A few weekends ago GameStop was having a “buy two, get one free” sale so I picked up Call of Juarez: The Cartel for XBOX 360 among a bunch of other games. Needless to say I got it for cheap. The only other Call of Juarez game I’ve played is Gunslinger on Steam and I really enjoyed it. I remember when Cartel came out and back then the previews intrigued me mainly because of it’s setting and storyline. I’ve always been a sucker for the whole “cops and robbers” or “cops vs bad guys” type games. Crime games, if you will. I also heard this game was complete shit but I thought I’d give it a shot since the price wasn’t so high anymore anyway.
Unlike the other games in the Call of Juarez series, The Cartel puts you in modern day Los Angeles and Mexico. You play as one of three protagonists who team up to take down the Mexican cartel. It feels like the story is supposed to be some kind of gritty action packed adventure but it’s just not that engaging. The voice work isn’t that great but can be humorous. I’m guessing that wasn’t intentional. All three protagonists are from different areas of law enforcement. Ben McCall is an LAPD detective and the oldest of the three. The game tries to make him out to be some kind of renegade badass but he’s just an old guy with an occasional funny line. Eddie Guerra is a DEA agent and apparently he has some personal issues and is suspected of being corrupt right from the start. Kimberly Evans is an FBI agent and quite frankly I don’t know what her deal was and found her to be the least interesting of the three. They’re all enlisted by Assistant Deputy Director Shane Dickson to protect the daughter of a recently deceased agent from the Cartel. Each of the protagonists has an alternate agenda during the investigation which is suppose to keep you guessing as to what’s going on, who is corrupt, etc. I lost interest very quickly.
The gameplay in The Cartel is just downright bland. The combat is weak, the missions are all the same, and the single player experience needs work. At the start of each mission you start in an area where you can choose what weapons you want to use for that mission. You can only bring two weapons. I would say choose wisely but you don’t have to. None of the weapons feel that great and the sound of the guns are lacking. Your character will level up as you play allowing you to unlock more weapons. The actual shooting itself just felt slow. You may even say clunky. It’s hard to describe but something definitely felt off. Ammo was never an issue as you can pick up dropped ammo from fallen enemies as well as weapons. Brief sequences included melee combat which is just a joke. Left punch, right punch, and block. Then there are the driving sequences. These driving sequences clearly indicate this game was designed with co-op in mind. I played as Ben McCall and most of the driving segments forced me to be the driver. You will get into car chases and highway shootouts but you can’t do much but drive and try to avoid gunfire. I never during these sequences but there was no real way to defend myself either. It seems that if you had another player or you were the other player, you could ride shotgun and shoot back which is what the AI would do anyway. Some driving sequences allowed you to ride shotgun and do just that but they were very few but also much more enjoyable.
To reiterate what I stated earlier, the gunplay is nothing special. At certain points during a firefight the game forces you to get behind cover as to not get slaughtered by enemy gunfire. These sequences force you to go from cover to cover to flank the enemies and it’s horribly done. It forces this flanking thing on you and you must wait for your partners to cover you and scream that it’s okay for you to move up. An indicator will show in front of what cover you need to run to next. Most of the time I couldn’t see where I needed to go next because if I stuck my head out I would get assaulted with bullets. The sides of the screen become more and more red the more you are injured adding to the frustration of not seeing where to go. Like the driving segments, there are way too many of these and they are horribly implemented. Another forced mechanic is “team entry”. Frequently you will encounter doors with enemies on the other side. You know this because there will be indicators on either side of the door so you and a partner can hug the wall and get ready to bust through, shooting everyone on the other side. You bust through and now you’re in slow motion picking off enemies one at a time. It’s cool the first time but gets old after the third or fourth time. From what I noticed you can only use handguns or sub-machine guns. Even if you’re carrying a rifle or shotgun it will automatically switch to your sidearm which is usually a handgun.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel contains no real mission variety. Every mission has you up against a ton of bad guys which are never really difficult to take down. There is also no real enemy variety and they repeat the same shit over and over again. They all sound the same. At the start of some missions, you may get a call from some random person asking for assistance which means you can complete an optional and secondary objective. Each mission contains hidden items that you can “steal” so corruption is pretty rampant throughout the story. If one of you’re partners sees you stealing the item you won’t get the XP and you’re just naughty I guess. There didn’t seem to be any real punishment for this especially since you get to keep the item anyway. Many times I would steal shit and I knew my partners were right nearby and they still didn’t notice. This also shows how co-op was a focus. At the end of each mission it displays the mission stats and one of them indicates detecting a theft or something like that. From what I gathered, this only applies to you specifically identifying another player stealing a hidden item. Since I was playing by myself I never detected anyone. Last but not least we get to what are supposed to be boss fights. Every now and then a helicopter comes by and guns for you. You must take it down by any means necessary and every time it’s the same thing. It gets old fast. Unless you have a rocket launcher the entire fight seems to just drag on.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel is a very bland and generic shooter. Nothing stands out. The gunplay is weak, the story is forgettable, the characters are uninteresting, and everything from mission design to enemies are just repetitive. Co-op seems to be the focus but I don’t think playing with a buddy will make the game that much better. There are worse games and there are far better games out there. I’m just thankful I didn’t pay more than ten bucks for this.
Check out our playthrough below: