Call of Juarez: The Cartel Review
Silly me, I was looking forward to The Call of Juarez: The Cartel. While not stellar, the franchise has provided gamers with decent Western-themed shooters; I’m pretty sure I finished Bound in Blood. But Techland not only eliminated that Western theme, they also erased the solidarity and fun factor. If you’re going to make a modern-day shooter, you had best be aware of the competition. Furthermore, if you have a gritty, compelling concept, that concept needs to grab the player. If you can’t make that happen, don’t bother. This is one of those games that could’ve been great but just ends up being a mostly disappointing mess.
Believe it or not, the graphics are the high point. Many of the environments are nicely detailed and the animations aren’t bad, either. There’s a fair amount of diversity found throughout the campaign, and some of the design and artistry is even downright impressive. The cut scenes are sub-par, though, and the presentation is lacking a few layers of polish. On top of which, there are graphical inconsistencies, such as floating weapons over fallen dead bodies, and the special effects really aren’t anything special at all. Still, I’ll give credit where credit is due, as the visuals represent a few high points during your significantly flawed adventure.
The sound suffers from some tinny weapon fire effects – even big ol’ machine guns and rocket launchers aren’t satisfying – and spotty voice acting. The latter is a major part of the game’s style and attitude but as usual, the developers go overboard with the cursing and one-liners. Furthermore, the shouted comments during combat are all over the place; half the time, they’re a minute too late, and your allies repeat themselves much too often. The soundtrack is barely noticeable, which is a crucial drawback, because this is a production that absolutely requires a kickin’ music selection to drive it forward. Besides a few decent voices, the audio isn’t much better than mediocre.
I don’t remember the review, but when analyzing another first-person shooter, I believe I said developers have nailed down the FPS controls. Hence, the controls usually aren’t an issue; in this day and age, such a format is so widely used and so familiar (to both designers and gamers), that most anyone should be able to dive right into any shooter. And yet, we run into all sorts of old-fashioned issues in The Cartel. Movement is painfully slow, the reload button is Triangle (can’t tell you how many times I pressed Square to reload), and both my allies and environmental objects would often stop me cold. Then there are obvious collision detection problems and braindead AI, which combine to bog down the entire quest.
As I said earlier, the story and concept really isn’t bad, and there’s a reason why Techland said The Cartel still boasts a Western feel. That’s because your team of three gang hunters don’t play by the rules; they’re commissioned by the US government to make a dent in the Mexican drug cartel by any means necessary. So no red tape. This means lots of hectic gunfights, over-the-top situations, and completely unrealistic battle scenarios. In short, it’s like borderline criminals chasing after hardcore criminals, and chaos tends to ensue. There’s nothing wrong with the idea and executed correctly, we’d enjoy a frantic, atmospheric experience.
But the problems just keep piling up. With no crosshair and an auto-aim feature that barely works, alongside the aforementioned collision detection issue, gun battles aren’t much fun. It also doesn’t help that everyone is retarded. Your two allies almost nevery kill anybody (I could take cover and wait for eons with one enemy remaining, and they’d never take him down), and there are glaring screw-ups. In one intance, an enemy was standing literally three feet from one of my partners, and not only did my ally not notice, he fired at other enemies a long way away. Plus, all foes have the benefit of the magic bullet; i.e., they’ll never miss. Not ever.
Then the developers make the mistake of straying from the formula. It’s never a bad idea to try something new, but if you can’t deliver the goods... For instance, there are some driving and hand-to-hand segments, which are dull, slow, and boring. They try and institute a few game-changers; for example, when one of your partners is suspected of stealing drugs taken during seizures, you have to watch him carefully. If you can catch him taking something, it gives you extra points. Also, there are other ways to enhance your standing in the eyes of the authorities. The problem is that all of it just detracts from the flow of the gameplay. It just isn’t done well.
There’s a concentration feature as well, but it’s about as bland and mundane as you can get these days. Shoot enough enemies and the concentration gauge fills; once full, you can press left on the d-pad and time will slow for a few seconds, letting you take down multiple enemies quickly. We’ve seen it before. And such a feature is better just about everywhere else. As for the multiplayer...well, if you can actually find some people to play with, it can be entertaining. But with the exception of a mild twist or two, it’s just more white bread. Again, a few of the modes had promise but there isn’t much to write home about.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel starts with a big bang (I was encouraged in the first five minutes) but goes downhill fast. The style, attitude, and ideas are all good, and the graphics aren’t too bad. But the game is way too slow for a shooter, the faceless enemies never miss a shot, the AI is terrible, collision detectiion is iffy, and the extra features designed to let the game shine fall flat. They try to present us with a dynamic presentation that keeps us pinned to our seats, and the story might be all right, but this package is far too inconsistent. Well, it’s consisently poor in some places. That’s about it.
The Good: Decent characters and style. Voiceovers aren’t bad. Diverse backdrops. Multiplayer is okay...if you can find anybody.
The Bad: Serious lack of intense music and effects. Game moves too slowly. AI is stupid. Collision detection issues. Extra features don’t enhance the experience. Generally boring and frustrating.
The Ugly: "Could you please kill that last guy? ...no? Big surprise."
7/21/2011 Ben Dutka