As a big western fan, I’ve always enjoyed the Call of Juarez games, and saw this latest release in the series as a great chance to expand my love of the franchise. In a major departure from previous titles, however, Call of Juarez: The Cartel sees developers, Techland, attempting to bring the old fashion western into the modern day, and the results are decidedly mixed.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel tells a story of three officers from different agencies banded together to fight the Mexican drug cartels. You have a choice of three characters to play as in this game: Ben, Eddie and Kim. Ben McCall is a typical cowboy lookalike, with his Stetson hat and grizzled voice. He has the special skill of improved close combat shooting via his revolvers. DEA agent, Eddie Guerra, is a brash lantino cop who likes SMGs and shotguns, while FBI agent Kimberly Evans has the best movement skill, making her the most agile and most accurate when running. Her sniper skills are also the best out of the three.
The story is very generic. I can see this as the plot for any B-movie that goes straight to DVD. As you begin to play you see that the dialogue of the characters is a bit cheesy. Some may like it, but I think most will not. The interplay between the characters is good and their stories are well thought out but ultimately it all seems a bit rushed and just mashed together to make them fit. The main issue is that Techland do not form clear bonds between the characters so that you begin to care about them.
The Cartel plays like a typical FPS and the control system is very easy to get used to. During the game you can carry one primary weapon and two side arms, and can dual wield certain weapons. The guns are fun to shoot and there are more than enough enemies to kill. The variety of weapons is also a nice touch, ranging from revolvers to hand guns to SMGs and sniper rifles. You also have the option to throw grenades.
The main problem with the gameplay is it’s repetitive nature. During every mission there are instances where you will drive somewhere, kill enemies, knock on doors and have a few slow motion shooting sequences. These are fun the first few times, but after a while this is all the game becomes. The AI in this game is not bad but not great. Enemies do hide behind cover but are too easy to predict.
There are some aspects of the game that are good. The concentration mode – when the action slows allowing you to take out multiple gang members – for example, may be a pretty standard bullet-time mechanic, but it’s executed well and remains entertaining throughout. You can also use two weapons at the same time for added killing ability, and what I liked about this is that you can shoot the guns independently of each other with the L and R triggers, which was very satisfying. Finally, the team cover option, where you can run to cover when your allies are covering you, is another nice inclusion, although it does become very repetitive the more you play the game.
Call of Juarez: the Cartel looks like a game from a few years ago. The graphics are sometimes blocky and grainy. Ocassionally, characters’ heads are square and the limbs look very rigid. Textures are constantly shifting and your hand sometimes becomes invisible, while other, minor anomalies see your allies magically appearing in front of you at different points, such as when you progress through checkpoints, and enemies sometimes walking through crates and boxes even though you have killed them. Issues like these make the whole game seem rushed on Techland’s behalf, and, as a result, hard to lose yourself in.
The music tracks in the game are good and the western theme was pleasant to play along to. The gun shot sounds are dead on and the character voices are very well done, but the dialogue is slow and predictable. There were also instances when the dialogue cut out and all I has was the subtitles. To me this shows a lack of testing. There is also online multiplayer and a nice Co-op option for you and two friends. This is fun, as my friends and I found out, it adds some real replay value to the game that many other shooters are missing, and having three different characters, each with their own stories, also helps the game’s longevity.
Overall I would say that this is not a great game as it suffers from some dated graphical issues and generic characters. The sound is fine and there is multiplayer if you want it. Ultimately I think the decision to take this franchise into the modern age has killed the western charm that was the Call of Juarez series’ greatest appeal. This could have been a pretty decent shooter, instead, it’s decidedly forgettable. Play it if you’re a fan, but don’t expect too much.
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