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Call of Juarez: The Cartel Review

by William Schwartz

Call of Juarez: The Cartel is the third installation of the Western action first person shooter franchise.  In Call of Juarez: The Cartel the game revisits the trappings of the original Call of Juarez games with a different twist on the action bringing the story into a more modern era.  You’ll be fighting gangsters and cartel members in the streets of modern day Los Angeles, rather than wrangling the outlaws of the Old West.  The story is based around a fictional drug cartel that is operating in the United States, that is terrorizing the country.  The government forms a squad of agents to take down the cartel that consists of Ray McCall, Eddie Guerra, and Kim Evans.  They all come from distinct backgrounds and have their own special role to play in the single player portion of the game.

As you dig deeper into the Cartel, you’ll travel from location to location in this fast paced, edgy, and blood stained first person shooter.

Great Environmental Graphics – Call of Juarez: The Cartel is a great upgrade to the Call of Juarez series.  If you’ve played any of the previous games, and enjoyed them, you’ll be happy to know that their latest release features the Chrome Engine 5, which improves notably on the quality of graphics in the game.  It’s really the most noticeable in the environments, and broken down further, the lighting.  So there’s a noticeable difference in many parts of Call of Juarez: The Cartel that bring it up to speed with many of today’s great games.  While I can’t go completely off the reservation and say that the game is  perfect, it’s certainly a major improvement and should be promising with more tinkering by Techland.

Hop Online & Help a Friend – If you enjoy a decent cooperative game, Call of Juarez: The Cartel has you covered.  The game’s single player campaign, when played alone, will always having you running with the trio of crime fighters which makes the cooperative play a perfect addition to the game. Each stage in Call of Juarez: The Cartel will prompt you to hop online and playthrough the level with other players playing the game.  By simply selecting the online option when choosing your loadout, which doubles as an online lobby, you can play a private match or search publicly for other players through the game’s matchmaking service.  I got the opportunity to play three of the game’s levels in this mode, and I have to say that I enjoyed the campaign much more because of it.

There’s all kinds of cool tag team components that make it a fun time.  For example, one player will be driving while the other is hanging out the window trying to keep bad guys from derailing your progress.  There are plenty of suppressive fire moments where your teammates will lay down fire so you can flank your enemies, and of course what game is complete without a breach and clear scenario.  These types of events are littered throughout the Call of Juarez: The Cartel campaign, and they are much better played with a friend, or two.

Cops vs Criminals – Again, if you enjoyed the previous Call of Juarez games, you’re going to be in familiar territory with Call of Juarez: The Cartel when it comes to the multiplayer offering.  The game takes its unique objective based gameplay from the previous games, and applies to a more modern era.  Instead of cowboys making their getaways by horseback, you’ll now be loading up your steel horses.  Whether you decide to play as the cops or the robbers is entirely up to you, but your objectives will be different.  As the police you’ll do things such as protecting witnesses, or securing evidence.  While the bad guys will be trying to stop you at every turn.  The game is a fun time if you can get past some of the issues that the modes have which I’ll explain below.

Regardless of some of the technical deficiencies of the game, I had a smile from ear to ear when playing the multiplayer.  It’s a hectic fast paced shooting meat grinder where you’ll continually be pushing to move objectives or defend them.  This time around, you’ll be partnered up with someone so that you can watch each other’s backs, revive each other, and attempt to secure your ultimate goal.

All the small things – Call of Juarez: The Cartel gets alot of things right in this offering when looking at the big picture.  But the small things, the small things and general lack of polish are clearly evident from the moment you fire up the game.  If you’re as old as I am you’ll distinctly recall the fonts used in the game as the ones that were used in the Oregon Trail Game almost over 20 years ago.  Ok, so they might not be the exact same ones, but the small things like this play a stark contrast to an otherwise decent looking game.

Well there are actually alot of these sorts of deficiencies in the graphics department, from poorly executed explosions, generic looking character animations, it almost feels like the major improvements were made to the environments and they brought everything else back from the last Call of Juarez game only with updated skins.

Controls – If you liked the more plodding nature of a game like Killzone 2, you’ll like the way that Call of Juarez feels.  There’s a weight behind your character that translates well on the screen, but there are some things that play against this physics effect.  Namely, you feel somewhat bogged down most of the time and can get caught on very small environmental details quite frequently.  These times aren’t a complete gamebreaker, but they rear their heads enough to be notable.

The gunplay feels light in contrast.  With no noticeable indications other than blood to show you that your shots have been a success you’ll be left wondering if these zany computer controlled opponents are going to pop out of cover and end you.  When they do pop out you can expect erratic movements similar to a shooting gallery gone haywire.

Many of the moments in the game have these small pitfalls here in the controls department.   Whether it’s driving or literally riding shotgun, there can be some issues that will pop-up that zap the fun right out of the game.

Ok now you’re just nit-picking – There are plenty of games competing for our dollars these days, and so many of them do so well to hide their flaws.  Call of Juarez: The Cartel doesn’t do this in the least.  From ugly character models in the cut-scenes, screen-tearing, inconsistencies between the gameplay and the cutscenes, and so many other things, Call of Juarez: The Cartel has so many noticeable flaws that you just don’t see in many games.  At least not the highly rated games of 2011.

You’ll go from an intese shootout where the window has been caved-in (shot out) of your car one moment, to the next where your car is seen in a cut-scene driving along like any other SUV on the road without a scratch on it.  It’s again these little things that definitely break the immersion factor in the story mode.  Though vehicle models really are the least of your worries when it comes to cutscenes, because the character models just look unattractive.  You know what’s worse than virtual boobs?  Poorly rendered virtual boobs.

A walk on the dark side – Call of Juarez: The Cartel is definitely not a game you’re going to want people around watching you play, especially if they are offended easily or are not of age.  They’ve managed to pack in a very large amount of swearing and a good bit of nudity.  For the most part the character development centers around your squadmates telling you nice F#$@ing shot, or swearing in Spanish.  So needless to say Call of Juarez isn’t the deepest of narratives found in gaming when it relies on this for effect.

The Verdict

Call of Juarez: The Cartel is pretty fun at times, mainly in the online modes.  Fortunately the game seems built around these pieces, and depending on your level of sensibilities there’s actually alot of fun that can be had with this game.  For me, my sensibilities got the best of me and I didn’t really enjoy the single player portion. As for multiplayer, while fun, it’s full of poor net-coding that could get worked out in the coming weeks, but for now it’s just another multiplayer that is too ambitious for its own good.  Fun in small doses, yes, but far from a masterpiece.  Call of Juarez: The Cartel suffers death by a 1000 papercuts, so many tiny details that could have been worked out and polished up before launch.

"disliked"
disliked

Call of Juarez: The Cartel

  • Available On: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
  • Published By: Ubisoft
  • Developed By: Techland
  • Genre: First Person Shooter
  • US Release Date: July 19th, 2011
  • Reviewed On: Xbox 360
  • Quote: "Call of Juarez: The Cartel suffers death by a 1000 papercuts, so many tiny details that could have been worked out and polished up before launch."
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