Call of Juarez: The Cartel review

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Call of Juarez: The Cartel review

Ditching a traditional prologue, this modern-day reinvention of the Western-themed shooter series immediately tosses you into a raucous highway chase where, from the passenger window of your fast-moving SUV, you pump rival vehicles full of lead and watch them detonate. Within minutes, you meet the three lead characters and learn of their plight against a Mexican drug cartel, but by the time the credits roll, you may wish you’d stayed in those initial, exciting moments.

The law-enforcement trio — an LAPD detective (Ben McCall, descendent of the brothers from Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood) flanked by FBI and DEA agents — serves an important purpose, as it sets up interagency strife and creates companions for the co-op journey. But the whole time, their interactions and dialogue are absolutely insufferable. All three lazily repeat the same shared quips and constantly chide you for poor shooting or stealing all the kills; plus, if you’re playing solo (as any of the three leads) with A.I.-controlled partners, they’re probably standing around mouthing off while you’re left to complete the objectives. The whole relationship’s a far cry from the compelling bond you had with your brother in Bound in Blood.

As is usually the case with shooters, Cartel’s campaign is consistently more enjoyable with online partners filling the roles, though it certainly has its moments as a solo quest. With diverse locations ranging from vast forests to downtown safehouses and dusty desert villages, the game keeps the scenery lively and even inserts regular behind-the-wheel sequences to shake up the typical stop-and-pop action. Plus, Cartel introduces intriguing co-op elements such as performing secret tasks or stealing items while your comrades aren’t looking — which unlocks weapons and can affect the game’s ending — along with quick-hit challenges like racking up the most kills or headshots in a shootout. The secret quests also pop up during single-player missions, but the brain-dead A.I. partners really dull the appeal of sneaking around the stages.

Even with your allies’ poor A.I. and grating personalities, Cartel’s campaign offers a decent enough run-and-gun adventure. And the competitive multiplayer — in which 12 players battle it out as cops or gangsters in objective-based or team-deathmatch battles — is an enjoyable, if unremarkable, extra.

Problem is, annoying bugs and glitches consistently derail both modes, and while many of these oddities are simply visual quirks, others can cause unnecessary deaths or losses. Smaller issues range from sloppy animations throughout (partners poking through car frames and walls, or strangely stuttering atop furniture; a rigid bystander gliding down a hallway) to subtitles riddled with typos and inaccuracies. Bigger concerns include crummy events like falling through a floor and dying, and seeing a multiplayer getaway vehicle spinning in the air, unable to function while the team slowly loses the match as a result.

Such issues are inexcusable in a final release (not to mention a full-priced retail game), but then again, much of this game demonstrates a lack of care and an inattention to detail. It’s sad to see an under-the-radar favorite tank so spectacularly in an attempt to revitalize the brand, but Cartel is one call you can clearly push to voicemail.

On Xbox 360

+ Decent co-op experience with varied campaign locales.

- Loaded with recurring visual glitches and gameplay bugs.

- Grating character quips from inattentive, lazy A.I. partners.

? Any chance for a return to the Old West aesthetic?

4.5

 
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