Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Call of Juarez: The Cartel review

The Cartel is the latest in the Call of Juarez series, but instead of being another Wild West title, it takes place in modern LA. You take control of one of the three characters, in either solo or cooperative play, and are out to take down the Mendoza cartel.

The first thing you'll notice about this game is the bad voice acting. Not only are the lines cheesy and stereotypical, but the quality is awful. The sound is tinny and seems to have been recorded on a cheap dictaphone. It is very evident in the cut scenes, but in-game it's not so bad. Secondly, the gun sounds are very disappointing. There isn't much variation of the noises between the different guns, which is lazy on the part of Techland. Carrying on with the guns, there are more problems. First, the recoil does not feel heavy. No matter if you're using the weakest pistol, a high powered revolver or a light machine gun, it's basically the same kickback. It really detracts from the experience.
One of the three characters, Ben McCall

The controls are not standard for an FPS. The button layout is confusing and it makes you wonder what Techland were thinking. RB to change weapon and Y to reload? There is literally no reason to not follow the standard layout. You can get used to this, but it certainly is confusing. On top of the bad controls the player movement is clunky and heavy, and the aiming is jerky. Hard to get the perfect shot lined up when the crosshair moves like it does. Not that you should have a problem getting the kills anyway, because the AI selects a piece of cover, and sticks to it. Pops up, shoots and back in cover. They won't run to better cover and will only try to get a better shot on you now and then. They all look the same and killing them soon becomes a chore.

The level structure is mainly the same for each level. Drive to a location, walk and shoot, find a person or object, then make your way to another vehicle (sometimes the same), and drive away. Funnily enough, the first level is by far the most interesting. It sees you framing a rival gang for burning another gang's marijuana plantation. You must set timed bombs and spraypaint tags all around the crime scene. It promises a lot but the majority of the game afterwards does not deliver the same amount of excitement. To make matters worse, you will encounter bug after bug. Of the first two times I brought down a helicopter, the first exploded, but stayed in the air, perfectly still, rotor blades still spinning. The second time, it slowly fell and as it touched the floor starting bouncing around erratically, before being launched into the distance where it was no longer visible. This should not be happening in a game that people have spent good money on.
The graphics aren't terrible but could definitely be better

The best feature by far is the secret items and secret agenda. On most levels, you will receive a private phone call, asking you to do a favour for someone. The twist is that the other two players are to remain unaware of what you are up to. You must find the item in question and complete the mission without the other two having any idea. When playing with live cooperative partners, each player can get their own mission and it becomes quite intense as you try to stay alive, but also keep an eye on your partners. There are also standard secret items like phones and wallets which give you experience points, but these aren't particular to each character. It's an amazing idea, which goes with the storyline perfectly, as there are many twists and turns and it seems like nobody is trustworthy. Beyond this feature though, nothing new is brought to the genre.

It seems like Techland gave up somewhere in the testing stage. What should have been an amazing rebranding of the Call of Juarez franchise, is instead a forgettable, average shooter. Nothing sets it apart from the competitors, apart from the secret agendas, which is a genuinely great feature. It's hard to see why the Call of Juarez name is on the box. To launch a new IP would have been safer for everyone, as this will be the first game to let down what is generally thought of as a good franchise.


by Louis Gardner

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