The Cartel Preview
What really turned us cold regarding The Cartel, however, wasn’t the way that the western tone had been mostly sacrificed, but the fact that it had been swapped for something so unintelligent and un-unique.
There’s nothing remotely clever or interesting about The Cartel that we can see; no killer feature, no gripping story. There was no single aspect of the game that would make us want to play The Cartel over any other game crowding the market – and most of what we saw wasn’t even decently put together.
The scene with which the preview event opened, for example, concerned the three lawmen going to talk to an informant, who would then lead them to a local gang lord. As the level starts, the car drives up to his building and the trio of gunslingers are saying nothing of import. A moment passes and, as the LAPD’s Ben, control is granted to the player as he gets out of the car.
And it's a Western? Really?
Eddie and Kim start walking towards the apartment building, which is on the other side of the empty street. Ben follows and, as the three enter, control is seized from the player and a cutscene starts. Ten minutes later, the scene is over – the three are now going to say hello to the gang in person. There’s been much swearing and anti-Mexican comments over the course of the cutscene, but you need only take away that single fact.
Control is returned to the player only once Ben is back outside, and a second text prompt instructs him to walk back to the car. He does so and, lo and behold, a third cutscene kicks in as the protagonists discuss their next move. A minute later it fades to black and the next level loads. It’s been a 15-minute sequence, an entire level of the game, and the developers are looking very pleased with themselves – but all the player has done is walk across the street and back again.
This is not good game design and, sadly, it doesn’t get any better from here. Following the street-crossing simulator came the nightclub firefight, which tried to emulate Michael Mann
, but felt more like a budget version of Kane and Lynch; a copy of a copy. Call of Duty-esque slowmo sections were thrown in with witless abandon, while Ben spouted expletive-studded Bible phrases for no apparent reason.
Ben was very eager to show the photographer his gun
Not even The Cartel’s only unusual feature, a flanking system that requires you to work with your allies covering fire to get a good position against enemies, felt decently implemented. Not only did the nature of it require a lot of battling against boring enemies in static positions, but players were always directed to use it by intrusive text prompts in the HUD. Surely a better idea would be to have your allies yell instructions, given that one of the few interesting features of The Cartel are the characters that keep you company?
As we watched the rest of the preview unfold, further evidence stacked up against The Cartel. Every level we saw, from Nevada mesas to driving through downtown LA, felt oppressively linear and incredibly restrictive. Every single room was gated; we felt like we were always waiting for the AI to unlock the next door and give us permission to enter.
The end result is a game which doesn't excite us, to say the least. It doesn’t offer anything we haven’t seen before, and doesn’t even look well put together. That Call of Juarez is turning into Just Another Shooter is one thing; now it also looks like it’s turning into a pretty poor one to boot.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel is being developed by Techland and will be published by Ubisoft. It will be released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC this summer.