Somewhere along the production line, the Call of Juarez series began to make faces in the wind. Unfortunately, the one that stuck dislodged the tough exterior of the Wild West, replacing it with an urban gurn that tries to catapult the series into the 21st century. In trying to make the series more relevant, developers Techland have certainly unleashed a monster that lacks the style and polish of its predecessors.
That’s not to say The Cartel was doomed from the day it was conceived. The Call of Juarez series has performed admirably since its incarnation, with 2009′s Bound in Blood kick starting the notion that there is still a place for Cowboys and Indians in gaming. So far, Rockstar have been the only outfit to capitalise on such potential. Disregarding it’s enticing heritage, The Cartel serves as a play-by-play guide on how to gun down a franchise that had received critical acclaim after its first two outings.
The difficult question is, what exactly is the problem here?
In short, it’s shocking that this title made it through the screening process. The narrative takes place throughout Los Angeles, as rogue hoodlums from the FBI, LAPD and DEA are thrown together. An ‘unlikely’ team, these characters lack inspiration and are incredibly undeveloped. Ben McCall, descendent of series favourite Reverend Ray McCall, proves to be the grisly, razor-throated gruffalo that served time in ‘Nam. The copper is reinforced by FBI agent Kim Evans, a woman of the streets who has an unhealthy air of Hollywood about her, and Eddie Guerra, the chatty Mexican who has more “homes” than an MP claiming expenses.
Together, this odd-squad must debunk the Mendoza cartel’s power; a Mexican crime force that has an unhealthy habit of trafficking drugs, women, and an obscene amount of guns. This may appear interesting, but peel back the skin and a flimsy interior capitulates under the pressure of trying to entertain. The campaign journeys through the back-alleys of LA, a nightclub, a dockyard, and just about anywhere that Techland could build without the expense of making it memorable. Objectives are devoid of any life, as every encounter results in a shoot-out that uses the excuse of a broken toe for its lack of punch.
The problems mount up, too. You’ll often be forced to rely on your squad for cover, as you run from one piece of debris to the next in hope of revealing an easy shot. Truth is, The Cartel doesn’t need to provide such nagging instructions, as it isn’t a particularly challenging FPS. Speaking of nagging, your partners will do plenty of it. Nothing says grown-up like a game that employs a cast who long to discuss the loving of mothers at every single interval. If it isn’t that, you’ll be getting ribbed for any performance you put in with the three guns you opt to carry. Why are you shooting all of the baddies? Why aren’t you shooting all of the baddies? Needless to say, The Cartel quickly tests the patience level with its idiotic and stumped nature.
To round off an abysmal package, The Cartel reveals a plethora of technical hitches. It’s not unusual to get stuck on furniture, walk through the side of a wall and see an entire forest disappear before your eyes. Even more apparent is the uselessness of the subtitles, which announce something completely different to what the characters are actually saying. The lack of pizazz in the game’s combat comes back to haunt it when heading online, as the 12-man arena is already home to an inescapably ironic tumble weed. Although co-op has been included for up to three players, it does little to improve a release that aimed for its own foot and ended up spraying brains across the tarmac instead.
It really is difficult to pinpoint where The Cartel went wrong. The whole product feels unfinished, as if Techland rushed it out the door, hoping the name would pick up the slack. What’s for certain is that Call of Juarez is far more suited to a world of banditry, and shouldn’t try to replace it’s true grit for an experience that burns the bridges of the series without considering the consequences. One thing’s for sure, after playing The Cartel, the winds of change couldn’t seem further away.
MLG Rating: 3/10
Platform: Xbox 360/ PS3/ PC Release Date: 22/07/2011 (16/09/11 on PC)