I really enjoyed the last Call of Juarez game, Bound in Blood. It was a great western game with an interesting cast of characters and some fantastic gunplay. When I heard they were mixing things up with The Cartel by bringing the series into present day Mexico, my immediate thought was why fix what isn't broke? But then I heard Dead Island developer Techland was working on it and that they threw in three-player cooperative play. So I decided to withhold judgment…until now.
I was a fan of the series until this game came along and after playing The Cartel I think the main problem is in the transition from past to present, the game lost much of its charm. It decided to get serious on us, and that really doesn't work in a game like this. I've played a myriad of present day shooters with a bucketload more polish than this and they were a lot less buggy and had far better stories.
One of the first things you'll notice about this game is it’s surprisingly ugly menus. Sure, this might not be the most important feature in a game but when the menus look like they're from a game made in the late 90's, it's tough not to overlook such a thing. And since they're the first thing you notice when you boot up the game, I can't say it's the best way to greet a player.
I wish the ugliness ended there but sadly, The Cartel isn't a very good-looking game. I'm not saying it's ugly, just that there's an overall lack of detail in the game that keeps it from reaching the level of realism it so obviously tries to reach. It doesn't help that the cinematic are dull and lifeless, becoming more of an endurance test than a tool to move the story along. Each cut scene also has a terribly obnoxious Skip Cinematic overlaid on it that refuses to go away, practically begging you to skip these boring scenes.
Really, in the end, The Cartel is held back the most by its plethora of bugs and glitches that permeate practically every aspect of the game. The PS3 version of the game in particular is riddled with bugs that make it hiccup every so often, especially when there's a lot going on. Unfortunately, the issues aren't limited to one platform - all versions are plagued with low frame-rates, texture popping, broken collision on models (so characters move through other objects), and a wonky camera.
The story follows three agents from different agencies - all of which I'm certain many gamers will find terribly unappealing to play as - who have to work together to take out the hordes of goons that are thrown at them by several Mexican drug cartels. The story is as forgettable as the rest of the game, but that won't matter much when you come across another issue, namely the repetition.
This is a frustratingly repetitious game. When it introduces you to something cool like the slow-mo shootouts that fans of the series might recognize from past games (where they were done better), it will throw that same scenario at you again and again until all the enjoyment has been completely sucked out of it.
The few things that are good about the game, like its co-op, challenges, and character traits, are almost entirely buried under the aforementioned bad things. Playing the game with a friend is very fun, especially since I don't suggest experiencing the game any other way, and the addition of challenges to add an extra element of competition is a nice touch. I also enjoyed how each of the agents offered their unique abilities and skill sets to the fights, like Kim's focus on ranged combat. You won't care about the cliched lines your character will say or the stereotypical way they act, but at least you don't have the same exact strengths and weaknesses as your friends.
This isn't the worst looking game out there but some visual flair would've been welcome because in its current state, this game is entirely lacking in style. It's also lacking any real soul, a decent budget, and it could've used another six months or so development time to work out the kinks and add a little graphical polish. It feels like a budget title, not a Call of Juarez game. If you're a fan of the series I suggest forgetting this game ever happened and start hoping this doesn't become the series' swan song. That'd be a shameful way for a franchise like this to go out.