|System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360|
|Release: July 19, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language|
by Robert VerBruggen
The folks at Techland had some truly great ideas for Call of Juarez: The Cartel. In today's shooter market, frankly, it's a huge relief not to be shooting aliens or fighting in a full-scale military conflict. And besides avoiding those pitfalls, The Cartel abandons the series' old-school Western roots—how could it compete with Red Dead Redemption?—and tells a story about the modern-day drug trade in Mexico and the southwestern U.S. Since the game is basically a covert road trip from L.A. to Juarez, it offers an interesting blend of shooting, stealth, and driving.
The innovation doesn't end there. Instead of telling a single story, the game places you on a team of three law-enforcement officers tasked with invading Mexico and bringing down one of the cartels. Depending on which character you pick, you'll have different weapon proficiencies, different cutscenes, different motives, and even different secret missions you have to perform without the other characters noticing. This is a great new storytelling method, an obvious opportunity for co-op multiplayer, and replayability, all rolled into one.
It's too bad that nothing else in The Cartel quite clicks. Everything about the gameplay and presentation is acceptable, but none of it makes the game stand out from the competition. The developers took an amazing template and filled it in with pure blandness.
At the outset, you're introduced to the trio of officers. First up is Ben McCall, an LAPD detective and Vietnam vet who comes off a little bit like Dog the Bounty Hunter and is, coincidentally, a descendant of Ray McCall, the protagonist from the last Call of Juarez game. Next is Kim Evans, an FBI agent who'd like her bureau to take over anti-drug duties from the Drug Enforcement Administration, which she thinks is incompetent. And third, of course, is a member of the DEA itself: Eddie Guerra, a crooked cop and compulsive gambler. After a brief action section and a few cutscenes, you choose a character, a decision that sticks with you through the whole game.
Your team is sent on a top-secret mission. Several federal agents were killed by a cartel's bomb, and the government wants to retaliate—but invading Mexico officially is off the table. Instead, someone gets the bright idea of sending this LAPD/FBI/DEA alphabet-soup squad, with all its inter-agency squabbles, to take action by itself. Your projects will include burning the cartel's drugs and making it look like a rival gang did it, and intercepting a shipment of trafficked women. As you make it closer to Juarez, the resistance only gets stronger.
Unfortunately, with this game, mediocrity is the rule. Take the driving. On the one hand, it can feel a lot more realistic than other games, with a first-person view that puts you in the driver's seat, tires that bump and jerk on rough roads, and a touchy accelerator. But on the other hand, the turning and braking don't feel right at all, which indicates a serious lack of polish.
The shooting could have used more polish as well. The controls are basically standard for an FPS, but they feel just slightly clunky. The enemy AI usually isn't distractingly bad, but the bad guys very rarely do anything impressive on a tactical level—which might be a good thing, considering there's no cover system beyond "find an object and crouch behind it." There's a good variety of guns—you unlock them by "leveling up," which you do by completing your secret missions without being seen—but most of them don't really seem lively or menacing. While your character's particular abilities can matter in some situations, most of the time you'll be just grabbing a machine gun no matter which agent you have. There's a Max Payne–style slow-mo effect, but that's not exactly a revelation: every Western shooter has that.