Call of Juarez: The Cartel Review

The Call of Juarez franchise heretofore had been that friend of yours who doesn’t make much of an impression but who is generally pleasant to be around. He isn’t particularly funny or insightful, but he does have enough to a unique perspective that you don’t get bored with him.

Call of Juarez: The Cartel, then, is that guy when he goes off to college and becomes a boring stoner who won’t shut up about how awesome smoking weed is.

It’s difficult to say exactly how horrible a divergence from the perfectly capable franchise norm The Cartel really is, but as a fan of the franchise it was extraordinarily painful to play it.

Call of Juarez: The Cartel (XBox360 [Reviewed], PS3, PC)
Developer: Techland (Poland)
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: July 19, 2011
MSRP: $59.99

From a technical standpoint it’s a perfectly capable game in the sense that the fundamental mechanics of shooting people isn’t totally unpleasant, but most everything else about it is mind numbingly irritating.

Take, for example, your partners in crime. When you play the campaign, you choose to be one of three main characters, and the other two can be played by your friends or randoms or AI. As AI partners they’re reasonably skilled at absorbing shots that otherwise would be hitting you, but they also like to talk. A lot.

Unfortunately, they’re pretty poorly performed by the voice actors, and either the recording equipment Techland used was subpar or the audio compression is horrible, because every line sounds painfully shrill. The characters also don’t have many things to say, and you’ll quickly lose count of how many times they berate you for your poor shooting ability (“Try aiming!”) or the fact that “If we weren’t watching your back, you’d be motherf–king dead.” What sucks most about this is that each of the main characters has identical dialogue, and so you’ll hear these comments over and over again from both of your partners.

The enemies are actually worse about this. While your partners might have five or six things to say, the bad guys have even fewer. Literally every other thing they say is “Just like shooting fish in a barrel, homes.” I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say I heard that one line yelled at me more than one million times through the course of the game.

God, I’ve barely even talked about whether or not it’s fun to play the game, and thats because even if the raw gameplay were fun, which it isn’t, it would be totally ruined by hearing the same lines yelled at you over and over and over and over and over. It’s that f–king annoying.

Gameplay isn’t fun because it’s wildly unimaginative. It has the typical shooter’s “run into a room, shoot everyone and move on, then repeat” mentality, but without any sort of excitement or need for a tactical approach. The game is almost soulcrushingly easy for the most part, because enemies are generally incapable of doing enough damage to kill you if you’re more than ten feet away from them.

You’ll pretty much only die when you accidentally walk past an enemy who was for some reason hiding in the bushes or something and not shooting at you. And when you do die, it’s more annoying than you would expect because Techland really spaced out the checkpoints to the point where you might go fifteen or twenty minutes without hitting one.

And the game isn’t even a Western! What’s up with that? You’ll spend most of the game in LA, and the trips to the desert aren’t really any different from an early mission in the Bland and Featureless Forest. Sure, a game can be a thematic Western without the desert setting, but that’s not what this is. A Western-themed score does not a Western make.

Oh, and there’s driving. Lots of driving. All the driving was stupid, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

To its credit, the game does try one interesting storytelling device. Each of the three main characters has his or her own side plot that does eventually play a role in how the story plays out, and you only get to know about your own character’s extra goings on. These side stories lead to appropriately downbeat endings, but that can hardly save what is an ultimately very unrewarding experience with the campaign.

So, competitive multiplayer. This game has it. Techland attempts to give it a hook in the form of a mechanic that encourages cooperative play, but whatever. It’s not really more fun to play than the campaign, or maybe the campaign was so emotionally devastating that it managed to ruin the multiplayer for me, too.

Don’t buy this game.

Unique stories for each of the characters in the campaign
Some of the score is cool

Everybody repeats the same lines over and over and over and over
It isn’t fun
Every time anybody says anything it sounds like my speakers are going to explode
The rest of the score is lame

Final score: 35/100

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