|System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC|
|Release: July 19, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language|
Whenever the developers try to change up the action, they end up with disappointment. For example, sometimes you have to advance from cover to cover to flank an enemy while your teammates lay down fire, but because the game tells you exactly where to go, it's not much of a challenge. There are also some melee combat scenes, but they are truly awful; I usually just mashed buttons and waited for them to be over. And apparently, Techland are big fans of 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand—more than once, you have to fight a boss who's in a helicopter.
Regarding presentation, the sound effects aren't bad, per se, but they don't live up to the gold standard set by loud, rattling shooters like Brink. Also, for some reason, the developers decided to present all the text in the game in a pixelated font, giving off an old-school video-game vibe like that of No More Heroes. Given that absolutely nothing else in the game shares this vibe, I find this choice confusing.
The graphics are occasionally impressive, but for the most part, they look noticeably dated, and the developers used too many filters that make the screen look blurry. Once in a while, the facial animations match the voice acting almost perfectly, but more often, the characters' mouths flap around seemingly at random.
The voice acting itself is a mixed bag as well, with some decent performances brought down by some terrible ones (the news anchors who narrate during the cutscenes are particularly bad). The obnoxious statements the characters blurt out during combat get old before the first level is over.
In the end, even the storytelling, which should have been a great strength, falls short. The dialog is cheesy and awkward, weighed down by try-hard one-liners and way too much swearing. The plot twists are contrived, and while the option to play from different perspectives is a nice touch, it's not clear why you'd want to trudge through this game three times. It's not bad if you see it as an intentionally corny '80s action flick, but it doesn't live up to its potential as a complex tale with three main characters.
The online-only co-op multiplayer works fine, but aside from the aspect of sneaking around to fulfill secret missions, it doesn't add a whole lot to the single-player experience. Competitive multiplayer is fun to mess around with for a while, but unless you (for some reason) really, really want to participate in drug-war shootouts, it won't hold your attention for long. The developers tried to spice up deathmatch in a few ways—you get a bonus for staying close to your assigned partner, the teams are divided into cops and criminals, and there are "challenges" like racing to be the first partnership to get five melee kills—but in the end, it's still just deathmatch. The mission mode, made up of cops-and-robbers-themed scenes like bank robberies, plays a little better, but it's nothing earth-shattering.
One last note: Hopefully, this will be cleared up with a patch at some point, but when I played it, The Cartel was plagued by technical problems. Some were minor, like the enemy who managed to stand inside a solid object. Others were frustrating, like the time I managed to get my car stuck and had to restart from a checkpoint. And some were simply baffling, like the time I was leaning out the window shooting while an AI character drove the car—and instead of following the road, the driver smashed into the wall on the side of the highway at a 90 degree angle, and kept accelerating into it for several seconds before changing course.
It's depressing to think that Techland took a popular franchise, came up with some brilliant ideas for a new entry, and then botched the execution—but that's exactly what happened. If you just want to play a competent shooter that doesn't put you in the military or make you fend off an alien invasion, The Cartel is your game. But if you want a title that makes good on its promise to push the genre forward, you can pass on this one.
CCC Contributing Writer