Friday, July 15, 2011

Hands-On: Call of Juarez: The Cartel

E3-2011-Call-of-Juarez-The-Cartel-Exclusive-Hands-On-Preview-Coopetition.jpg (430×242)
Playing through the opening mission of Call of Juarez: The Cartel is nothing at all like playing through the opening mission of Ubisoft’s 2006 original, Call of Juarez and its 2009 prequel, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. In fact it’s so far away from its forebears in both form and function they have almost nothing in common - oh, except that one of the game’s three protagonists wears a cowboy hat. 
The Cartel likes to keep its single-player and its multiplayer close, like brothers and sisters in the deep South. To that end, what you’re looking at is a gritty FPS that, while it doesn’t require the presence of two other players, is best experienced as a threesome the whole way through. The reason being is that its entire narrative and associated set-pieces are built around the presence of three upstarts. Thing is, while they all might be on the side of law and order in one form or another, each of them likes to go about bringing crims to justice in markedly different ways. To illustrate this, whatever character you’re currently playing is periodically sent covert goals to complete during the main mission at large that further their own agenda – often to the detriment of your supposed chums in the field.

If your fellow lawmakers notice you undertaking these regularly dodgy activities, you lose any bonus you might earn from getting them done. It’s a very crafty mechanic, and can turn gameplay on its head at the most inopportune moments (for those other stooges). It does, however, completely lose its attack when there’s only the computer A.I. to outwit and no-one to scheme back at you so, in the same way that the Left 4 Dead games pretty much demand some like-minded mates, so too does The Cartel – but only so you can screw them over for fun and profit.

Set in modern day Mexico, my first order of business was to hop in a car with my two amigos and take a long drive full of banter and battle plans up to a gigantic marijuana plantation. The Cartel is definitely not shy about using Mexico’s persistent reputation for drug-related malarkey as its central backdrop, a design decision that has already seen the game banned from the Mexican state of Chihuahua, where the actual blood-soaked city of Juarez is located. Unfortunately, all that is really a lot of hot air. Yes, there is constant talk of drug deals and drug busts and druggy McDrug-Drug doing drugs and sure, shoot-outs with drug lords in the midst of selling drugs to drug dealers are common, but none of it is the least bit representative of the horror that actually goes down on Mexico’s streets. The main characters themselves aren’t even Mexican. 

Case in point: the marijuana plantation mission at hand soon turns into a running gun battle between your trio and an endless cavalcade of baddies ducking in and out from behind the cover of many trees. It makes for a cinematic and priceless firefight, especially seeing as there are waist-high weed plants everywhere that, should you gun your way through to the end of the level, will summarily go up in a puff of smoke as you burn them and frame a gang rival to the one you just trumped for doing so. The resultant fumes make one of your number quite high - which is about as high as you’ll get playing The Cartel.

Combat is snappy stuff with its own set of abrupt rules and the guns crack with impunity. There’s no denying that what The Cartel does, it does well – it’s a surprisingly tight shooter with the reddest of blood, enjoyable on its own but stupidly enjoyable with chums, even at this early stage. Bound for underrated glory, methinks. 

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