Call of Juarez: The Cartel Review

Lee Abrahams

It has been lean times recently at X360A towers (if only we did have a tower, that would be kick-ass) thanks to a steady stream of average and below par games. For some reason they all seem to find their way into my grubby mitts and it has to be said that I am rapidly approaching breaking point. Thankfully we have finally been sent a game that is not a movie tie-in and actually has some decent history with the last title Bound in Blood, being pretty damn good. Of course, such heightened expectations only make the resulting disappointment so very bitter, and it is hard to see how things could have gone so terribly wrong, so terribly fast.

We can only assume that the decision to take the old western setting into the modern era is down to a couple of factors. Firstly, the overwhelming awesomeness of Red Dead Redemption has pretty much set the bar for cowboy games and secondly the modern approach worked for things like Call of Duty with resounding success. Obviously those two titles might not be direct factors, but it is a pretty safe bet that seeing the success of rival titles will have been some kind of motivation. However, the resulting up to date offering is so badly realised that you wonder just how it got going.

IT’S HALLE BERRY!!! No, wait, it’s only Kim. Boo!.

On a pure entertainment level the game just does not deliver at all. The storyline sees three decorated agents from the LAPD, FBI and DEA forced to work together to try and bring down the titular cartel. Each of them has their own issues and vices and these pop up as you go along, in the form of secret items you can swipe and agendas you can complete. The problem is that Ben (stereotypical cowboy), Kim (Halle Berry clone) and Eddie (stereotypical Latino) are all eminently obnoxious and irritating, which means that in the tale of cross and double-cross you do not really want to root for anybody. Sure you can play through the game with each of them to experience their own personal take on events but the actual differences are minor and really not worth the effort.

Too much time seems to have been spent on making the script seem mature, when in fact it seems to boil down to swearing every other word. Dropping the F-bomb is all well and good when used correctly, but when it makes up 90% of the dialogue then you really need to look at the strength of the writing and story. The story bounces from one mission to the next with very little in the way of subtlety and by the eventual conclusion you will have a feeling of relief rather than satisfaction. If Duke Nukem hadn’t come out this year then this game would easily swipe the award for being ridiculously offensive for no apparent reason as it is simply that over the top.

Popping caps in asses.

Of course none of that would matter if the game played awesomely, but a barrage of technical issues hamper it from the get-go. For a start the actual shooting mechanics feel clunky and slow, plus the driving sections seem to have all the pace of a slug in reverse. Just trying to down enemies from close range can be a struggle and it seems to take an age to regain health so you will constantly be ducking back into cover far more often than you would like. Concentration mode (read: bullet time) is a help when it is available as it stops the enemy A.I from running around like headless chickens, firing in every direction which seems to be their default setting. Cover is also less than useless as enemies seem able to shoot straight through it at times, and if a grenade lands near you then it will blow you off your feet. That wouldn’t be an issue if it didn’t take an age to get back up, by which point you will have been further riddled with holes. Clever thinking.

The textures are woeful, and will actually alter if you zoom in on them suddenly or change angle quickly. Plus, random glitches will make characters simply vanish at times (we had a fine conversation with two invisible bouncers) or make enemies spawn directly on top of you. The game chugs along when you move too fast as well, resulting in sections of dialogue being repeated twice, or your weapons simply vanishing into the ether – which happened to our co-op buddy. Heck we even had to play through the opening car chase and select our character twice for some reason before the game would even get going. None of this is mentioning the obvious typos and spelling errors that litter the subtitles or the annoyingly long loading times. There are so many issues that you have to wonder whether this game was tested at all – it is genuinely that shoddy at times.

If you are a glutton for punishment then you can play the game in three-player co-op too, though it does become plagued with lag at times and players are often randomly booted for no apparent reason. There are also a couple of multiplayer modes played across a MASSIVE four maps. You can partake in missions, where one team are cops and the other robbers, each trying to complete objectives while the other team offers up some kind of defence. It is a good idea but one that has been done before, and better, in games like Kane and Lynch. There is also standard deathmatch, but both modes suffer from a complete dearth of players as well as uninspiring maps and bland combat.

I like to keep this handy for close encounters.

This is without a doubt one of the easier games out there, as even the multiplayer stuff can be done solo. You will need some buddies to do the co-op stuff but other than that you can pretty much breeze through the game picking up points at a steady pace. The real pain comes from the discovery that you need to complete it with each character, as even one run through the game is bad enough never mind three. However, should you surmount that obstacle then you will have another shiny 1,000 points to bask in, or should I say hide with shame underneath Hannah Montana.

This game is an ill-conceived mess from start to finish. With stereotypical characters, a terrible story and gameplay that is generic and sluggish at best, it just feels rushed and it is hard to see who this was aimed at. Adopting a mature modern setting may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but the execution could hardly have been worse. Fans of the series will be sorely disappointed and Call of Juarez: The Cartel is easily one of the worst FPS games we've played in a long time, and one that you would do well to avoid at all costs.



Decent voice work is let down by terrible dialogue and some comical lip-synching, plus on some cutscenes the audio dropped out entirely for some reason.

Terrible at times, thanks to poor textures that pop up when they see fit and graphical glitches that see enemies vanish entirely or just appear out of thin air. Rubbish environments and cutscenes hardly help either.

Bog-standard shooter fare, that never threatens to cross into greatness with any kind of innovation. Bad enemy (and ally) A.I plus cover that seems useless at times means things become more of a struggle than they should.

A frankly terrible addition to the series that seems to have tried to replicate the gangster cool of games like GTA and failed miserably. No aspect of this game will have you coming back for more.

An easy and straightforward list, though you will have to play through the game three times to finally get it done. Let’s hope you have plenty of patience.

Call of Juarez: The Cartel surprised us, and not in a good way, as it took everything that was good about the last game and pretty much ruined it. The technical flaws are numerous, and The Cartel just isn’t fun in any way, shape or form. This is like that terrible one night stand that happened when you’d had one too many and, frankly people, you can do much better than this.

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