A gritty modern-day FPS, in case you were wondering.
When a bomb is exploded in a US government building by a drug cartel, killing a number of federal officers, the decision is taken to create a small, inter-agency taskforce to mess with the cartel and bring them to violent justice. All things considered, it’s not a bad setting for this first-person shooter from Techland and Ubisoft, with the action gradually making it’s way from LA to the titular Juarez. But it feels like there is something missing – what happened to the Cowboys?
The decision to move the Call of Juarez series away from the classic western setting is a strange one, especially given that Bound in Blood was actually quite a good game. Still, the sudden change in direction will soon be forgotten about providing that The Cartel does a good job in it’s execution …
Three characters are drafted into the inter-agency taskforce. The player gets to choose one at the beginning and will play that character throughout the game, offering essentially three different stories with different cut-scenes and objectives. There is the hardened LAPD detective Ben McCall, descendant of the character from Bound in Blood, Kim Evans, a female FBI agent, and Eddie Guerra, a somewhat dodgy DEA agent. Each of these characters have their own hidden agenda and must complete secret missions to earn experience and level up.
These secret missions are perhaps the stand out feature of the game. They are often fairly simple things such as collecting stashes of cash, but they have to be completed without the other two characters seeing. Whilst playing alone, this is not exactly difficult as the AI ensures that the other two characters spend a lot of time running around like headless chickens. But when you take into account the drop in/drop out, three-way multiplayer co-op, things can get really interesting with other real-world players by your side, especially when you consider that they too will have their own secret missions. This all offers and interesting dynamic where the player will need to keep an eye on the bad guys, watch their own team and try to sneak off to complete their own mission.
Otherwise, the rest of the game is unimpressive. I would not go so far as to say that it is bad, it just doesn’t offer anything to get excited about.
The environments are nice and reasonably varied, but muddy textures and the bizarre use of visual effect filters can make it difficult to see where an enemy is from a distance. There are a good number of different weapons in the game, which are unlocked as the player levels up, and the controls work well in a standard FPS style. There is the inclusion of a slow-motion feature which can be activated once a certain number of enemies have been killed, but it doesn’t seem to last long enough to be of much use. A trick that was missed by the developers was not including a cover system, which was a shame, forcing the player to awkwardly stand behind trees or crouch behind dumpsters.
The vast majority of gameplay will consist of working your way from A to B whilst taking out hordes of AI enemies. This action is broken up by driving sequences and boss battles. The driving uses a first-person view with the player either driving the vehicle or leaning out of the window shooting at the bad guys. Whilst this offers a welcome break from the run/hide/shoot action, it is not executed particularly well, with the vehicle bouncing all over the place and difficult to handle, let alone shoot from. The boss battles are fun though and provide a certain amount of challenge.
The most annoying aspect of the game is the script, which has been filled with so many one-liners and so much swearing as to make it unpalatable at times. I understand that both the setting and the characters are meant to be gritty, but the swearing came across as forced and unnecessary. As for the one-liners, constantly being told that without the other two characters I would be dead, and then being praised for my marksmanship and being told to leave some bad guys for the other two to shoot was plain irritating.
Then there are the problems that appear to come from the game being rushed, or unfinished. Little glitches, such as characters getting caught on door frames, and areas where a little polish could have made a big difference, such as the inconsistencies between what is actually being said and what appears in the subtitles. Many of these problems could be fixed post-launch with a patch, and hopefully will. But they leave an overall feeling that the game could have been so much better than it is with a little effort.
Besides the three-way co-op, The Cartel also offers a more standard competitive multiplayer experience. Players take on the roles of either the cops or the bad guys and has you buddy up with another player to get bonuses. The multiplayer is moderately fun but doesn’t really offer anything new to the genre.
There are some really good ideas to be found in The Cartel, but sadly these ideas are underdeveloped and difficult to appreciate when the game has so many other problems. There is fun to be had, but it will depend highly on the players tolerance levels and how much they can put up with before giving up and playing something else. Bring back the Cowboys.