Call of Juarez: The Cartel Review
Sometimes a game's concept is just flat out better than the final product. That is the case for Call of Juarez: The Cartel. The concept is there; a Mexican drug cartel bombs a U.S. law enforcement agency. In response, the U.S. government puts together a task force to take them down—pretty straightforward story. Now, take into account the dynamic range of the characters like Ben McCall, a brutal LAPD cop and descendant of Ray McCall (from the previous Call of Juarez titles); Eddie Guerra, a DEA agent with a gambling habit; and Kim Evans, a gang-affiliate turned FBI agent, and you get a pretty diverse range of characters to build a story off of. Throw in the idea that depending on the character you choose to play as, the story itself can reveal certain things according to that character's point of view. Each character has their own personal agenda and reasons for being a part of the case, and those motivations are made clear through cut-scenes and the gameplay itself. So far the concept seems golden, right?
Well, this is a classic example of how the execution fails to live up to the concept. Each character has their faults, and they could have built off of these weaknesses to develop characters who you truly can root for in the game. Instead, what they create are characters that are boring and hard to form a real bond with. This leaves you not caring what happens to them.
Watch Call of Juarez: The Cartel Launch Trailer
The story is a modern take on the Wild West. It takes place in Los Angeles and throws in elements of the West. I guess this was their way to keep the Call of Juarez name on it. The story is slow to develop and filled with repetitive one-liners. There's only so much praise you can get from your partners for blowing people up before it drives you crazy.
The level design is bland and follows a very linear path. All you do is move down a pathway, shoot the enemies that pop-up, and continue moving. The rest is just rinse and repeat. Also, there is a lack of interesting weapons, consisting of riles, pistols, and grenades. It's like they updated the year the game took place, but not the weapon selection. They do attempt to break up the monotony by throwing in some other gameplay mechanics like hand-to-hand fighting and some driving sequences, but they just seem like they were thrown together last minute.
Aside from the gameplay mechanics and design itself, the graphics are not much to look at. The textures are bland at best and not something you'd expect from a next-gen game. The guns look like plastic. Details are nonexistent, and in a game where gameplay lacks, you sometimes have to turn to graphics to enjoy it. Unfortunately, this game doesn't deliver on either.
I will say, this game does offer a fun multiplayer experience. Call of Juarez: The Cartel offers a nice drop-in/out co-op for up to three players. Before the level is a lobby, designed to look like a parking lot, hotel room, or whatever is appropriate for the upcoming mission. This is where you can wait for people to join or switch weapons. The multiplayer modes are actually quite fun. There is the traditional team deathmatch mode, but they throw a nice partner system spin on it that gives you bonuses for performing actions with your partner. So rather than running around solo, you have some incentive to stick close to your teammate. It's actually quite similar to the "high-five" in Uncharted 3. One of the strongest modes is Objective Mode, where you and your team must complete a series of objectives. This could mean getting drugs into your car and driving through the streets to progress to your goal. Upon arrival, you are met with another objective. It flows nicely together, and it seems like you are working towards an overall goal rather than a bunch of smaller missions that end right away.
To sum it up, Call of Juarez: The Cartel has great potential, but just doesn't deliver on it. The repetitive gameplay, the corny one-liners, and the lackluster graphics make it an unenjoyable experience. The few redeeming features are multiplayer and the ability to play as three of the main characters to reveal the different points of view of the story. Unfortunately, the story isn't one you are likely to care about.
[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]