Call of Juarez: The Cartel Review

By Jason D'Aprile - Posted Jul 27, 2011

Moving from the old west to the modern day, Call of Juarez attempts to become relevant in the post-Red Dead Redemption marketplace.

The Pros
  • Cooperative gameplay has some interesting gimmicks
  • Huge levels
The Cons
  • Full of glitches
  • Unimpressive graphics engine
  • Middling gameplay and unlikeable characters
  • Lousy AI

Call of Juarez: The Cartel Review:

Techland is a developer long known for mediocre budget PC titles, but on the console side, they’ve had some minor success with bringing the western back into vogue thanks the Call of Juarez series. Apparently, Red Dead Redemption was too much for them, because the latest trip, Call of Juarez: The Cartel, ditches the old west in favor of creating a modern western. It’s a solid concept, and there are some innovative ideas here, but the game fails rather impressively on almost every level.


I’m the Law Around Here

After a DEA building is bombed by a Mexican drug cartel, a special unit is created to take the bad guys down. This no-nonsense team is led by the tough as nails, modern-day cowboy, Ben McCall—whose name is pretty much the only tie to the previous games. There’s also DEA officer Eddie Guerra and FBI agent Kim Evans. All three characters are hilariously bad stereotypes, who spout awful dialogue and are completely interchangeable from a gameplay perspective. As the game progresses, the protagonists become so unlikeable and amoral that they’re hardly better than the criminals they’re taking down.

Call of Juarez: the Cartel tries hard to capture the atmosphere and grit of a western set in the modern day. The characters are meant to feel like old-school gun fighters, and the settings—including forests, urban shoot outs, and drug dealer fortresses—are a lot like modern equivalents to the typical western locales. There’s also a lot of car chases, and many of the levels are huge, which allows for a mix of driving and on-foot action.

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A Far Cry from the Competition

The Cartel largely focuses on big action set pieces, complete with plenty of explosions and bad guys to shoot. Unfortunately, the game gets hitched up on so many technical glitches and gameplay issues that it’s difficult to be anything but frustrated by the end product. The most notable problem is the game’s graphics engine.

Techland is using their in-house Chrome Engine 5, which one might think would at least be better than the previous Juarez game. Instead, the game looks almost par with the original Far Cry engine, only with a terrible draw-in rate and insane overuse of fog. Add to that an incredible amount of graphic and AI glitches like textures tearing or out-right disappearing and bad guys locking in place or just going spastic. There’s a host of other problems and it’s clear the backbone of the game wasn’t ready for primetime.

The draw-in and fog also mean that enemies just magically appear in the distance and are incredibly hard to spot. Frequently, the only way to know enemies have popped in is when they shoot you. Long distance aiming is an exercise in frustration, and while the game uses cover, it doesn’t actually have a real cover system.


Three-Way Chaos

Gun play in general is pretty sloppy, melee attacks are a mess, and simple tasks like activating bombs or interacting with objects use overlong canned animations. The driving sequences are particularly flawed, with spotty controls and a limited camera. The Cartel relies heavily on its three-player design. In the single-player game, you can play as any of the three characters, and the rest of the team is AI-controlled.

Cooperative play is only as good as its AI, and the game falls incredibly short in this regard. Your allies are nearly useless most of the time. While they will shoot enemies, they have no tactical abilities and you can’t even give them orders. This is a shame, because the game really does have some innovative features surrounding its three agents.


Each character has a hidden agenda, which can be completed by secretly collecting evidence items (recordings, files, cell phones, wallets, and other things). The gimmick is that the other characters can’t catch you collecting these things. Given how doggedly the AI follows you, this is a nearly useless element in the single player. In multiplayer, the feature is hampered because the items are always in the same place on the levels.

Still, playing with other humans improves the experience considerably. While none of the core problems disappear with the game’s engine, ditching the AI in favor of real players at least provides a real team feel. The ability to screw over other players trying to find secret objectives, or evade them to complete your own is a fun element as well.


Ignore the Call

Call of Juarez: the Cartel is a definite step backward for a series that wasn’t great to begin with. It’s full of glitches, graphically unimpressive, and works only as a second-string cooperative game. That’s not to say that there’s no entertainment value here, but you’ll have to work hard and be incredibly optimistic to find the good stuff.

Still want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?