One of the defining factors of the Call of Juarez series has been its placement in the Old West, as you blast bad guys and root for the McCall clan. Can the series benefit by updating the game to modern day California and Mexico? It all comes down to cooperative play.
A new cartel has arisen that threatens to tear both the US and Mexico apart, as a new drug war hits close to home. After the bombing of a DEA office, the government decides to put together a combined task force of LAPD, DEA and FBI agents to combat the rising menace. Who can you trust? The crooked cop, the FBI agent with gang ties or the questionable DEA agent all are working together, but what other interests do they serve?
In The Cartel, you can play as one of three characters, each with their own shooting style and unique take on the story. Replay might be worth it for that aspect alone, if the characters weren’t generally bad people and hard to root for. In addition to individual stories, each character is given opportunities to complete secret sub-objectives through phone conversations ranging from pocketing gang cash, to helping a hooker friend, to planting bugs in a hideout. Just make sure you don’t do it in front of your partners, or else you will lose credit for the objective and lose respect from your team. In addition to these sub-objectives, most levels contain hidden collectibles that you can find for extra experience, which is used to access better weapons at the beginning of each mission. For single player this is pretty straight-forward, but the best use of this mechanic is during cooperative play.
Online cooperative play with up to three people is where this game shines. By grabbing a buddy on the same mission as you, you can compete against each other as you try to snag hidden loot while trying to catch them in the act as well. It brings a great competitive component to the game and offers additional opportunities for experience if you can complete extra objectives such as getting a certain amount of head shots before your partner does. These bonuses make the cooperative play the way to experience the game. Single player has you working with two AI partners who do a good job eliminating enemies and mostly staying out of your way, but their real perk is their invulnerability and the fact they mostly ignore you picking up hidden items. Regardless, the game ultimately descends into rinse-repeat style as your missions structure experiences déjà vu: drive, shoot, drive, shoot, mini-boss fight. These sections are novel in the beginning, but quickly become stale.
The presentation of the game is horrible. From the notably-bad font used in text to the cheesy dialogue and cutscenes, the game looks like something that could have been made five years ago. The levels, though, are nice and open, and varied enough to have some fun sections. You can leave zones, and if you don’t heed the “don’t leave the area” message, you can end the mission with a failure. There is no way of knowing where these invisible lines are, and it is especially frustrating to accidentally drive out of one of these areas as the waypoints tend to be confusing. Music loops are poorly edited and slightly buggy, and enemy AI is hit-or-miss across the board but there is some fun to be had in the occasional great sequences.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel is an interesting attempt, but it doesn’t quite progress the series as much as it could have. Bright ideas fell flat due to polish and execution, but the cooperative play is worth checking out for those of you that love joining up with friends.
Pros: Interesting story, with great co-op incentives
Cons: Bad graphics, no likable characters