Call of Juarez: The Cartel
Platform: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC
Genre: First-person Shooter
Released: 19th July, 2011
Price: $54.65 BUY NOW!
Call of Juarez: The Cartel is the latest installment of Techland’s western first person shooter franchise, but this one has a twist-it’s set in modern-day Los Angeles and Mexico. Elements of the old west still remain however with the game’s dirty cop protagonist Ben McCall being the decedent of Ray McCall from the previous games, with his two equally dirty partners as they attempt to take down a Mexican drug Cartel in today’s wild west. This title places a very heavy focus on it’s story and online co-op gameplay while trying to throw in a few new unique aspects to spice up that same old FPS genre routine. Call of Juarez: The Cartel isn’t the greatest FPS ever made as sometimes it seems to be at a Mexican standoff with itself, but there are many shiny treasures inside that you can definitely tip your cowboy hat to, that should catch the attention and interest of even the most critical of FPS fans.
Presentation and Story
The Cartel begins on a good start with decent looking menus and a character select screen that has clips of each character’s backstory. The game then begins with cutscenes that are well told with interesting plot points in between each level. To further tell the story, during loading sequences we are shown phone call conversations as well as opinions from people radio and television, giving us an insight on how the country is being effected by McCall and his team going head-to-head with The Cartel. This is nicely done and touch on interesting subjects like the decriminalisation of drugs which surprised me to see in a video game. While the plot tries to present us with some sections of emotion and character development, its hard to feel for them though as all three protagonists are unlikeable, dirty cops who never trusted each other to begin with, so this attempt of adding depth to the story is sadly a hit and miss. It does have a few nice plot twists though and the story does improve as it goes along, so it still is enjoyable to watch. Still, these cut scenes are nicely done and is told well, it’s just the graphics and animation that let it down at times. In between these cut scenes of coarse, we have the game itself. There are a few presentation issues which can be an annoyance, like the skip cut scene button which takes up an unappealing amount of the screen, and constant pop ups telling you how to do things you’ve learnt about ten levels ago. But these issues are just small, ignorable things that shouldn’t matter too much, but its the small things like this that bring down Call of Juarez: The Cartel, because there is just so many that they add up and make the game look and feel a lot worse than what it really is.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel controls like your typical shooter. You can crouch, zoom in/scope, throw grenades, you get a jump button that you’ll never use unless you wanna show off in multiplayer, etc…The whole game will feel familiar to any FPS fan, it actually plays a lot like Call of Duty: Black Ops, but it’s different because your dude’s rocking a cowboy hat! You do get a nice selection of guns, and they are fun to shoot. Techland has also thrown in a whole heap of baddies into the levels so your bullets don’t go to waste as well-how sweet of them! To avoid things getting stale of just duck-and-cover, run-and-gun shooting, the action is broken up between different kinds of gameplay. These include free-roaming events where you can steal special items and talk to people and explore small areas, dreaded driving stages with very awkward controls, fun on-rail shooting sections when you shoot from the window of a car, as well as some terrible hand to hand combat sections with even worse controls, and for some unknown reason your character seems to temporarily forget that he owns a gun. Despite all these styles of play however, these are just small aspects of the game and the main focus is on the most fun section-shooting! With decent controls and some sweet guns, it plays good, but not great. It could’ve been more, but some simple issues just come into play. The biggest of these is that it is very simple to walk out of bounds which will cause you to loose the level. Having a radar is nice, but a map would’ve been good as well. To make things worse, everything feels so repetitive, which is a shame since it looks like Techland has put some decent effort into attempting to make sure this didn’t happen. You do get a nice mix in level design. A forest level in the beginning of the game provides opportunities for a lot of free-roaming combat, you get some car-park levels with nicely spaced out cars for cover and levels in urban settings often have some intense shoot outs in some alleyways. On the other hand you also have characters magically appearing in front of you a lot, which does seems kind of buggy.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel is not a bad game. Yes, there are a few problems with it’s core gameplay, but these are just mostly small, unpolished things that just add up to bring it down. What keeps it all together and makes it worth playing however, is all the unique ideas thrown into the mix to shake things up, so it doesn’t stay as a typical cliche FPS game. The most important of these ideas, is the player will receive phone calls from people who’ll give them secret missions to carry out. These missions usually involve some kind of dodgy bad-cop nature, like stealing money or evidence, and it must be done without getting caught by your partners. This works extra well in online co-op, as catching somebody in the act gives extra thrills. It should be noted that there are some instances where these phone calls come at bad times which can effect gameplay, but those are rare situations. Also, killing enemies rewards you with the ability to enter Concentration Mode, which will put the game into bullet-time and let you pop in a few kills in slow motion max-payne style. You also get the same slow motion effect when you bust in doors with a partner. These are a bit overdone, but it does make things more interesting.
Before each level, Techland have included an interesting element to place a strong focus on playing in co-op online. Before you start, you are taken to a lobby where you can choose your weapons for the level, but it doubles up as a lobby for players to join and get invited to play through the level with you as well. A very nice addition, which is actually pretty smart. As well as the secret missions being more fun to take online, additional side missions appear in co-op campaign featuring challanges such as races to get a certain amount of headshots the quickest, etc. for points. This adds an extra level of fun as while your working together to beat the level, your also against eachother for points. Co-Op is further explored even in VS death matches, with extra points awarded to those who stay close to their partners. This really puts an emphasis on team work and I hope other FPS games follow suit with this feature as it does work well. The maps are also decent, but sadly these online features won’t be enjoyed as much as the online comunity for The Cartel seems pretty small at the moment. There is also no split-screen feature, which is a shame.
Audio and Visual
Voice acting is good, although the voices can sound a bit cartoonish for such a serious toned game. The dialogue is well done, but it is ruined by the over use of profanity which starts off making characters sound gritty and bad-ass, but that quickly changes to sounding like they’re trying too hard. In fact basically every second sentence, by every single character, involves the use of curse words and it is just unnecessary most of the time. It’s like the game is trying to convince you its a mature title and not intended for kids, but does that by childishly over swearing to a point that it’s actually very immature. There’s also some buggy voice issues like clips cutting eachother out, and people still speaking after being killed. The music for The Cartel is good, and I liked how in some parts add a western feel in some sections of the score to remind you of the roots of the franchise. Graphically speaking, The Cartel isn’t the prettiest game, but it isn’t terrible, it just needs some more polish. Environments are rendered well, but objects often pop in and out and appear at random times, and animation can sometimes appear a bit choppy. Textures are a mixed bag, as they are often good but a few things here and there will be seen that aren’t of the same standard. It’s a shame, because on the most part the graphics are actually done well, but is brought down by small things here and there that add up, which could’ve easily been fixed if the game just spent a little more time in development.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel is a good but messy game that just needs some polish. It will put off a lot of gamers, but if your tolerant, you will find a lot of things to like within it. Honestly it feels as if the game was rushed. The gameplay itself is fun and paced out nicely, although it does suffer a tiny bit from repetition, and it has nice cut scenes that tell an interesting story, although it is about unlikeable characters. Call of Juarez: The Cartel is an average, decent first person shooter with a few specks of greatness thrown in and who knows, if it had a little more time in development, this could’ve been something really special. As disappointing as it is, The Cartel is still really fun to play and is at least worth giving it a rent, so if your an FPS fan check it out, you may find something you’ll like.
- Engaging Plot
- Secret Side Objectives
- Nice Focus on Co-Op
- Fun Shooting Mechanics
- Ben McCall Has A Cowboy Hat
- Buggy and Filled with Glitches
- Unlikeable Characters
- Sometimes feels Repetitive
- Easy to Go Out-of-Bounds which Leads to Missions Restarting
- Awkward Controls in Hand-to-Hand Combat and Driving Sections
- Overuse of Pointless Swearing is More Annoying Than Cool
I give Call of Juarez: The Cartel: