Call of Juarez: The Cartel was on display at PAX East for the first time, giving audience a chance to find out more about this game which has stirred up more than a little controversy. Developed by Techland, who are also working on the upcoming zombie thriller Dead Island, the game is bound in blood, much like its distant sequel. Even though our demo was short and broken up into two different sections, it didn't take long to understand that.
Even though Ben McCall in CoJ: The Cartel is related to Ray McCall from both the original Call of Juarez and the prequel, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, this game separates itself from the old West immediately, and the opening part of our demo took part in a crowded club in Los Angeles, filled with rap music, hordes of dancing people, and pulsing lights. LAPD Detective McCall and the other members of his unlikely trio, FBI agent Kim Evans and DEA agent Eddie Guerra, are looking for Cartel bigwig Jesus, who might provide them with information.
But, as you would expect, Jesus isn't really up for exchanging anything other than lead bullets. Up in the VIP section of the club, complete with totally nude girls grinding on poles, a gunfight erupts that soon spills onto the floor of the club. You'll be able to take cover behind most objects, and work on flanking around your targets. You'll also be able to mow down innocent, dancing civilians at will, although if you kill too many, you'll fail the mission. So, there's some morals in there somewhere.
As the gunfight continues, several old mechanics from the other games come into play, like the fact that you can flank doors and then burst in, with or without one of your buddies, guns blazing. These types of entries are represented by ghostly images of people next to doors, informing you that there's a breach opportunity right there. Flanking via cover is also represented like this, and it's, frankly, slightly jarring and takes you out of the game experience for a moment, so hopefully it will be tuned down a bit in the final build.
Additionally, the slow-mo concentration mode is back, and it also works while you're playing in co-op. When you activate the slow-mo, players that are near enough to you will be able to go into your same slow-motion sequence and benefit from it. It's unclear at this point what players outside that range will see, but we sure hope it's not Keanu Reeves moving in hyperspeed, a la The Matrix.
The club fight spills into an alley, and soon turns into a car chase across the freeways of Los Angeles. The Hollywood sign looms in the background as you fire, car to car, and dodge vehicles, some of which the enemy AI will shoot to try and block you. One of the three characters will be driving, and the two others will be firing out of the windows. Whichever one you are depends on who you've selected to play.
Which brings us to an interesting point. Techland explained to us that you won't be able to swap between characters in the game, and that once you've made your choice, you're stuck as that gunslinger throughout the entire campaign. If you want to pick someone else, you'll have to start over with that character, although you can have multiple saves across the board for different characters. That's important because, while the story drives everyone to a common ending, you'll have slightly different gameplay and perspectives with each different person. The same applies to the drop-in, drop-out online co-op.
After street-battling, the next area we were taken to was in a dusty desert canyon somewhere in Mexico, with Ben providing spine cover for Eddie, who is attempting to meet with some cartel operatives, while Kim acts as a lookout for Ben. Ben begins picking off baddies looking to ambush Eddie, and then Kim notices that their perch is about to be overrun. You have to fight your way down to a vehicle, and then pick up Eddie on the run and get out of there, which is tough when you're being pursued by vehicles and helicopters.
Character-wise, both Ben and Eddie have some standout lines, with Ben often turning bible quotes (as a nod to Ray McCall being a preacher) into epithets, and Eddie tossing out gambling lines like "Looks like he rolled snakeyes on that one!" in reference to him being a gambling addict. We didn't get to hear Kim talk enough to pick up whether or not it sounds like she was raised on the tough, gritty streets, but I'm sure she'll have her share of one-liners.
In regards to the gameplay, I felt the demo was a bit lacking. I wasn't getting a real feeling of impact from the gunplay sequences, and the enemy AI is the type that blindly charges at you until the get mowed down. In the club, some of the gunmen were smart enough to hide behind booths, but outside it quickly turns into shooting fish in a barrel. The action in the club, with literally dozens of dancers animated and able to be shot down while you're trying to take aim at a bad guy was impressive, but the outdoor sequences and the driving needed some tweaking.
The developers stressed to us that the game is meant to look like it could be taking place in the old west when it moves to Mexico, but it didn't feel that way in our demo, unless the old west had automatic rifles and flying carriages in it. We know that this title is still in development, and we're hoping things tighten up as it moves along towards its release later this year.