Genre: First Person Shooter Developer: Publisher: Classification: MA15+ Release Date: 21st Jul 2011 Platforms:
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The Good bits
Side missions and challenges.
The Bad stuff
Temperamental hit registry.
The Call of Juarez franchise was never going to oust Battlefield or Modern Warfare from their positions at the top of the first-person shooter hill - with spotty graphics, clipping issues and the inherent craziness of not having co-op in a brotherly shoot ‘em up adventure. Yet for all the aforementioned limitations, Techland managed to weave a compelling and unique series of highly playable titles, albeit flawed. You cared about the McCall family, were invested in the plight of the brothers and had a hoot and a half blasting your way through any varmint foolish enough to skin a smokewagon in your general direction.
Leaving frontier life for the modern era, Call of Juarez: The Cartel re-establishes the franchise in the here and now with, amazingly, brutal Mexican cartels running riot on the streets of Los Angeles. After a bunch of law enforcement types bite the dust a three person inter-agency task force is formed to take the responsible parties down. There may have been more to the instantly forgettable plotline, but I was distracted a lint ball in my bellybutton which took precedence and was far more interesting.
The only noticeable and tenuous connection to the previous incarnations is in the title, one of the characters sporting the surname McCall and a search for treasure in the later stages of the game. Techland has finally brought co-operative play to the fold; the only problem will be finding someone foolish enough to share the experience.
The three characters are Ben McCall, a short range grizzled gunslinger on loan from Homicide, DEA agent Eddie Guerra who loves to reinforce his ethnicity by saying “ese” at every and any conceivable opportunity - who favours mid-range weapons - and the FBI’s Kim Evans, a long shot specialist with ties to L.A. gangs. Yep, these three are ripped straight from the stereotype cliché handbook and are constantly at odds with each other.
Usually this wouldn’t be a bad thing, as the flavour of the month is competitive co-operative play in FPS, but none of the characters are particularly likeable, memorable or redeemable, spending more time swearing with no dramatic effect than shooting the constantly respawning enemies whose never ending stream of bullets are raping your cranium.
Single player gunplay is some of the dodgiest I’ve seen since Duke Nukem Forever - with arguably worse hit recognition. It’s like playing Russian roulette with some enemies dropping instantly and other absorbing full clips and shrugging it off. Your “support” seems to do very little other than run around commenting on how they constantly have to save your arse, but unless they plan on cursing adversaries to death, I didn’t see anything to back up their claims.
Racking up kills feeds your “Concentration” meter which is allegedly Juarez’ version of bullet-time to let you fire faster and deal more damage. I say allegedly as I didn’t see any noticeable evidence of this occurring. It was just another in the long list of fails for this release. Diving into co-op gives you the opportunity to revive other players, but the gameplay still has the same flaws, leaving a lot to be desired. There are far better titles to play offering a much more well rounded experience.
Typical missions involve a horrendously bad driving sequences (where in single player you drive and rely on your cohorts to take out any attacking vehicles), often for no apparent reason, as you follow a magnificently ineffectual map system to your destination. Veer off the temperamental path and you’ll be instantly rewarded with a “fail mission”. No counter. No warning. Just fail. No Techland. No.
That’s the problem with the entire game. Too many things just don’t make sense and fly in the face of established conventions for no apparent reason. Friendly AI is lackadaisical, enemies teleport, respawn, pop in and have an uncanny ability to curve their bullets around cover. I enjoy a challenging FPS as much as the next guy, but these tactics are just cheap, unpolished and defy logic. It’s been quite some time since a game has frustrated me as much, for all the wrong reasons.
What adds to the disappointment is that there were some really solid ideas behind the co-operative play. Each character has an agenda outside of the running and pseudo-gunning. One has a penchant for collecting gangbangers’ wallets and padding out their retirement fund, another is working for Internal Affairs watching their partners like a hawk and the third is on the take, in the Cartel’s pocket.
At points during missions you’ll be wonderfully interrupted with an extraneous and obtrusive phone call or text informing you of a task to complete. The kicker is you have to do it on the sly. If any teammate sees you, you’ll fail that mission. The game goes on, but you’ve lost the opportunity to gain bonus points to level up and unlock weapons.
It’s a nifty idea and if the mechanics around it weren’t so broken it probably would have paid off.
There are also adversarial challenges to knock out. These revert to kill a certain amount of bad guys with this particular weapon, but they do keep you on your toes and add a modicum of fun to proceedings but not nearly enough to get this over the line.
Their tagline of “Welcome to the New Wild West” has me more than a little nostalgic for the Old Wild West. Call of Juarez: The Cartel is the most forgettable, bland, fractured game I’ve played this year which only gets points for some interesting concepts albeit extremely poorly executed. In a year boasting Duke Nukem Forever, that’s really saying something.