The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
With its focus on the two gunslinging McCall brothers, the lack of co-op in Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood was puzzling. It seems Techland recognized its error, as it made three-player cooperative play a key element of The Cartel. While its approach to co-op features some intriguing ideas, they’re never fleshed out enough to make up for the generic and glitchy gameplay.
Players take the role of three uninspired protagonists – the modern-day cowboy Ben McCall, the gambling DEA officer Eddie Guerra, or FBI agent Kim Evans – who must take down a powerful cartel leader. No matter who you pick, expect to be subjected to countless lines that sound like they came from a parody of bad cop movies. Techland obviously wanted McCall to come off as a gruff ***, but the character’s history is laughably overwritten. At various points, McCall is portrayed as a homicide detective, vice cop, cowboy, Vietnam vet, and pimp. Lines about riding in on a pale horse and “I bring not peace, but a f***ing sword” are cheesy the first time you hear them, but even worse after being repeated ad nauseam throughout the seven-hour campaign.
Shooting your way through gang-ridden urban areas and shady drug operations across the border aren’t novel concepts, but some co-op features show promise early on. Local co-op isn’t an option, and it would actually be a detriment to the experience thanks to the “co-opetition” elements. At various times, your character receives text messages or phone calls behind your partners’ backs. They may hear your side of the conversation, but the details remain unknown to everyone but you.
During these calls you receive dirt on your co-op partners, as well as hidden objectives that you’re tasked with performing without being spotted. Snatching that cell phone or wallet you spotted can help you level up if you are stealthy about it, but your partner gets the XP bonus if he or she catches you red-handed. Looking around the room to make sure you’re alone before attempting the grab is fun, and it’s even better if you’re the one catching your partner in the act.
While the hidden agendas and secret phone calls are intriguing early on, “co-opetition” never really goes anywhere interesting. Gameplay is rarely affected outside of the item grabs, and the characters aren’t interesting enough to give the gossipy calls any weight.
If you strip away the novel co-op elements (or play single-player), you’re left with a poorly written, monotonous shooter. Leveling up and advancing through the story unlocks new guns, but you never end up feeling powerful as you mow down waves of cookie-cutter drug runners. If one or both of your partners is controlled by A.I., expect them to be useless in virtually every situation. The game tries to break up the action with vehicle chase sequences, but they’re so scripted that you fail if you try to stray even a few dozen feet from the predetermined path.
The Cartel’s subpar concept is made even worse by the litany of glitches from beginning to end. I experienced my screen going black except for the HUD, abrupt loads that made enemies and objects appear out of thin air, floating characters, enemies stuck in hilarious animation loops, and plenty more. Actions don’t sync well in co-op, either. You may see your partner sprinting around, while in reality he or she is crouch walking. In one mission, I witnessed my partner waving his hands wildly in front of a rock, followed by the graffiti tag animating about five seconds after he had ran away from it. Spellchecking wasn’t on the QA task list, either. I saw the wrong usage of “your/you’re” more often than not, and plenty of words feature extra consonants (“ammount”) or other misspellings. In addition, the poorly edited subtitles are often entirely different sentences than the groan-inducing dialogue coming out of the characters’ mouths.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel is a definite step back for the series. Bound in Blood wasn’t a blockbuster, but it was a solid shooter with an interesting Western vibe. Fans of the Outlaws vs. Lawmen multiplayer in that title might enjoy its cops/criminals counterpart in The Cartel, but it’s certainly not enough to recommend a purchase. Its objective-based action tasks the two sides with performing a series of actions. Some of these objectives are ridiculous, such as using bombs to blow open wooden crackhouse doors, or having a team of cops unload assault rifles into a circuit box to disable it. Rounds take too long to complete and the gunplay doesn’t feel responsive enough for fans of multiplayer FPS fans. It’s not as broken as the single-player game, but it’s certainly not as fun as other available online shooters.
When Techland and Ubisoft revealed the surprising modern-day setting for the The Cartel, it was met with plenty of skepticism from the gaming community. This skepticism proved justified, as the game is generic at best, broken at worst, and falls short in its attempts to innovate cooperative play.