I can picture the sales pitch for Call of Jaurez: The Cartel. Executive #1, “I don’t think we can go back to the Wild West after Red Dead Redemption so how about we take this series to the modern day.” Executive #2, “Yeah, I don’t think anyone’s ever done a western themed shooter in modern times right? Executive 1, “Yeah, it’s a guaranteed success. And just to make it egdy and cool, let’s add in a ton of bad words. F bombs need to be dropped every few minutes.” Executive 1, “I think we’re on the cusp of something huge here.”
Reach for the sky
In case my rendition of the sales pitch for The Cartel didn’t drive the point home, here’s what you need to know. Call of Juarez: The Cartel is a western themed modern day shooter you’ve probably played a thousand times by now. And of course, other games have done it better. There’s some semblance of a plot here but it’s lost between clichéd, one dimensional characters and incoherent, profanity laden babbling. The first Call of Juarez game was pretty rough around the edges but was positively received because it showed a ton of potential. Bound in Blood, the highly underrated sequel recognized that potential and became a highly enjoyable shooter thanks to an engaging plot and some very decent voice acting. But now with the Cartel, Techland have gone two steps back negating everything they’ve worked on so far just to appeal to today’s jock crowd. In fact all of the game’s charm was lost as soon as they made the transition to modern day.
In The Cartel, you play as one of three characters – LAPD detective, Ben McCall (descendant of Ray McCall, the bible totting badass from previous CoJ games), FBI Agent Kimberly Evans or DEA Agent, Eddie Guerra. Each of these characters have a particular attribute you can trigger during gameplay so McCall for example can slow time down, only this game has like the smallest slow motion meter in the history of gaming. I mean can you feel the irony over here, a slow motion feature that gets over this fast.
Yeah, that's dangerous
So anyway, gunplay itself is pretty satisfying since weapons sound and feel authentic enough packing a mean punch through the bad dudes. Throughout every mission, you’ll get calls from various shady characters either from the agency or the street informing you of certain pick-ups spread out through the level. This could include anything from a stash of money to a cell phone to a weapon but you have to make sure your partners don’t catch you in the act. While I think this is a pretty cool concept in a co-op game, it becomes really stupid while playing with the AI since they’re so freaking dense. Lock them in a room, search the entire level for drops, come back and they’ll still be in that locked room (not the brightest tools in the shed). Surprisingly, they hold their own in combat fairly well so you don’t have to worry about playing babysitter all the time.
Mission structure is very linear which means you’ll be propelled from one level to another by boring cut-scenes or a rather unnecessary amount of driving. And since car control in this game completely sucks, the driving segments become a complete pain in the backside. There will be times when you’ll be able to blast fools from the passenger window as your partner drives the car but for most of the time you’ll have to make your peace driving around a highly average virtual recreation of downtown Los Angeles. Even controlling your character feels really weird and clunky with either the aiming sensitivity being too high or too less. This obviously makes fire fights more of a chore since you’re struggling to stay alive amidst the hail of incoming bullets as well as unresponsive controls.
Army of umm three
Another aspect of the game that makes fire fights especially tough is the fact that the game looks so bad, enemies tend to blend into the environment. I was squinting throughout most of the game, especially during the game’s very first forest level where I had a tough time figuring out where a tree ended and a bad guy began. And for some reason, it’s like you’re made of glass in this game. Take even the most minute of damages and your screen starts flashing red which means it’s time to find a safe spot, suck your thumb and head back into action. Rinse, repeat a million times and that’s pretty much what this game is about.
Even the five o needs to chill out
I tried, I really tried enjoying this game since I am a fan of this series. I put up with the horrendous visuals, the atrocious controls, monotonous level design, the bland plot but then it hit me; as a paying customer I shouldn’t be trying this hard to like a game. In fact, it should be the other way around where Techland go out of their way to make me fall in love with their game. Unfortunately, that’s really not the case here and Call of Juarez: The Cartel, comes across as a very average, unpolished shooter that feels like a rushed product.
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