Call of Juarez: The Cartel E3 2011 Hands-On Co-op PreviewBy Stephen Johnson and Sophie Prell - Posted Jun 14, 2011
At E3 2011 last week, we got a chance to check out Ubisoft’s controversial shooter Call of Juarez: The Cartel. The first couple Call of Juarez games were uneven, but they each had their highlights, so we were eager to get our hands on the third entry in the series. In keeping with the co-op nature of The Cartel, we (TheFeed’s consigliere, Stephen Johnson and TheFeed’s intern, Sophie Prell) decided to write a co-op preview. Enjoy!
Steve: I really liked the last CoJ game, Call of Juarez: Bound In Blood. While most of the gameplay was generic and linear, the setting, some set pieces, and a few interesting gameplay wrinkles won me over -- cowboys in the Old West are just freaking cool. The Cartel, though, abandons the Wild West in favor of a modern day Juarez, and adds three-player co-op to the single-player and multiplayer offerings.
Sophie: Call of Juarez: The Cartel feels like a game ready to grow wings and take chances. While the first two Call of Juarez games took place in the Old West, this new title is set in modern times. But that doesn’t mean the game isn’t going to evoke those feelings and staples of the Western genre. It might be more Dirty Harry than True Grit, but it’s still Call of Juarez, and darn it, I’m still interested.
Steve: The setting and story of The Cartel are a bit perplexing. While you have to admire Ubisoft for trying something new with their game, I like cowboys a lot more than drug runners and police guys who catch drug runners. Maybe I just miss 10 gallon hats.
The level we previewed involved a trip through the Juarez streets, shooting at bad guys with my two fashionable, psychotic companions helping out. The markets and dusty streets of the Mexican city were serviceably rendered, but nothing special -- lots of anonymous “marketplace” locations and interchangeable, gun-wielding bad guys.
The controls felt decent, but BiB’s no-button cover system has been abandoned in favor of no cover system, which seems pretty strange. Still in place: Bound in Blood’s bullet-time mode. Shoot enough bad guys, fill up your slo-mo meter, and you can slow time way down in order to waste your enemies in droves. The character I was playing recites Biblical-verse sprinkled with curse-words while he’s in slow-time mode. This is cool when there are many enemies to shoot, but really, really silly when you accidentally trigger it in an empty area.
The level ended with a car chase, and much like the shooting mechanics, the driving mechanics worked fine. Nothing flashy or special, just a car chasing another car on a dusty, twisty desert road.
Sophie: While I’ll admit that there wasn’t too much that stood out to me as my fellow dirty cops and I shot our way through the Juarez market streets, there were some cool elements that changed up that horrid “shoot, move, shoot, move” flow that so many FPS games fall into. Events, while largely scripted--what do you mean I can’t blow up that car anytime I want?--were still interesting and focused the action.
What raised my eyebrow the highest, however, were the secret missions players can undertake during their missions. These keep you competing against your fellow players while still progressing in a co-op mode, and it all evokes the rough-around-the-edges cop theme.
Steve: Sophie’s right. The hidden cell-phone missions are cool, and will heighten the characters-who-don’t-trust-each-other vibe, but I was most struck with the civilians. As you blast through the streets, the game’s NPC residents cower on the ground from the gunfire. Since Juarez is a real place that really is lousy with gun-driven violence, it’s pretty disturbing to see it represented in a video game. Maybe “sad” is a better descriptor than disturbing. Sad-sturbing? Anyway, if you shoot too many civilians, you fail the mission. But I shot a couple, just to see what would happen, and I didn’t fail, so you can shoot more than two innocent people, execution style, if you’d like.
Sophie: I’d like to point out how terrified I am now as the wee intern, and comfort my surely-worried mother by saying that unlike my boss here, I did not shoot anyone just to see what would happen. However, Stephen makes a great point: It’s very odd to show something so real and visceral, especially while it’s still happening. The game has over-the-top Hollywood blockbuster popcorn movie moments, and when these happen they’re definitely fun, but the rest of our demo didn’t seem to be treated ironically enough to really shoo away this nagging feeling that in the real-world, this is some serious stuff.
The other turn-off is the constant bombardment of the f-word from foe and friend alike. I get it. It’s a stressful situation, and dudes are shooting at us, but it’s almost too much here. Not everyone can have the inexhaustible rage of Kratos.
Steve: Hey, Sophie, some of those innocent NPCs looked at me funny, and life is cheap in Juarez, so they had to die -- law of the jungle. If you ignore its morally questionable content, The Cartel feels like a workable shooter with gameplay that is good enough to not be annoying, but not any better. The finished game will likely live or die based on how well its story, characters, and settings work. So I guess G4 will let you know how it all works out when we’ve had a chance to actually play the full version. I feel confident in saying this though: It doesn’t suck.
Sophie: Agree and agree. But you know what does suck? Your eyesight, Steve! I totally snuck in one of those secret package missions while you weren’t looking. I’m fired aren’t I?
Call of Juarez: The Cartel hits shelves July 19, 2011.