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Call of Juarez: The Cartel Review

26 July 2011

Call of Juarez: The Cartel is a lot like that pack of Mavericks from the 2008 presidential election. It somehow grips on to its western themes by playing against the rules (even if that means ruining relationships and crafting a hefty dose of disrespect for the ‘teammates’), yet however you doll-up the game with winks of clever ideas, its legs are ultimately broken. Three-player online co-op and a relatively interesting, yet oddly intertwined story is a concept that nearly anyone can follow. Unfortunately, the numerous graphical, audio, structural, A.I., and combat issues cluttering up the game ultimately put a damper on these otherwise interesting ideas.

The structural frustrations kick it almost immediately after launching the game. For a first-person shooter, The Cartel offers some of the dodgiest hit detection we’ve seen. It’s not that every moment in the game is riddled with combat problems; it’s just that they are frequent enough to fill even the simplest tasks with head-shaking irritation. Take for instance the early level that sees you and your two allies attempting to destroy a field of marijuana in a forest. As you make your way through the level, you’ll have to eliminate a barrage of enemies. Many of these baddies use the trees for cover, a concept utilized in almost every other solid FPS out there. With The Cartel however, those trees don’t really provide proper coverage thanks to game’s miserable hit detection. As such, it’s almost too easy to pop-off a few enemies hiding behind a tree by simply shooting directly at the tree. For whatever reason, bullets have a way finding their way through trees. Even worse, bullets have a way to find an enemy’s head even when you aim directly at their chest.

Pushing this initial frustration aside, the game has some interesting concepts. You can easily hop into three-player online cooperative play. There are three characters to choose, each have mildly different proficiencies. Where the game shines is how the story is told depending on the character you pick. This team consists of renegade killing machines from different sections of law enforcement (LAPD, FBI, AND DEA). This trio is essentially commissioned by the U.S. government to knock a dent in the Mexican drug cartel. They will fulfil their mission by playing by their own rules—like true mavericks. Each character has his or her own little side mission, which is performed behind their allies’ backs. Again, this all works in concept, but in execution there are some glaring issues.

The story is told through which ever character the player chooses; meaning, if you play as FBI agent Kim Evans, you’ll get her side of the tale. Developer Techland was extremely heavy-handed with the notion of corruption as players are forced to spy on their allies or secretly work against them. You will really only notice this via character-specific challenges, which may consist of finding secret weapons or escorting a man working undercover with the drug gang. When played with real life players, this can be quite fun, but when the A.I. is involved, it’s pretty pointless (beyond the bonus XP).

Your bot-controlled partners are practically worthless. To say the A.I. is poor is an understatement. At points your allies simply stand in your way or gladly take enemy gunshots to the chest. This is only further exacerbated by the graphical glitches; at one moment you’ll find ammo floating above dead enemies, and at the next moment your allies will run in place against solid walls. There are some downright awkward moments, as well. Vehicle sequences are at times exciting, but they are mostly a headache. Driving is chore and firing out of moving vehicles is difficult—but that’s all because of the poor hit detection and otherwise poor gun physics. Other awkward moments include melee combat, which very few FPS’ get right, but most don’t use them so readily.

Cut-scenes and audio fall into the same trap of laughable execution. The graphics are overall not horrible, but the cut-scenes are so bugged that it’s hard to take any of the dialogue or story progress seriously. Even if you try to pay attention to the game’s story, you won’t care about the characters one bit, and the glitchy audio only draws the player’s attention to hopes for a better game.

The Cartel has a competitive multiplayer mode, but it’s extremely basic and is riddled with even more troubles than the campaign mode. Level design is quite repetitive, consisting of an occasional driving sequence, walking around some corridor, fight a swarm of bad dudes, enter a bigger space, fight some more enemies, open a couple doors, fight some more bad guys, and maybe tackle a boss-style helicopter encounter. It’s bland and repetitive, to say the most, and when it’s played with poor gameplay mechanics, there is little to make a player truly want to see what happens next as you progress through the tired and dull story.

The Cartel needed more time in the oven, more testing, or just more refinement. It’s filled with relatively interesting concepts, but there are too many glitches and problems to keep any FPS fan remotely engaged for more than a level or two. But interesting concepts will not sell a game. The Cartel is a FPS that misses the mark, and that’s too bad because its concepts could have made it a standout release. Even with patches to improve the visual shortcomings, there are still plenty of issues with the gameplay mechanics that it’s simply too broken to save. Maybe the follow-up can take these interesting concepts and execute them properly.

-The Final Word-

Interesting co-op concepts are lost in a title riddled with copious amounts of gameplay and audio/visual glitches.
  • The clever use of co-op storytelling
  • Playing online is relatively rewarding
  • The gun battles are sluggish and sloppy
  • The various visual and audio bugs, which ruin the otherwise decent presentation
  • The poor A.I.
4.5
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