You have to wonder if the voice actors for the latest instalment of the Call of Juarez franchise were paid in the form of a swear jar. If that was the case, the cast would likely be millionaires by now. Sadly, this is just the hairline fracture on a title that suffers from multiple flaws throughout a game that frankly brings down the series to a standard that the franchise just doesn’t deserve.
Kicking off with the most prevalent fault of the game – the characters are unlikeable. Playing as either a ‘by the book’ FBI agent, a shady Hispanic DEA agent with problems of his own or the ‘quick we need some sort of character link to the previous games’ LAPD detective who wears a duster and cowboy hat for no other reason than to help you recognise the aforementioned link, you’re supposed to be investigating the shady dealings of the Mendoza Cartel after the bombing of the DEA offices. However, it’s impossible to relate to any of these one dimensional stereotypes who despite being given their own motivations, give you very little reason for you to want to even emphasise with them. It’s like the developers seem to want you to hate them, to the point that you don’t blink an eyelid when one of them does end up running into the line of fire due to their rather questionable AI.
Not that the enemies are any better. Frequently popping up and wandering in front of you, stalling for a few seconds before realising they should be in cover. There’s very little variety whatsoever to battles apart from the occasional helicopter, and fighting them is all the fun you’d expect ‘stay in cover until it’s fired it’s rockets’ to be. Guns don’t feel like they pack much of a punch, and despite each character supposedly being stronger and weaker in certain types of weapons than others, at no point during the game will you actually notice the difference.
As alluded to before, the aforementioned allusions to the previous games are mediocre at best and almost abysmal at their worst. The back of the box promises to allow you to deliver justice “Old West style” before proclaiming “with rocket launchers” in the very same sentence. It’s an indication on how lost the developers sadly seem to be with their attempt to drag the series kicking and screaming into the present day – in fact The Cartel literally has only the filmiest excuse for ties to the Western setting of it’s forefathers in the already mentioned flimsy character link, one level that inexplicably takes place in a Mexican ‘ghost town’ and the fact the characters swear an awful lot, the game feels no more a Western than Finding Nemo feels like a horror movie.
The biggest tragedy with the game is the fact that there are some good ideas in there, marred by absolutely shoddy execution. The main campaign mode can be played in a hybrid of competitive-co-operative modes, tasking you with completing extra objectives that are at odds with your partners, while at the same time granting the ability to stop your partners performing their own. However these objectives rarely amount to more than finding arbitrary pick-ups around the level, and foiling your opponents is simply a matter of seeing them do this. Even worse is the fact that these side missions are tied into getting you better weapons – so by preventing your partners from completing their missions only really serves to hamper your overall progress through the main campaign, so why you’d want to essentially make progress harder for yourself by doing so is baffling. Essentially, many sessions will only end up in one of two ways: either everybody griefs everyone else to the point co-operation isn’t fun, or everyone just agrees to ignore their partners while they all do their secret missions at the same time, rendering them largely pointless.
The competitive multiplayer is also hampered by the whole ‘good idea with poor execution’ illness that plagues the main game. Whereas the main mode outside of deathmatch involves both teams doing defend and attack objectives – sort of similar to gamemodes like Assault from Unreal Tournament – you’re also almost always partnered with another random player on your team. If you stay close to them, you both receive a bonus or perk depending on what you’ve unlocked. So this does encourage team play and working together with people on your team, something sorely missing from a lot of ‘team’ games. However in practice the buff isn’t that noticeable, and if you’re not the sort of person who likes using voice communication it’s incredibly difficult to co-ordinate with your partner in the heat of battle anyway. Finally the unlock system seen in countless other games suffers harshly from poor implementation. Rewards are far too infrequent, guns don’t feel noticeably different enough from one another and the levels are for the most part incredibly bland. It’s baffling why the co-op perk – seemingly the most unique aspect of the game’s multiplayer – takes forever to unlock even ONE new one from the default, and the repetitiveness of the multiplayer maps will get to you long before you reach the point of unlocking these new perks.
Whichever way you look at it, Call of Juarez: The Cartel is a terrible, terrible shame. It’s a series that was always a bit rough around the edges, but showed a lot of potential and a good game could be found to reward those willing to try with it. This game essentially disregards all that goodwill in the series and wastes it away on a shoddy experience that feels like the developers just didn’t care anymore. It’s downright disheartening to see the Call of Juarez name be sullied in this way, and it will be a travesty if this becomes the game the series is known for, when it could have been so much more.
Verdict: Crotch Shot
Platforms available: Xbox 360, PS3 (Out now), PC (Released 15th September)
Version reviewed: Xbox 360