PS3 Review – Call of Juarez: The Cartel

Back in 2009, Techland released a sequel to Call of Juarez, Bound in Blood which received mostly positive scores and even scored a 7/10 here on PSLS. Techland has just released their follow-up called Call of Juarez: The Cartel, but is it worth your money?

The Cartel ditches the wild west setting of previous games and focuses around modern drug war, following Ben McCall of the LAPD, Eddie Geurra of the DEA, and Kim Evans of the FBI as they attempt to take down the Mendoza cartel. The game’s story ends up falling into many clichés of drug war movies so often that it is painful. There are also a lot of times when the actions of the main characters just aren’t believable. Ben, Eddie, and Kim are suppose to be respectable law enforcement agents, but often act in completely reckless ways without any repercussions. For example, they often beat suspects for information and will do it even in front of dozens of witnesses without any problems occurring. There are three different endings to the game based on who you play as, but I can’t imagine why anyone would want to play through this game three times.

At the start of the game, you can pick any one of the three to control and the other two will be AI controlled. Each of the characters has slightly different abilities: McCall reloads revolvers quickly, Guerra can dual wield SMGs, and Evans has better aiming. The weapon loadouts for the three characters is also slightly different. For the most part, the three characters control about the same.

The dialogue for the game sounds like it was written by nine year old. Your AI companions have about 3 or 4 phrases that they like to shout out throughout the gameplay, and boy, do they like to talk. I can’t count the number of times I heard, “if it wasn’t for us, you’d be dead,” or “you know, you don’t have to do this all by yourself.” Your AI companions will also shout out the locations of enemies with “right,” “left,” and so on, but sometimes they will yell the wrong direction. The planned dialogue isn’t much better. Eddie is suppose to be the suave, romantic type and Ben is suppose to be gruff, hard-ass, whose frankness provides some shock laughs, but both of these characters say the most embarrassingly awkward lines. Most of Ben’s lines involves shouting “Jesus” with as much emphasis as he can. The back and forth dialogue between characters will make you blush by how little effort went into the dialogue. Ben, Kim, and Eddie don’t converse with each other, they just say the bare minimum to advance the plot.

The AI is inconsistent, at best. Sometimes your AI companions do a relatively good job of taking out enemies and other times they sit behind cover without doing anything. It is frustrating to see your partners running around in circles, while you are stuck behind cover getting hammered with enemy fire. Luckily, your AI partners are invincible so that you don’t need to constantly take care of them. Enemy AI isn’t much better either, and sometimes the enemy will stand right next to you without shooting.

The shooting is some of the worst I have come across in a first-person shooter. The guns are very floaty and it is hard to tell when you have actually shot an enemy. The horribly short draw distance also means that any enemy further than 10 feet from you will look like a blob. Hit detection can be a major issue, especially when enemies are behind cover. Sometimes, you will aim right at at enemy’s head, only to have the bullet lodged in the cover in front of them. Other times, bullets that clearly hit the object in front of enemy will pass through and hit them. The edges of a moving target can be just an unreliable. In the end, mindlessly spraying bullets all over the screen seems to be the most effective method for disposing of enemies. So, instead of picking weapons based on damage or recoil, it is always best to go with the gun with the biggest ammo clip.

There is an upgrade system in the game that relies on finding collectibles and completing “secret agenda” tasks. The “secret agenda” tasks are different for each of the characters and could be anything from blowing up a car, to talking to an NPC, to collecting data. As you reach new levels, new weapons will be unlocked. Weapons can be switched out at the start of every mission. The upgrade system is a nice addition, but the shooting is floaty so all the guns feel the same.

The developers also thought it would be a good idea to put driving sequences in the game. These driving sequences often pop up in the middle of a level, but there are some levels dedicated solely to driving. There is only one right path to follow on these sections, and taking a wrong turn will force you to start the whole driving sequence over again. A tiny grey dot is your only indication of where to go. Incidentally, the tiny grey dot often appears on the road, which is also – you guessed it – grey. This alone makes the driving very frustrating. The camera is also positioned in the car in a way that you can’t see very much and sometimes you will need to duck down to avoid people shooting at you. To no one’s surprise, the driving controls are very weak and it feels as if your car is just floating across the environments, much like the characters. Most of the time the driving sequences feel shoe-horned in and completely unnecessary.

The best feature of the game would have to be the drop-in, drop-out multiplayer. At the start of every level, there is a lobby area where you can invite friends or strangers to play with you. You can only play with people that have made the same amount of progression in the story, so friends should make sure they start playing together at the beginning. This is a nice feature and it works well enough. The only problem is that not many people have bought, or will buy, this game – with good reason – so setting up a co-op game is unlikely unless you have friends to play with.

The Call of Juarez series has been known for its technical problems, but The Cartel takes it to a whole new level. There are certain missions where you have to do something without being seen, like destroy a car, or steal data, but even if you are seen, you will still get a successful attempt. There was another part where I was in an apartment building and I had to fight some guys downstairs. When I went to a secret upstairs club, some of the NPC’s were cowering as if the fight downstairs had activated their “terrified” animation. There were also times when the captions of the dialogue won’t match what is being said, and of course, the lips don’t match either. Sometimes your AI partners will announce stuff that happens before they are suppose to. For example, Ben will yell at you to back up when you are driving along a road and then 5 seconds later, a dump truck will block your path. Kim also has a habit of yelling the wrong directions when you are driving, causing you to fail the sequence.

There are also some good old fashioned bugs with the game too. The frame rate drops so low that the game basically freezes for a second or two. This happens – not joking – about every 5 minutes. The audio also will cut out at random intervals with about the same frequency. These problems alone make the game completely unplayable, but there are plenty more bugs. There will be invisible walls and places where your character will get stuck. A couple of times I had to restart from a checkpoint because my character got stuck someplace. Your character will also get caught on curbs and little ledges. Parked cars are also horribly glitched. When you shoot a car, it’s supposed to explode, but sometimes they don’t. There were even instances where I blew up a car, but after I died and reloaded, the same car became immune to bullets. I could load my entire clip into it and it wouldn’t explode. Either Techland didn’t bug test their game, or they decided to give gamers the opportunity to experience being a game tester for ourselves.

The last Call of Juarez game was a good game. Techland had a great foundation to build upon and there isn’t a reason why The Cartel isn’t at least a decent game. The game feels like the developers assembled it at the last minute and they didn’t even bother to play test it. The bad writing, disappointing gameplay, and annoying dialogue is enough to give this game a bad rating, but the technical faults make this truly one of the worst games of this generation. This isn’t a game, it’s a joke and nobody is laughing.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

– Unbearable dialogue and story

– Lackluster gameplay

– Technical faults make the game unplayable

1 out of 10