Sons of Anarchy' and 'The Shield'. That means you'll start out on the mean streets of present day Los Angeles, where visits to the seedier parts are all part and parcel of being a cop. Yes, that's right. This time you're firmly on the side of the law, playing the story from one of the three character's viewpoints.
Unusually, Call of Juarez: The Cartel isn't a 2 or 4-player co-op game. That would be far too conventional. So instead, Techland has decided to make the game playable in 3-player co-op, and have the story revolve around a trio of distinctive characters, who are all 'above the law' cops, but with their own background and story perspective. You'll still experience the same yarn, regardless of which character you choose, but you will get a different spin on the events that transpire. And once you choose your character, you're locked into your choice for the duration of your playthrough.
The Cartel's characters are ambitious FBI agent on the rise, Kim Evans, audacious smooth-talking DEA operative, Eddie Guerra and The Cartel's sole link to its forebears, Ray McCall descendant Ben McCall, a hard-bitten, cynical LAPD cop and bible passage spouting son of a pastor. It's a nasty, lawless world out there, so naturally, The Cartel's language is nice and colourful, with McCall spicing up those bible passages with a few four-letter words here and there. This is indicative of the developer's desire to push Call of Juarez into darker territory and the overall tone of the game will be far grittier and more 'mature' than its predecessors.
Our extensive first look at The Cartel opens with a three-way conversation between the characters going on while they drive to a run down tenement building, where one of Eddie's informants is holed up. Outside the informant's door, the trio discuss how they should go about squeezing him for information, but McCall has a no-nonsense solution. “We kick the fucker's door down and introduce ourselves!” he growls, before doing exactly that. In the filthy apartment, we see that our guy was getting down to some action with his lady friend, who gets promptly kicked out of the room. Eddie apologises for the “cock block” and then demands answers.
Eventually, McCall, Guerra and Evans manage to get what they need and fit the guy with a wire. From the car down on the streets the three then listen to a meeting going down with one of the shady Mexican cartel members that they're trying to bring down. Predictably, their informant is rumbled and killed, but they've heard enough, so the next course of action is to follow the killer without being seen. There's first-person driving in The Cartel then, and we're told that there will be a lot of this kind of variety, meaning that the entire game won't just be shooty-shooty.
Tailing the killer to a nightclub, we need to get in via a dingy alleyway, which is flanked on both sides by punk-ass thugs. McCall brazenly strides in and as the scumbag street urchins try to hold him up, we get to see the game's melee combat – an “alternative to deadly force”, we're told - which looks somewhat reminiscent of The Chronicles of Riddick's fisticuffs. McCall kicks the shit out of the punks, dispenses a sweary bible quote (each character will have their own bespoke one-liners) and moves onwards to the club.
McCall shuffles his way through the moshing throng on the dancefloor, has a quick ogle of the stripper with her tits out, and then confronts the killer head on. He's a gangster called Jesus, and he's sat relaxing in a pristine white suit with his sunglasses on, and a musclebound bodyguard either side. “Do you want to meet your maker?” one of them asks McCall. Big mistake. McCall puts a bullet in the bodyguard without hesitation and all hell breaks loose. Finding cover McCall and his two partners engage in a gunfight as the club quickly empties. If you're not playing with human players, your AI buddies will help by laying down cover fire, while you deal with the business of killing.
Happily, The Cartel's first-person shooting mechanics look nice and solid, with chunky, detailed gun models and nice loud bangs that echo realistically. It looks as though there's some decent heft to The Cartel's gunplay. The next section shows that the Call of Juarez slow-motion co-op breach sequences are still in the game, and on the subject of previous CoJ title, Bound in Blood, Techland reveal an interesting factoid. Apparently, Call of Juarez: The Cartel has more assets in this demo we're being shown, than the entirety of Bound in Blood. Blimey.
Back to the action and Jesus has high-tailed it, prompting a chase through a parking lot. A police helicopter circling overhead is gunned down by Jesus' cronies, spiralling into the ground in spectacular fashion, while we pick up an AK-47 from a dead guard and tear through the rest of the bad guys. Jesus is now being chauffeured away at high speed, so we grab the nearest car and give chase down the busy highway. Shooting from the passenger window, all hell breaks loose on the roads, as civilian cars go flying and there's crashes left, right and centre. After a perilous pursuit, we eventually catch up and run the limo off the road, leaving Jesus falling out of the wreckage and reaching for his gun. It's too late though, and he's quickly disarmed and arrested. Job done.
To conclude our hands-off demonstration, we're shown an ambush sequence, which sees McCall standing by a rusty old trailer in the middle of a massive expanse of desert. Kim and Eddie are hidden in the surrounding rocks looking down from high upon a precipice, with sniper rifles primed. A fleet of cars blaze a dusty trail towards the meeting point and McCall liaises with the perps. Of course, the entire thing goes horribly wrong and the gangsters have their own snipers in position, meaning that Evans and Guerra have to do their utmost to protect McCall. They soon cut their losses though and commandeer a truck to try and pick up McCall before he's killed. It's a tense drive to get to him and just as they're about to make it, the truck crashes into a rock and the screen goes black. That's the demo over then. Phew.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel is quite clearly going to be an entirely different animal to the other two games before it. It's not open-world, but there's a sense of freedom in the ability to drive vehicles as well as wield all manner of handguns and rifles. Its cast of characters are also potentially very interesting, but the snatches of dialogue we've heard so far are pretty hackneyed and McCall's bible quotes managed to elicit a few stifled sniggers from the other journos in the room.
Techland hopes that the shift in setting to the modern day won't put players off, and is keen to emphasise that the essence of the Old West still lives on in the game, with visits to locations like the Grand Canyon and Arizona Badlands, that remain much as they've always been. The Cartel promises to be a hellish journey from LA to Juarez, and early signs look good as far as gameplay is concerned. There's still that nagging kernel of doubt in our mind though, as that stone-cold cynic within tells us that perhaps the next Call of Juarez won't quite hit the right notes with its audience. We sincerely hope that we're proven wrong.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel is scheduled to release in summer 2011.