Call of Juarez The Cartel: review

The Call of Juarez franchise has enjoyed mixed success since its humble beginnings in 2006 on PC (and later on consoles), appealing to those after a fairly authentic first-person cowboy experience. With the third title in the series, Techland has gone in a slightly different direction that may just kill off the Call of Juarez games once and for all.

Welcome to the new Wild West. This is the jarring transition that those who have played the previous Call of Juarez titles will face. Rather than being set in the genuine era of bandits, cowboys, law men and swindlers, Call of Juarez: The Cartel is set in the modern day. How modern? Well, there are a few lazy references to President Obama which might suggest it is very modern; but then it is also laden with offensive, distasteful stereotypes that make it feel very stale.

After a bombing in the DEA’s office, a special task force is put together to put an end to the Mexican drug cartel ruled over by Juan Mendoza (presumably a descendant of the character in previous games of the same name). The player and up to two friends can pick one of three characters to play as, going through a moderately different experience as each one. You can play as DEA Agent Eddie Guerra, a stereotypical bent cop and sole survivor of the bombing (who would struggle to radiate guilt any more than he already does); LAPD Detective Ben McCall (whose only emotion is anger); and finally FBI Agent Kimberly Evans, who initially comes across as the only remotely human character until you play as her and she falls into the same horrible, curse-ridden, repetitive clichés as the other two.

What we did, which was to the plot’s benefit, was rather than presume that McCall was just a descendant of the McCall in previous titles, we imagined that he is in fact the exact same one hurtled forward through time.

Whichever of the three you pick to play as you will then traverse through the main campaign of fifteen chapters in about five to six hours. It will feel longer than that though, thanks to a huge collection of relatively small glitches, bugs and oversights that culminate to sour the overall experience.

Here is a choice selection of some experienced problems: the enemy AI is ridiculously stupid, AI team-mates often get stuck, they also spout the same sentences over and over (you will hear “If we weren’t watching your back, you’d be mother-f**king dead!” about once a minute). During indoor cutscenes the sound quality drops horrifically, bloom is unusually strong, graphics range from (rarely) looking great to (mostly) looking horrible, there is constant bizarre blurring, bullets don’t hit targets when they should, the built in auto-aim seems to be working for the cartel and should be switched off if you want to hit targets. Car sections are made boring by the lack of speed, subtitles will often fail to match what the voice actors say and sometimes even whole sentences are missed out.

Worst of all there is an easy to stumble upon invincibility bug (presuming it hasn’t now been patched) which, assuming you actually want to get rid of it, would require restarting the chapter you were on or resetting the game.

Gameplay is as generic as any run of the mill FPS. Before a mission you can select a loadout of one main weapon and two pistols (with more choices opening up as you gain XP) and you can pick up any weapon an enemy was using. Each character has slightly different benefits with certain weapon types (Evans likes snipers and McCall likes six shooters for example) providing negligible bonuses. Concentration mode returns, this time in generic time-slowing form for every character and builds up by successfully killing enemies.

The one fresher-feeling area to gameplay is mixing the co-operative aspect with Secret Agendas and Challenges. Each character will periodically get phone calls that only they can hear (usually while in a fire fight, annoyingly) asking them to secretly collect evidence or carry out a unique objective without the other two characters seeing. This is easy when with AI but with real people it creates a fun tension – or griefing opportunity should you dislike the people you’re playing with. Completing these objectives is the fastest way to gain XP and if you are caught in the act you get none. Challenges also up the competition, for example offering bonus XP to the first person to score a certain number of headshots.

Tacked on to the whole affair is a multiplayer versus mode for up to twelve people that provides an adequate challenge in the form of actually finding other people playing it. If you do, you will be placed on either the police or cartel side and have a typical deathmatch affair or an attack/defend objective switching round across a small array of admittedly quite large maps.

If you are willing to ignore the offensive stereotypes, the constant swearing and the boring by-the-books story with an unsatisfying conclusion, there is still a little value to be found in the gameplay itself because of how tedious it can be. Were the characters more likeable, the plot more gripping and the gameplay tighter and more refined there would be something worth playing here. As it stands there is not and any fans of the series prior to now will probably be the ones most disappointed by Call of Juarez: The Cartel.


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Written by Ian D

Misanthropic git. Dislikes: Most things. Likes: Obscure references.

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