Western shooters are hard to come by in the current generation. With the exception of launch release, Gun, and popular 2010 release, Red Dead Redemption, the Call of Juarez series has a cowboy boot placed firmly in the market.
It’s been a tough ride for the Call of Juarez series with both the original and its prequel, Bound in Blood, receiving positive critic scores and decent sales, though both failed to be recognised as good games. With Red Dead Redemption being the firm leader in the Western shooters category the developers, Techland, went for a new approach for the third title in the series, The Cartel, changing the setting of the game to modern day Los Angeles and Mexico.
The plot, which has more twists and turns than an episode of Coronation Street, starts on the 4th July when the offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration are bombed by unknown assailants. With Mendoza Cartel and Antonio Alvarez as prime suspects, Assistant Deputy Director Shane Dickson enlists Ben McCall of the LAPD, along with FBI agent Kimberly Evans and DEA agent Eddie Guerra - the game’s playable characters - to track down the culprits.
The campaign can be completed with any of the three characters; however the differences between them are minimal. The only exception between them is that each of the playable characters has their own secret agendas which they must complete unseen by the other two. This adds a sense of mischievousness and tension to the storyline however, being caught has no effect, making it a poorly-executed feature and the choice of character unessential.
Another disappointment with the storyline is the sheer amount of dialogue throughout the campaign. While a number of the game’s cutscenes are filled with explosions and generally just action-packed, the vast majority of them are scenes of the characters talking. Thankfully players are able to skip them, though this makes the already quite complicated plot even harder to follow. Additionally to this nuisance a good portion of the game requires players to drive various vehicles. Typically such an addition would be a welcome change of pace in-between the heavy dialogue and combat, however, in this case it only adds further insult to injury as the handling of the cars on offer are poor, which isn’t helped by the game restricting players to the one view from the driver’s seat.
Clearing the campaign will take players approximately eight hours to complete and will have them burning down marijuana fields, searching a nightclub for a hooker and driving a car down a highway against the flow of oncoming traffic... amongst other activities. It all feels a little too farfetched though it’s different to what gamers are used to and makes for a bizarre but entertaining storyline.
One of the game’s best implemented features and one players of previous Call of Juarez titles will be familiar with is Concentration Mode, an ability that allows the player to activate slow-motion once sufficient amount of enemies have been killed. In fact, the whole gunplay of the title benefits the game. There’s nothing more relieving than eliminating a gang of enemies before proceeding onto another and the gameplay is engaging enough to see players entertained right through to the end of the game.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel also contains co-operative multiplayer over Xbox Live with up to three players, where each players fills the role of one of the game’s characters. This is another great feature of the game as the secret agendas are more prominent and rewarding. On the other hand, the game’s only competitive multiplayer game mode, Cops vs. Criminals, is quite the opposite. There is a distinct lack of players online and a clear balance issues that result with not only is finding a game hard but, even if you do, it’s not particularly enjoyable.
In terms of presentation, graphically Call of Juarez: The Cartel isn’t overly impressive. With the exception of the game’s main characters, the character modelling is to a generally poor standard. On top of that, the poor textures and repetitive features are evident throughout, primarily on the outdoor levels. As for the audio, being a dialogue-heavy game, it is up to scratch. As you would imagine, the words “bitch” and “motherf**ker” are used excessively which isn’t much of a problem, except for the fact that it tends not to match the subtitles – causing a number of mix-ups throughout the campaign.
On the whole, Call of Juarez: The Cartel had the potential to be a fantastic game. The plot’s many twists and turns would have been superb if it wasn’t for the game’s poor execution and the multiplayer could do with improving. Nevertheless, it’s still a solid game. If you’re looking for something to fill the time during the summer drought, this is the title for you.