At E3 2011, Ubisoft showed off the latest entry in the Call of Juarez franchise behind closed doors. While it was obvious that this wasn't a recent build because of the presence of debug menus, there were a few things that stood out as positives for this low-key series. We got a chance to try out Call of Juarez: The Cartel and came away impressed with how the game looked and with some of the gameplay mechanics.
The demo is set later in the game, when the trio of crooked cops had made it to Mexico, fighting their way to get the rest of the cartel. Thought it was short, the demo takes place in a variety of locations, starting from the alleyways to a local dive bar to an open marketplace. It still features the desert setting that's associated with Westerns, but the locales look varied and retain the spirit of the prior games in the series, despite the more modern trappings. The various enemies you face are plentiful and seem to overwhelm with numbers instead of tactics, since none were displayed during any of the firefights. There was plenty of blood spray, though, so at least enemies look good when they die.
The game's three main characters aren't just there for show, as the co-op element is prevalent throughout the game. Every mission has you towing along two other characters, so there's rarely a time when you're split off from the rest of the team. Something new for the game series is the notion of online co-op for up to three players. The various characters don't seem to have any differences — none that the developers could tell us about, at any rate — so there is no advantage to using one over the other. The developers demonstrated the impressive use of online drop-in and drop-out co-op for the main campaign. It felt seamless in the demo, and while your AI enemies don't seem brainless, some human help is always welcome.
Another demonstrated feature is the idea of competitive co-op. While the campaign is purely co-op, each player is given a random assignment that must be completed on his own for bonus experience points. In the demo, we were given the assignment of meeting with a courier without being spotted by our partners, and we did just that after one of the firefights, making it to the courier just in time before our partners arrived on the scene. We were told that these assignments are randomly given and that in this situation, someone else may have gotten an assignment to find us before we reached the courier. The possibilities for the sub-quests are plentiful, and while it remains to be seen how creative the development team gets with this mechanic, there's no doubt that it gives the game some personality.
Due to the noise at the convention, we didn't get hear the game's audio. The guns have some nice shiny textures, and there's also some good texturing to your hands and fingers when you get your phone for the bonus missions.
With less than a month to go until the release of Call of Juarez: The Cartel, it'll be interesting to see how the final product will play when compared to the E3 demo build. It has some good co-op mechanics, and the modern setting feels different from other shooters that decide to set everything in the Middle East. After the way Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood came out and surprised us, we're looking for Call of Juarez: The Cartel to do the same this summer.
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