Review: Call of Juarez: The Cartel

I’m not sure whose bright idea it was to move the action out of the “real” Wild West and into a more “modern” vision of the trope, but it wasn’t their best move. I went into Call of Juarez: The Cartel fairly uninformed, assuming it was but a mere continuation of the previous games and the serviceable Western adventure Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. It’s been a ritual of mine to stay completely in the dark about upcoming releases except those I know I’ll purchase no matter what, and since I rather enjoyed the fast-paced violence of Bound in Blood, I thought surely it would follow that The Cartel would be just as entertaining. Simply put, I was wrong.

Call of Juarez: The Cartel is like a marginally better Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days. While it’s more playable than that mess and certainly possesses more solid gameplay, it’s an embarrassing mixture of arbitrary cursing, messy mechanics, and good cop/bad cop rabble that isn’t sure what it wants to be. As a member of a group of four players (each available to play via co-op, refreshingly) you’re tasked with bringing down one of the biggest drug cartels the state has seen. Except when the game asks you to care about this band of misfits, including one odd duck who fancies wearing an Obama mask during shootouts, it’s tough to get past their prickly exteriors and turn on the compassion even when tasked with killing drug peddlers. Coupled with some of the most embarrassing one-liners and “modern” Western clichés I’ve ever had the misfortune of witnessing, The Cartel is more like a verbally abusive shooting gallery than the tale of corruption it aims to weave.

Each mission is prefaced by an awkwardly long meetup around the group’s ride, where you’re instructed to change your weapons loadout if applicable, then approach the car to begin. Usually, there’s no driving after that, either. You simply jump to your next location, rendering what basically should have been left as a co-op lobby practically useless. Fortunately, it does save you the headache of actually getting behind the wheel and attempting to make it from point A to point B. Odd driving mechanics slowed me down considerably, as you struggle constantly with an in-vehicle camera. The field of vision is marred considerably from this camera angle (which I did not find a way to change — correct me if I’m wrong) and made simply swerving to avoid oncoming traffic a real pain. Fortunately, when getting the heck out of Dodge is your only concern during a firefight, it’s easy enough to look past this strange design decision, as long as you only want to drive as fast as you can in a straight line. Turns, however, get a little trickier.

When you’re not being asked to drive from hideout to strip club back to hideout, there’s plenty of run-and-gun action to be found here. It’s simple to ignore everything but your current objective, easily located by the white marker directly ahead of you, and approach The Cartel with the intent only to kill everything that moves. That was the only way I persevered long enough to form a real opinion on this game, because with Spanish insults being tossed carelessly at you over and over, the “Dora effect” clearly in play here with Hispanic characters repeating an English translation after every Spanish line delivered, and the laughably bad plot in play, I couldn’t have cared less about whose pot I was setting on fire or why. The overabundance of mature language was quite the deterrent as well. I’m no prude, but F-bomb here and an F-bomb there made the game a bit uncomfortable to play in the presence of others, who likely found me to be as uncivilized as these guys are. I understand situations call for the language, but this was excessive to the point that muting the game actually made it a little easier to play.

Aside from shooting wave upon wave of Mexicans (admittedly, The Cartel had me feeling a little racist) there’s just not much else to do other than uncover hidden items and personal belongings or cash NPCs offer a tasty reward for: i.e., money due to a stripper that a hasty customer carted off with. You need to do these things while away from the watchful eye of your squad and you’ll score big points. This can be occasionally entertaining, though the focus quickly shifts back to brutally slaughtering anyone who may even be remotely related to the cartel. Lather, rinse, and repeat. We’ve seen this before, done much better.

A cavalcade of quirky glitches ensures there’s little or no immersion factor amidst the bilingual insults and hale of gunfire. When entering a strip club I saw a patron sliding on one foot through the lobby and out into the world, continuing on down the road as I watched him. A dead enemy pushed up against a wall seized as though epileptic, his head bobbing back and forth so quickly it could have bounced right off of his head. And let’s not forget the bountiful typos to be found in the game’s subtitles. Even though I am perfectly able to understand what is being said, I prefer subtitles for clarity. It’s shameful not to consider otherwise impaired players who rely on those words in order to help fit the pieces of a plot together, and threadbare as The Cartel’s is, the sheer amount of errors made here are ridiculous.

Call of Juarez: The Cartel is a barebones attempt at bringing yet another convention into the modern age. If that means laziness, abundant foul language simply to seem “edgy,” and an overall unpolished feel to everything the game attempts to offer, I’ll happily live in the past. Apparently that’s all we can manage to get right these days.

Comments are closed.