There are a few important things to consider when purchasing a cue, and then there are somet things that don't matter much at all, being subjective in nature, like inlays and appearance and such. You can pay a lot more money for stuff like that, or you can skip it almost altogether, so I won't bother listing the details of it.
First and foremost your shaft has to be made of a good hardwood, hard rock maple being the standard. You'd be hard-pressed to find a cue made of real wood over a hundred bucks that doesn't at least claim to be made of this wood. Again, inlays on the base will be a different story.
The joint of the stick is very important. If you like a really hard, solid hit then go with metal on metal. If you consider yourself the ultra finesse player, go with wood on wood. If you're somewhere inbetween then find a metal on wood. Be forewarned tho, anything other than metal on metal will require a bit more care, so don't get loaded at the pool hall and break it down super fast and loose or put it together screwing it in with too much torque on one side or another. You'll warp the wood parts akin to stripping a screw.
To counterbalance a hard or soft hitting joint you ahve to consider the tip - you can go with soft, medium or hard, and if u match a hard tip with a metal on metal joint you're gonna get a really solid, hard hitting cue, like a Joss for instance, that will be just a tad limited on the finesse shots. Take that same Joss and stick a super soft tip on it and you get that finesse back without sacrificing the rigidity that the metal on metal joint gives you. The tradeoff here is constant tip care, taking care of mushrooming and such, and the occasional imprecise hit because of carelessness that the hard hard combo won't produce.
There is also the length of the shaft to consider - and basically that varies by less than 2 inches I think, so if you're especially tall then do the research and get something that fits your arms, and likewise if you're a little lady then get something smaller. It's not a step down, it's just like getting the right size bowling ball or glove - u can still throw strikes.
There's also taper of the shaft, the pro taper being uniform all the way down the shaft until it gets right to the base and then puffing out to meet the base, the euro taper being a gradual progression from slim at the tip to wide near the base.
There is also diameter of the tip - and this boils down to whether you like to shoot with a fat tip or a smaller one. What's the difference? Control. The bigger tip is going to give you a more solid hit, but less control. The smaller tip is going to give you more control, but is easier to miscue with. This is one you definitely judge based on you skill level and attention to detail.
So all this information is well and good, but what brands do each of these things correspond to? Well, like I said the Joss is metal on metal in most models, and most models stock the ultra hard triangle tip. It's also a mid-sized diameter shaft (shaft diameters across the board only differ by a few mm anyway, but on that small a scale that's a big deal), and most if not alll have pro tapers. The result then is a solid hitting stick that would need to be retipped if you regularly shoot more than a half a cue-tip worth of english.
The Meuccis are usually wood on wood - they're for a more finesse player, and they correspondingly have smaller diameter tips that are generally softer. The things the previous poster said about them falling apart is true. They also warp easily. If you take great care of it tho this won't be a problem. If you want a really good performing stick for not too much money they're a good cue. They're a little loose for me personally.
Another slightly higher end brand is Pechauer - these are great cues, but will be more expensive. They're wood on metal in most cases and typically have medium hard tips. They sort of strive to be the middle ground, whereas the other two are polar opposites.
I have personally owned a Pechauer, Joss and Meucci, as well as a few cheapos, and I liked the Peachauer best with the Joss second. I like Meuccis, but find them kinda flimsy.
I can't vouch for McDermotts or Vikings, but have shot with them a little and find them to be fine sticks in general. This isn't like the old days when every stick that wasn't custom machined was a piece of junk. You can find a $200 stick these days that performs just as well as a super custom $1500 job from the early 80s, probably better.
That's not to say that the modern equivalents of those types aren't worth it - they're just not the same degree of step up that they used to be. Pool cues are typically rated by what are called 'stages,' and those stages have so much less to do with performance and so much more to do with collectability that it should tell you how slight the differences are.
One important thing: Buy your own cue new from a manufacturer. Don't be tempted to save a little money buying used from someone or somewhere unless you know for certain that this person is just as compulsive as he should be in preservation. Temperature, moisture, etc can kill a good cue.
Hope this helps.