The Call of Juarez (pronounced 'HWAHR-ress') series has never been a killer franchise. A few years back the Western themed Bound in Blood offered plenty of kills and thrills and was a relative success for its lesser-known developers, Techland.
However that was a few years ago and a lot has changed, especially in terms of first-person shooters. Of course the once rare Western genre of gaming has been completely redefined and exploded by Red Dead Redemption. Avoiding this obvious comparison, the latest Call of Juarez moves away from the Western theme, but unfortunately still falls short in pretty much every other aspect.
The Call of Juarez: The Cartel is set in modern times with a story revolving around the drug-wars taking place in the US and south of the border in Mexico. A notorious drug cartel have expanded their dubious industry to the States leaving a wake of crime and destruction behind them.
In order to restore the peace, via extreme violence, three cliché law enforcement officers have been teamed together as a special task force of justice.
Naturally, each officer comes different backgrounds and are more cheesy than a platter of feta parcels. There's LAPD cop Ben McCall, FBI agent Kim Evans and a DEA officer called Eddie Guerra. McCall, a cowboy living in modern day Los Angeles has hardened fists, an even harder face and is a dab hand with dual pistols. Evans is the long arm of the law and is highly accurate with a sniper rifle from three hundred paces. Guerra, the stylish gangster with the hat and sunglasses, is a jack of all trades and pretty much well suited across any situation.
But although you can play as any of these three characters with their unique abilities, you'll sadly often just end up playing exactly the same way; running around with a bored expression, armed with a medium range rifle and shooting at stuff. Lots and lots of stuff.
In fact there is so much cannon fodder in The Cartel, and the problem with The Cartel is the lack of variety. This is compounded by the in-game AI.
Quite often you'll see clones of enemies shooting in the wrong direction, stuck on objects, throwing grenades at walls and talking even though they're quite positively dead. Mowing down endless numbers of brain-dead goons can be fun, but it doesn't take long before the boredom sets in. Despite the game's best efforts to mix up the weapons and the environments, the gameplay remains undeniably repetitive. Techland have obviously noticed this and The Cartel includes some other gameplay elements, like driving and punching. But neither of them add to the experience and almost become an annoyance, rather than a change of pace.
The driving sequences certainly do break up the monotonous shooting... because they're so tedious you'll actually look forward to the shooting part again. Your car handles like a degreased Woolworth's trolly and you'll often need to rely on your semi-retarded AI partner to take down enemy cars from your passenger seat. As for the close quarter punching, the end result is more of an index finger exercise than anything enjoyable, with the player massaging both triggers until whatever is in front of you stops moving and hits the deck. Players can hold down both triggers to block if they feel adventurous, but ultimately it's a flurry of trigger mashing whenever you decide to go fisticuffs.
The controls aren't polished, and in some aspects are just plain whacky (the Y button is reload) and unfortunately this carries across to the presentation as well. At first glance, the graphics look decent with detailed and interesting environments, smooth animations and some captivating art direction. But there are plenty of inconsistencies such as texture popping and odd clipping issues that eventually get the better of you. The sound isn't much better either, often sounding tinny and lacking that kick ass soundtrack that a game with box art like this just screams for. In fact any music to drown out the painful voice dialogue would be appreciated. The repeated one-liners and over the top cursing at every opportune moment approach the ridiculous.
Overall, The Call of Juarez: The Cartel is disappointing, especially considering its surprisingly good beginnings four years ago. The game has multiplayer for an extra couple of hours play, but with subpar gameplay and no decent modes to try out, it's barely worth a mention. Of course players can also churn through the campaign three times to check out the different endings for each character. But it would take a pretty dedicated gamer to attempt it without being encouraged to do so by waving a pointy stick in their face.
Techland are currently working on the promising Dead Island game set for release later this year. But after playing The Cartel, I can only hope they used this game to get rid of any gremlins and learn from their mistakes. A rental at best, but better we just sweep The Cartel under a sombrero and forget about it.
Available on: Xbox 360/PS3