Review: Call Of Juarez – The Cartel
The Call of Juarez franchise has never been at the top of its genre, but it certainly had a charm to it over the years with its style and setting, and it always packed some great ideas that sadly suffered in their implementation. Now, the series has had a real makeover, returning to the scene with The Cartel. Unfortunately, this is a game that happens to be far worse than all the others that came before it.
- Worth The Time?No.
- Things LovedCan't think of anything.
- Things HatedThe immense repetitiveness of the boring campaign, the ugly graphics and lacking presentation, the modern setting which takes away the game's previous charm and identity, the badly designed multiplayer, the poorly written dialogue coming from unlikable characters in an unlikable story, the rushed and unfinished feeling of the game, the frame rate jitters and bugs, the lack of any incentive to play, the dated gameplay mechanics.
- RecommendationThere's just nothing this game does that can make it worthy of a recommendation of any kind
- Name: Call of Juarez: The Cartel
- Genre: First Person Shooter
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online (Up to 12 players)
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox360
- Developer: Techland
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Price: R361-399 (PC), R542-599 (PS3, 360)
- Reviewed On: PS3
Call of Juarez: The Cartel is one of the most odd games I’ve played in recent times. It’s by no means the worst game on the planet, and many who play it would probably consider it to be just about below average. So why then, am I hating on it so heavily, and why is it in any way odd you may ask? The answer to those questions is in fact a simple one. Through my time playing The Cartel, I quite literally couldn’t think of a single thing I enjoyed in the game. I can’t recall any moments where I was actually having fun. And I definitely couldn’t think of a reason to recommend this game to anyone – and that’s a little surprising. See, even bad games can entertain you for at least a small amount or feature maybe one or two redeeming factors here and there, but The Cartel is just so unmistakably poor and inferior that the only redemption I could find was when I finally threw down my controller and called it quits.
I realise that my opening paragraph speaks most of what I consider to be wrong with this game. But my job is to present you with my in-depth experience, so let’s go back to the beginning. Unfortunately, that’s exactly where things started to feel wrong for me, because the first impression I got of The Cartel was sadly a bad one. I knew that I was treading on dangerous grounds when I opened the game to see the staple wild west theme of Call of Juarez replaced by a more modern and rather generic setting. Change isn’t always a good thing and neither is it necessarily a bad thing – it’s circumstantial, but the loss of identity is certainly a real cause for concern. And this game is extremely guilty of that, because the only thing that connected it to Call of Juarez for me was an inexplicable cowboy with two revolvers. For a franchise that features its setting and its individuality as strengths, it makes no sense to discard that and enter the generic realm, where its previous charm has unfortunately flown out the window.
Apparently, The Cartel is about three law enforcement officers who are thrown together in a special task force team in order to take on the dangerous Mexican drug cartels. I say apparently, because past the general concept I could hardly follow why anything was happening in the game. I knew the characters and I had a sense of what they were trying to achieve, but it’s hard to take an interest in a game that follows completely unlikeable characters in an entirely unlikable setting in a seemingly forced story ridden with laughably bad dialogue and painful cliches. There are three main characters you follow in the campaign, each of whom have their own styles of play, namely Eddie Geurra of the DEA, Kim Evans of the FBI and Ben McCall of the LAPD. Eddie is a Mexican agent who has crooked tendencies, Kim is a tough action girl and Ben is a gruff, broody man who is also somehow a cowboy. You get to choose which one you want to play as, and each character is supposed to be unique and offer a different perspective and style of play. Kim features as a long-range sniper, Eddie is the medium-range rifle expert and Ben of the cowboy variety is adept at close quarters combat.
It didn’t take long before flaws and painful experiences were being thrown at me by the dozen. I mean, I was only nearing the end of the first cutscene when I realised two things. The first was that dialogue features more harsh words and poor writing than a low-grade rap song, and none of the characters are at all likable. The second was that there was a “skip movie” prompt being displayed constantly on the screen, almost proudly as if begging me to push the button. So I did, because that hovering prompt staring me in the face took what little immersion I had in the cutscene away. I was then ready to start playing, but unfortunately a few things will be made clear to you after the first mission in The Cartel. And every mission after that. You’ll realise that pistols are barely any good and neither are many of the guns, the gameplay mechanics are clunky, the game looks downright bad and, most of all, there is a serious lack of entertainment or variety. All of the game’s missions are so painfully similar, that all I can remember from them is shooting up a lot of people, getting to objectives, car chases and cutscenes.
This is a first-person shooter with some of the most primitive, bad and clunky shooting mechanics I’ve experienced in recent gaming. The guns are floaty, not all of them are really that effective, and there is no sense of power or weight to your weapon. The draw distance is really poor and, coupled together with a seriously lacking visual presentation, makes enemies hard to spot in the environment. It’s difficult to tell that you’ve actually hit something, especially when shooting at enemies behind cover because hit detection issues become a major irritation here, and frustration will lead you to spray-and-pray a lot, which weirdly manages to give you good results. Maybe I just didn’t have any patience with this game, but an effective tactic seemed to be to run straight into battle so that I could at least see enemies, and just start spraying in their general direction. The AI is hardly that threatening, and relying on the inconsistent AI of your allies won’t get you anywhere, because either they’ll actually do a half-decent job at killing enemies or they’ll just annoyingly sit tight behind cover, doing absolutely nothing of value but shouting criticism at you for either doing everything by yourself or for getting shot too much.
But wait, let’s have a quick time out here. The reason is that it’s not happened before in a review of mine where I quoted dialogue from a game when trying to express how horrible it is. However, this particular game calls for an exception, and I feel I must get it out there now how bad the dialogue really is. In The Cartel, you’ll have access to an extremely dull slow-mo mode called Concentration, which is built up after landing a few good kills. You’re free to activate it when you want, but there’s not much incentive to do so because for starters it doesn’t last long enough to be all that useful, and each time you activate it you’re forced to endure priceless lines from the character you play as. Let’s take Ben McCall for example. Activate slow-mo, and you might find yourself hearing something like this: “I bring not peace, but a motherfucking sword.” Is that not doing it for you? Then how about this one: “My sword shall devour flesh and I will bathe in the blood of my motherfucking enemy.” Still not feeling it? Woah, tough crowd. But wait, what about this one: “I saw a pale horse and he who sits upon it. His name is Death and he has a bullet with your fucking name on it.” I’m sure that one definitely hit home. Funnily enough, it goes on for so long that slow-mo actually shuts off a while before he finishes the quote.
Now that you’re aware of how terrible the writing is, we can get back to the game. You’re able to play the main campaign co-op, but this feature doesn’t actually make things a whole lot better either, which is quite crazy. For starters, there is no instant drop-in, drop-out functionality. Rather, before each level starts you’ll find yourself in an interactive lobby of sorts, where you’ll have to enable co-op mode or choose to play solo. If you decide half-way through the mission that you want to play with a friend, then you’ll have to restart the whole level. There’s no local co-op, so you’ll have to be stuck waiting for an online partner to join your game, which is made even less likely by the rather odd fact that you’re only able to team up with players for levels that each player in the party has reached in their campaign. So if you’ve been playing for a while, you can’t play co-op with a friend of yours who has just started the game and vice-versa, which makes little sense. And in the end, overall, there’s just so little fun to be had or variety to enjoy in the main campaign that co-op doesn’t seem to make it any better, but rather just unites people to suffer through this game together. Because that’s the humane thing to do.
There’s actually a rather good idea to the co-op, but its implementation is poor. See, each of the three characters in the game will get exclusive phone calls from NPCs, which activate secret missions that run alongside the main objective, and only the character receiving the phone call will know what the mission is about. The other characters will be in the dark, which is supposed to create a trust issue in your party, keep the story interesting and add a somewhat competitive element to the mix. This sounds great on paper, but basically all that it amounts to in The Cartel is making players collect random items in the levels without being seen by teammates, which doesn’t create any worthwhile suspense or intrigue, and is as boring as it sounds. The entire campaign is just so lifeless, and it’s extremely rare that a game barely improves when playing co-op, which just shows how unexciting and shallow this one is.
The Cartel includes a competitive multiplayer component, but in all honesty it’s hardly worth talking about. It’s pretty lackluster and just does the basics mostly, featuring the obligatory game modes, ranking system and unlocks in the form of guns, perks, and character skins, that you’d expect from any standard shooter. However, even doing the basics for The Cartel proves to be trouble. The multiplayer is badly designed, and that’s blatantly apparent in the smaller maps where spawn camping is a serious issue. I was playing a game where someone stood literally inside the enemy’s small, boxed-in spawn point, gunning down players as soon as they revived. His job was made easier by the fact that they always seemed to revive facing in the opposite direction while the camper stood proudly behind them, giving them no chance. If that isn’t a clear depiction of bad design, I don’t know what is. The other issue with maps is that they aren’t interestingly designed at all, and hardly ask to be explored, as in my experience most players online always seemed to be fighting in the same locations within each map, making things repetitive and dull. The other major issue is exactly what you’d have expected, in that all of the gameplay issues are fully present in multiplayer, and it’s really just not entertaining.
I’m going to reiterate what I said earlier on that The Cartel is not the worst game on the planet. Yet the way I’m speaking about it probably suggests otherwise. Am I perhaps being much too hard on it because I played it alongside Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which was an amazing game in every respect? Maybe. If I have to be honest, I will admit that it could very well have influenced my harsh attitude towards this game. But whether it ultimately did have an effect or not, I tried to be objective about this game, but again as I said right in the beginning, I just can’t think of any redeeming factors here, I can’t remember having any sort of fun with it and I definitely can’t recommend this title to anyone. But seriously, if I have to be blunt, I don’t think my opinion would have been a whole lot different if I had played this game at any other point during this year. And to make things somehow even worse, so far all my criticism has been before even getting to how horrible this game is on a technical level. Simply put, it’s quite shocking that this game managed to even get released, and even more of an insult that it carries a full price tag. At times this game really seems like a complete mess.
The Cartel, quite frankly, looks outdated and very ugly, as if it’s from years ago. The environments are just generic, sometimes looking as though sections have been copied and pasted around, making things feel cheap. Textures seem to always be popping in while you’re on the move, with the game making absolutely no attempt to hide it. There are clipping issues, graphical bugs and overall there’s a really poor visual presentation. The visuals are just not good, and everything looks uninteresting, bland and unpleasant. At best, character animations are awkward, and it’s glaringly apparent during cutscenes. There are even frame rate issues, as if demonstrating this game’s dire need to have everything wrong with it, and the PS3 version plainly suffers from jitters in frame rate during cutscenes and occasional hiccups during gameplay. Even the game’s menu screen is just a painful sight, and I don’t even have to be nitpicking to make that statement. The Cartel just lacks a massive amount of polish, making the asking price seem wrong and offensive. Bugs, visual glitches and bad presentation makes up the entirety of this experience, and it’s just unacceptable and an unnecessary hindrance.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel is shameful. Perhaps if it had received a massive amount of polish before release it may just have gotten by as a passable shooter, if nothing else, but in its current state it’s just a mess. It’s not at all fun, it’s really not a good experience to have and there’s honestly just no reason to play it. The Cartel has dropped this franchise to rock bottom, and it’s a horrible waste of time.