Call of Juarez: The CartelESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: First Person Shooter
Online Multiplayer: 2-12
1 MB to Save Game
When Call of Juarez arrived on the Xbox 360 in 2007 many praised the game for its storyline and slick visuals; however, many criticized the game for its performance issues and some lackluster character modeling. Just over two years later a prequel arrived, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, and it generated some positive reviews but it was criticized for its technical glitches and for some of the gameplay which fell outside its typical western shooter roots. Fast forward to present day, Call of Juarez: The Cartel arrives for the Xbox 360 taking the series far away from its western spaghetti shooter roots and into the modern day gang-riddled streets of Los Angeles and Mexico. Does this radical change in direction for the Call of Juarez franchise work? Well not quite; but not all is lost with Ubisoft’s latest western shooter.
Overall the visuals in Call of Juarez: The Cartel are weak, dated, and simply not on par with other shooters on the Xbox 360. For starters the menus look horrid. Perhaps, the development team wanted to go with a dated DOS look, but the results are downright sloppy. The menu and in-game text sporadically jitters and almost appears unfinished. The character models are nothing special either. The level of detail that went into the design of the characters fell short of my expectations. Ubisoft typically raises the bar when it comes to character designs (e.g. Assassin’s Creed comes to mind) but with Call of Juarez: The Cartel the bar hasn’t even come close to being met. It is not that they necessarily look bad, it was just that they are nothing original and they were all characters we had seen before in one shape or form. Likewise, the game’s environments leave a little to be desired. The rather large levels were simply bland and murky, as they just seem to have a muddy look about them. It was almost as if the game was foggy, it that makes any sense. Clearly, they could have used a bit more polish.
Technically, the game doesn’t run as well as one would expect either. Periodic slow-down and framerate issues crop up now and then. Also, some ugly clipping issues and glitches are reoccurring themes throughout. It is disappointing to say the least. All in all, Call of Juarez: The Cartel features nothing incredibly innovative or particularly jaw dropping at all. If anything, the franchise has taken a step back in the visuals department.
As far as the audio is concerned, Call of Juarez: The Cartel is embarrassing. The voice work is cheesy and not appropriate for most gamers period, let alone those under the age of 18. Course language dominates the dialogue and just seems out of place. I do not mind some foul language here and there, especially when it enhances the gameplay and contributes to the character development, but in this case it leaves you groaning. For example, McCall’s voice work is almost comical it is so bad. This is most evident when he goes into concentration mode. His repetitive irrelevant ramblings are simply ridiculous at the best of times. Also there are occasions where the voice work as awhole was out of sync with the movements of the characters lips. Not a big issue, but just something I picked up.
Music wise, Call of Juarez: The Cartel is decent but very forgettable. It is very repetitive and sometimes out of place which never left me with any lasting impressions, then again we have been spoiled so much with so many awesome soundtracks lately it comes as no surprise this area left me underwhelmed. As for the other in-game sound effects are concerned, Call of Juarez: The Cartel is decent. Ubisoft games are seemingly always strong in the weapons sound department and this game is no exception. Everything from machine guns and pistols to the grenades and rifles, all sound as they should as Call of Juarez: The Cartel features some authentic sounding weapons which truly pack a punch.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel tells the story of a three person special task force thrown together to bring down a Mexican drug cartel that bombed a US law enforcement agency. You can play as either Ben McCall, who is a gruff LAPD cop dressed up like a poor-mans ‘Wyatt Erp’ and who just happens to be a descendent of the McCall’s featured in the previous Call of Juarez games. You can also play as Eddie Guerra, a DEA agent with a gambling problem who likes to run around the streets of LA in a bad Sammy Davis Jr. mask. Finally, you can also play the game’s single player mode as Kim Evens, who is the least interesting of the bunch and is a hood-rat turned FBI agent. Each character has their own unique story. Each character works with the other two as you embark on a journey to dismantle the cartel and discover the mystery behind the bombing. There is an element of a Wild West shoot em’ up, but at the end of the day Call of Juarez: The Cartel is a modern day shooter featuring a storyline which we have all seen time and time again in some form or another.
On a more positive note, the games storyline does come together nicely towards the end of the game. Most of the story is told via the game’s cut-scenes and manages to offer up some entertaining twists along the way. Despite not being the most original story we have seen on the Xbox 360, the story works and provides a nice back drop to the endless amount of run and gun action in the game. I should mention that the story does not tie into the previous Call of Juarez games in any way other than in name, which will be a disappointment to fans of the previous two games.
Before you embark on the single player journey, you have the option of choosing your character. In this case, the menu does feature a slick little video montage for each character before you select your player. Each member of the task force has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. Ben for instance prefers using pistols, heavy machine guns, and revolvers. He is a hot head and prefers grabbing enemies by the scruff of their collar as opposed to peace and negotiation. Meanwhile, Kim is proficient with a sniper rifle. She is street savvy and intelligent. Finally, Eddie prefers submachine guns and shotguns. He is a smooth talker but is willing to stop at nothing to get the job done. In terms of personal preference, more often than not I chose to raise hell and used Ben McCall for the majority of my single player experience.
Like previous Call of Juarez games before it, much of the single player experience in this latest game involves watching some cut scenes and subsequently blasting away at the enemy as you progress along the rather linear experience. To say that you will be shooting a lot of enemies is truly an understatement. It is repetitive, predictable, and certainly overkill at times, but it can also be enjoyable in small doses. Yet the bad just seems to overweigh the good and the concerns just seemed to keep piling on top of one another.
For starters, the controls seem sluggish and the aiming seemed ‘floaty’. Other shooters like Rainbow Six: Vegas, Modern Warfare, and Gears of War feature smooth, seamless shooting mechanics. Call of Juarez: The Cartel feels clunky and unnatural. Additionally, the hand-to-hand combat is downright awful. Using the triggers to punch enemies feels out of place and I spent more time fighting the camera controls and positioning myself for a half-decent punch then I did knocking out the opponent. Also, I wish there was a little bit more variety in terms of the enemies. Fighting the same type of enemy over and over gets old in a hurry. Additionally, the enemies were not the sharpest nails in the box either. Far too often they stand in one place as you blast them away and they are often easily flanked for the kill.
Nevertheless, there is some variety to the gameplay as you engage in hand to hand combat, driving sequences, searching elements, and even some graffiti painting segments. These elements can be enjoyable, but quite often you run into some technical nuisances. For instance, driving is problematic. Simple things like turning your vehicle around in the other direction is a pain and the cars seem to have the turning radius of a mac truck. Unfortunately, the game could have used some more time in the shop with some areas, and the driving mechanics are just one of them.
As far as the multiplayer component of the game is concerned, I was also rather disappointed. The online portion of the game involves your classic cop versus gangster scenario. There are your typical deathmatch game types available, and there are also objective based game modes as well. Deathmatch modes are self-explanatory. In the objective based modes, you and five other online gamers can attempt to complete a task or try to prevent a task from happening. For instance, in one game your objective was to prevent the other team from blowing up a safe and driving the contents from the safe to a certain point in the map. Each time the objective is accomplished the corresponding team is awarded a point for the given round. All in all, there is potential for a strong online game, but the problematic controls from the single player experience surface in the online arena, making for an online game that is not all that fun and certainly not on par with other ‘Triple A’ shooters already on the market.
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