E3 2011: Call of Juarez: The Cartel Exclusive Hands-On Preview - Coopetition

Cooperation and competition collide during our hands-on time with Call of Juarez: The Cartel.

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The third installment in the Call of Juarez series, Call of Juarez: The Cartel is trading the 19th-century Wild West setting for some 21st-century West Coast flair. Along for the ride in this modern-day Western are Ben McCall, an LAPD detective and descendant of Ray McCall from the previous games; Eddie Guerra, a Drug Enforcement Agency officer; and Kim Evans, an FBI special agent. Individually, each character has a checkered past that colors his or her decisions throughout the storyline. Together, they make up an A-team of crime fighters tasked with tracking down Juan Mendoza--a drug cartel boss and an all-around bad guy. To help put him in his place, we went hands-on for some cooperative play in this gritty, first-person shooter.

Cooperative play is drop in/drop out for up to three players online.
Cooperative play is drop in/drop out for up to three players online.

The mission we played dropped us just south of the Mexican border into the city of Ciudad Juarez. Our three heroes were hiding out in a small church surrounded by Mendoza's guards. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, the trio was determined to capture the cartel boss for questioning. After making the requisite Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid reference, our characters crashed through the main door and opened fire on the surprised henchmen outside. Door-breaching sequences such as this always kick you into concentration mode--the Call of Juarez version of bullet time. And if you're wondering how that feature works when there are multiple players in the mix, it's simple. Every character contributes to the same concentration meter. When the meter is activated, the slow-down effect happens for all players at once.

Mendoza himself was scooped into an SUV that had swerved onscreen. As it sped away, we commandeered our own vehicle and gave chase. While another character drove, our character smashed the passenger-side window and perched himself on the window frame for maximum action-movie effect. The gunplay, both on foot and hanging out the side of a fast-moving vehicle, felt similar to the loose, arcade style of games such as Brink. And just like its predecessor, Bound in Blood, The Cartel also plays with focus and depth of view. When we took aim down our gun's sight, for instance, the background would blur while the foreground came into focus.

Challenges and secret missions change each time you play through a mission.
Challenges and secret missions change each time you play through a mission.

Mendoza was eventually forced to abandon his bullet-ridden ride and escape on foot into an alleyway. We gave chase only to discover that these streets were riddled with the boss' henchmen. This was where the game introduced a little competition into our cooperative experience. As we fought, we were presented with various challenges to fulfill. These were mini-contests that all players participated in, with objectives such as: "Be the first to finish off four guards with a melee attack," or "Be the first to score six headshots." The winner received a small experience boost before the game loaded up the next challenge.

Things got more complicated once, at the mission's halfway point, we received our secret mission. Unlike with challenges, the goal of a secret mission is known only by the player who receives it. All of them had us doing something that was not entirely legal--such as wiretapping a phone or "borrowing" a piece of evidence. During our demo, we were tasked with recovering Mendoza's PDA. We knew our partner had been tasked with something as well (we could see him on his cell phone). Therefore, we had to keep one eye on him, one on the fight, and one out for the PDA (if that's even possible). If you get caught, then you forfeit any bonus experience you would have received. The bonus then goes to the person who caught you.

Toward the end of the demo, our team spilled out into a crowded marketplace that Mendoza had fled into. At the first gunshot, the crowd panicked and took off in all directions. Guards took their place, and we raced against our co-op partner to see who could kill six of them first (our AI partner didn't stand a chance). Rounding a corner, we were instantly cut down by enemy heavy machine-gun fire. For this section we had to employ some actual teamwork. While one player laid down suppressive gunfire, the others hopped through cover until they got close enough to dispatch the foes behind their makeshift machine-gun nest.

We never did locate that stupid PDA.
We never did locate that stupid PDA.

Since this mission took place pretty far along in the campaign, we won't spoil what happened next. Suffice it to say that it involved a lot of shooting. Once the mission had concluded, we were free to spend all our hard-earned experience on unlocking new weapons. Each character has a proficiency for certain weapons, such as Guerra's love of shotguns or Evans' facility for sniper rifles. As far as other multiplayer modes are concerned, Techland (still) isn't ready to spill any details but has confirmed that they will exist. You can saddle up for Call of Juarez: The Cartel on July 19 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.

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