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Call of Juarez: The Cartel

Call of Juarez: The Cartel is a first-person shooter video game developed by Techland. The game is part of the Call of Juarez western-themed video games, but is set in modern-day Los Angeles and Mexico as up to three players take the role of law enforcement agents. Call of Juarez: The Cartel was demonstrated at Penny Arcade Expo East 2011 and is being developed for OnLive, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. It was released on July 19, 2011 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and it will be released on September 13, 2011 on PC.

  • Secret agendas smartly link the gameplay with the story  
  • Challenges give co-op play a competitive edge  
  • Many levels are atmospheric and offer room to maneuver. 

All the great ideas in the world don't necessarily make for a great game. Case in point: Call of Juarez: The Cartel. This cooperative-focused first-person shooter has some neat concepts, but makes mistakes so fundamental you might wonder how good this game may have been, given a few more months of development time. Armchair philosophers can debate such hypotheticals. The Cartel is available now, and it doesn't live up to its promise, though that doesn't mean you can't have fun with it. As one of three sleazy government agents, you thieve secret items hidden away in each level's nooks and crannies--and must do so without being caught by your curious comrades. It's an inspired notion in keeping with the innate distrust among these three slippery sorts. But what The Cartel needed wasn't inspiration--it was repair. The game is coarse and buggy, particularly on the PlayStation 3, where pauses and hitches too often interrupt the flow.  

The Cartel also needed more likable leads and better dialogue, which isn't to say there isn't room for good antiheroes in game stories. (The original game's Reverend Ray is a shining example of an antihero done right.) But the three leads here--the LAPD's Ben, Kim with the FBI, and DEA agent Eddie--gush obscenities and sneer so often, you fear their faces may stay in that position permanently. There are a few attempts to deepen their personalities, such as a quiet scene in which Ben contemplates a taped message from an old friend. But most scenes involve a lot of yelling and racial stereotyping, with slimy gangsters calling each other "homes" and "ese" a lot, and the leads performing deeds so despicable that there's little to separate them from the goons they're fighting. Other cinematics are so dry as to lull you to sleep, such as an expository cutscene largely devoid of sound effects and music, in which government reps sit around a table and set up the game's premise. 

Nevertheless, uniting three untrustworthy agents from three different agencies is a worthy foundation, and The Cartel tries to make good on it by giving each of the three playable characters a unique point of view. The plot, in which this mismatched team attempts to disrupt a web of drug trafficking, is the same regardless of which character you play. But each character has a personal agenda. You and your companions receive phone calls from contacts, filling in story gaps and urging you to perform secret missions. When you play online with another player or two filling in for the AI, this narrative device adds an intriguing dimension that nicely parallels the escalating distrust among the team. When a teammate receives a call, you hear only his side of the conversation. And the cryptic one-sided dialogue means that you experience that distrust along with your character.

Both aspects--the boring and the obnoxious--come together in a scene in which the three partners bloody up a target in the median of a busy highway. When playing cooperatively, you and your buddies take turns delivering a violent punch or kick with a single button press--one after another after another. The scene goes on for so long you begin to feel sorry for the guy on the ground. Yet your character (and thus, the camera) stares at the ground instead of following the violent acts of your comrades. The scene lasts for so long that you remember the sight of the poor grass textures more than the violence your team visits upon this crook. It's an uncomfortable mix of aggression and monotony. 

But like most of The Cartel's appealing concepts, secret missions suffer from glitches and other execution errors. Updates come in the form of text messages and phone calls, at which point your pace slows and you must listen to the message or read the text. You might receive an update in the middle of one of the game's clumsy fistfights, or during a high-speed car chase. You can't hang up of your own accord; all you can do is hope your foe doesn't pummel you while you stupidly hold your phone up as if nothing unusual is going on. Furthermore, some objectives can't be completed. A secret object may never appear where the waypoint leads, or you may not earn proper credit for rescuing a prisoner. You might receive a button prompt to interact with an invisible object that another character is meant to interact with. And if you play alone, with the AI controlling your two companions, you miss out on much of the uniqueness. That's because while AI companions can interrupt your attempted thefts, they never perform their own secret acts, and so you are always the spied-upon, but never a spy.

Watch Call of Juarez: The Cartel game trailer.


  1. Blogger said...:

    You might be qualified to receive a Sony PlayStation 4.

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