Of the many times we've checked out Ubisoft's Call of Juarez: The Cartel, most recently during our E3 2011 co-op preview, its departure from the series' wild west theme has never been more pronounced than during our most recent hands-on time with the game's multiplayer modes.
For starters, there weren't even any cowboy hats this time around, as we engaged in a number of 3-on-3 matches (although the game supports up to 6v6) where generically dressed federal agents went up against wife beater-clad gang members. Although we didn't explore the multiplayer mode's selection of character models, we were told there'd be 44 to choose from, so we'd like to think that there should be at least one cowboy motif in there.
Given the rise of multi-stage, multi-objective multiplayer modes, it was of little surprise that The Cartel would have one of their own, titled Objective Mode. As a Fed, my team's first task was to prevent the opposition from blowing the doors off a drug-filled shipping container in a warehouse. With the gangsters only needing to plant one bomb, we failed that task rather quickly. Doors blown open, we now had to protect four briefcases that held the drugs. We failed that too, although we put up a bigger fight.
It didn't help that every time someone killed a gang member, we weren't able to return the respective briefcase to its original spot, forcing us to guard it at its new spot, closer to the enemies' spawn points. Drugs in the getaway van, this final stage in the mission turned into a hilarious routine of chasing the van, killing the driver (and hopefully, passengers), and stop the respawned enemies from getting back in the van. Somehow we failed again.
Round Two was a more tense situation, where the first goal was to protect a witness in what appeared to be a crack house. Already we were at a disadvantage: who keeps a witness in such an accessible locale as a crack house? Needless to say, he didn't last long. Adding insult to injury, the gangbanger's next mission was to round up gasoline containers so they could burn down the crack house. Again, we put up a good fight, making use of the various rooms to try and surprise the incoming opposition. Ultimately the baddies got the gas where they wanted it and proceeded to the last objective, turn on the gas oven. Kaboom!
Despite the loss (again), both missions were very engaging, making me think that this is the direction Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days's multiplayer should have gone for. It mostly helped that the map designs, while not anything original, had just enough pathing options and multiple levels to keep you on your toes and potentially capitalize on a few sneaking situations. We’ve also been promised six additional missions beyond what we played, including the obligatory bank heist.
One sign of any good multiplayer map is how it caters to multiple modes, and this was the case when we returned to the warehouse for Team Deathmatch. This set-up also had different spawn points than Objective Mode and offered its share of sadistic kill opportunities. For instance, one likely path that the gangbangers can take is a storage container resting on an incline, creating an impromptu staircase.
It was convenient for them, but more of an opportunity for my team as we were more than happy to welcome enemies from the other end of the container with shotgun and SMG rounds. These respectable media colleagues unsurprisingly learned quickly and started to use the several other paths to reach our end of the map. For the record, we won that 10-minute match, with G4TV getting the highest kills (31) and deaths (24).
The whole session would have been quite the free-for-all had it not been for the introduction of the game's Partner system. This obviously places an emphasis on teamwork, and rewards you accordingly. Partnering results in ability boosts like shortened healing and reload times as well as increased resiliency. When you do stray from your partner, a prerecorded voice of your partner’s character (as opposed to your reallife partner talking on the mic) will yell for you to come back in half dozen different ways.
Despite these incentives, I couldn't help but go on my own from time to time. This was partially due to exploiting how the opposition was partnering. Knowing that I would find enemies in pairs offered many opportunities to get 2-for-1 kills, provided you were stealthy enough and quick on the melee button for the second kill. Partnering is a curious style of play, a feature that I'm not sold on but one that I'm still willing to give a chance when the retail version of Call of Juarez: The Cartel comes out July 19.