Review: Call of Juarez: The Cartel (Playstation 3)

Call of Juarez: The Cartel
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Techland
Genre: First Person Shooter
Published: 07/19/11

The first two Call of Juarez games focused on the McCall brothers and their connection to a lost Mayan treasure buried beneath the Mexican town of Juarez. Set in the 1800s around the period of the American Civil War they were games that focused on the Wild West and were in general decent games. I reviewed the second one, Bound in Blood, for this very website.

Since that time things have changed in the world of Wild West Videogames. A title by the name of Red Dead Redemption came out and completely blew everyone away with how similar it was to Grand Theft Auto, but on horses. As this was clearly what everyone was demanding, it sold a bunch. Ubisoft and Techland could have done two things with a new Call of Juarez. It’s an established series now, it’s got history, so doing a third set in the Old West wouldn’t have been shocking, but then it would be forced to compete with Rockstar’s excellent offering. Or it could change the setting completely and tell a story that is more original. Ubisoft and Techland chose to go with the second option. Lets see how they did.

Story:

The game takes place in the present day. As Mexico has been rocked for the past few years by a massive drug war, the game follows a special task force that the DOJ has created to find and bring to justice the perpetrators of a massive bombing which killed Americans. This task force has an FBI agent named Kim Evans, a DEA agent who answers to Eddie Guerra, and a LAPD officer who also happens to be the spitting image of Ray McCall from the previous two games that goes by the name of Ben McCall.

Anyway, due to inter departmental rivalries each person in the task force believes the others are out to further their own agendas, and in fact each of them is correct. You can play through the game as each character and you will see slightly different versions of the story depending on who you play as.

The game tries to tell the story in a number of ways. In addition to in game dialogue there are also Fox News like vignettes which further it during loading screens and the usual in game cinematics.

Graphics:

Immediately upon loading the game up it feels like the game wasn’t actually meant for public consumption. What I mean by that is it feels very much like a pre-release Alpha. The menu screen feels like a place holder. There is no polish and the font used looks like it belongs on a Commodore 64.

But OK, nobody really cares about menus, so I’ll move on. The game itself doesn’t look too bad. I would never go so far as to say it’s an excellent looking game but the graphics do serve their purpose. Unfortunately for some reason the game will constantly drop frames. Were I playing online I would call it lag, but while playing offline there can be no lag so instead the game is dropping frames, and it’s very noticeable. You’ll be running along, then you’ll black out and bam, a second later you’ll be a few feet away from where you were, or your gun will be looking a different direction, something. It isn’t something that happens every other minute, and I suspect it has something to do with the game’s method of saving, but it’s something that should have been cleared up before the game released. It ruins some of the game’s bigger moments.

Audio:

Each of the three main characters, in fact each of the characters who are live and have dialogue sound pretty good at worst. McCall in particular really gets into his role as a rough and tough cop, yelling lines and being manly. The background characters are all generic gang bangers who spout off one liners that someone thought was appropriate for Los Angelenos and Mexicans. I’ve never lived there so I can’t tell you, but based on my Hollywood knowledge it fit the stereotype, so take that for what it’s worth. There is also some dialogue during loading screens which distinctly felt like it was read line by line into a microphone, not very natural at all.

Your character can perform a slow motion technique much like Bullet time. When they perform it they quote something and try to sound bad ass. McCall for example spouts what sounds like lines for the Bible, only with a liberal dose of swearing, because that’s just what the Bible needs. Anyway, this feature could have been enjoyable except each character only has one or two lines to spout when performing this feat of time control, and so it gets really old really fast. Which would be the opposite of time control if you think about it.

Sound effects feel a little lackluster. The bigger guns, like the M-60, sound about right, but many of the pistols just lack some oomph. I will say that the effect of hearing a person over the radio when they go out of earshot is pretty well done.

Gameplay/Controls:

The game starts with you in an SUV barreling down oncoming lanes of a super highway somewhere in Los Angeles. You’re in the passenger side and you have to shoot some trucks which are chasing you and firing on you. There is much confusion and it’s very loud, and you have no idea what you’re supposed to do. The game gives you instructions but when you try to do what it tells you your character spazzes out. Nothing you do can get your character to stay in one spot for very long. All you can hear is two people telling you they just saved your ass, and then something explodes, and then the driver yells “oh god” or something, and everything fades to black. Not what I would call the best way to introduce somebody to your game.

Oddly though once that first bit is over with the game settles down, control wise. Your character moves as he or she should, vehicles drive as they should, and when you find yourself back in the SUV on that highway things control more as you would expect, but still not perfectly.

As I mentioned earlier each character has a secret agenda, and that involves playing through the game picking up objects scattered around the levels and not letting your partners see you do it. It might be a sample of the drugs that are being smuggled into the country, or the weapons that are being sold in Mexico, or a stash of cash that was stolen from a hooker you’re friendly with. Achieving these secret missions levels up your character and gets you access to newer weapons.

Each character has their own specialty weapon wise, but for the most part they can all use most of what you unlock. As an added bonus once you beat the game with one character you can replay the levels with any of them and all of the weapons you have unlocked are available, assuming your character can wield them.

Replayability:

Well, on the face of it there should be a fairly large amount of replay here. You have the 3 separate player campaigns, the online co-op of said campaigns, and the cops and robbers online competitive mode. Of course it’s not that simple.

The campaign is designed to be played Co-op, with two other players online, in a Gears of War like fashion. Before each mission you load into a lobby, where you can decide if you want to play online or single player. It’s kind of neat, and allows for players to join and drop after missions without feeling like they’ve lost out on making progress in game. Or at least it would, if it worked. During my time with the game I managed to connect to two people playing the game, and one of them couldn’t be bothered to wait around long enough for the level’s story to get it’s behind in gear to let the shooting start.

Then there is the online competitive multiplayer aspect to the game, but this was even worse than Co-op, as I never once succeeded in launching into the game. I did once succeed in joining a game where a party of three was waiting on the other side, but as I was on my own and the game requires a set number of players on each side before it will launch the game we sat waiting for 20 minutes hoping in vain somebody else would venture into the lobby to let us begin before they quit in disgust. I couldn’t even talk to them, they being cops and me being robbers at the time, we were separated by our common mistrust for one another. That and some programmers decision to not let cops and robbers speak before matches. So after this experience I sat and asked myself just how many chances I should give this game to let me get online before writing this review. The fact is I could have written it 2 days ago but wanted to give the game a chance, in order to be fair. I don’t know why the game didn’t want to connect, I just know it didn’t when every other game I own on multiple systems does.

Balance:

On the whole the game is pretty straightforward. Like most FPS games before it as you advance through the levels you secure better weapons for yourself and in turn you use those weapons to continue advancing. I did, for the longest time in my first play through stick to my AK47 as my primary weapon, right up until I unlocked a PKM light machine gun, which made things infinitely easier and has subsequently never left my side. You have a slot for two subweapons as well. For Ben and Kim these sub weapon slots are taken up by pistols, but Eddie has the ability to wield two submachine guns. This can make things much easier.

In the latter levels of the game you must face off against an attack helicopter which is very determined to kill you. There are many helicopters in the game, but this one seems to be taking things personally. Up until that point the game flowed like wine. Afterwards there was nothing frustrating about it. Just that one pissed off helicopter pilot.

Originality:

In my review of Bound in Blood I mentioned in this section that having a co-op game with no co-op was about the only original thing they did. Well they clearly heard me there. So that’s nice, being heard. If only the game worked online. I do like that they tried something new with the story. It was pretty obvious that the Old West was tapped out for the McCalls, so seeing the story advance in time was nice. I don’t know that I would have picked an ongoing modern day drug war to make my videogame about, but then that’s just me.

The online co-op does offer something new. At certain points during the game you will be presented with challenges to see who can be the first to succeed at something, like blowing up 4 trucks, or killing three dudes while dual wielding. It’s a nice idea but it requires everyone know whats going on and be in position to engage properly.

Addictiveness:

The story plays out a bit like a Hollywood blockbuster, so that does manage to keep you going for a while, seeing what will happen next. The game itself, when it’s not trying to be a driving game, also works pretty well. Some things are just foolish, like enemies who spawn from SUVs like clown cars, but if you are willing to put up with the flaws the game does start to grow on you.

Appeal Factor:

There are too many games out there right now that feature modern day weapons for this game to be at the top of anyone’s pile of games to play. There are more coming down the pike as well. The online co-op is a nice way to differentiate the game from the competition, but it’s not that nice.

Miscellaneous:

These developers seem to have a thing for attacking grave yards. Last game they had you assaulting a sacred Indian Burial Ground, now this time it’s a modern day grave yard and church which you must assault. Perhaps it’s their way of saying they play no favorites, that they will desecrate any holy ground, I don’t know. I do know it’s still lacking in taste, just like last time.

The Scores

Story: Above Average
Graphics: Poor
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Bad
Balance: Good
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Dreadful
FINAL SCORE: Below Average Game

Short Attention Span Summary
The game is releasing in the middle of this big summer gaming dry spell and does have it’s moments but in the condition it’s in those moments aren’t worth your time. Maybe if the game gets patched. Or re-released as a directors cut.

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