Call of Juarez is a Wild West shooter franchise – except it isn’t any more, not with the latest outing. The Cartel shifts the series to a modern day setting, with 1878 Colts replaced by AK-47 assault rifles, and dynamite switched for grenades. The story revolves around a Mexican drug cartel who are poisoning the streets of LA, involved in every sort of racket you can imagine (bar the tennis variety).
The tenuous link between modern-day LA and the Juarez franchise’s past is that the descendant of the Wild West’s Mendoza is still the main bad guy running the Cartel. Also, one of the three law enforcement types the player can step into the boots of is a grizzled looking cowboy-style detective who can dual-wield twin revolvers. The others are controlled as AI partners or, if you want to venture online, the missions can be played via three player co-op.
That’s the main spin on the game here, as the three players each have hidden agenda objectives. So, for example the detective receives a sub-mission to help a lady friend in distress, for which he needs to collect cash from around the strip club he’s about to raid. The money must be picked up in secret without any fellow officers spotting him to complete the objective. It’s a neat touch – although when the AI is controlling your team-mates, it can be a little too easy to pull these off.
Otherwise, The Cartel is very much a shooter-by-the-numbers. The path through the levels is channelled and way-pointed out, and even the places where you should take cover are highlighted in set-piece firefights. The set-pieces are admittedly quite entertaining, though, and involve the obligatory ‘bullet time’ slow-motion shooting sequences.
Visually, the graphics are a little indistinct and not the best work we’ve seen on the Xbox, but they do the job. The presentation makes up for that in some respects, with mock news reports between missions adding authenticity to the suitably gritty storyline. The game does enough to keep you involved, even if it does feel too spoon-fed at times.
Driving sections and fisticuffs are present to plug in some variety, but both the behind the wheel and hand-to-hand combat controls are equally sluggish and unresponsive. Luckily, you don’t spend much time on the road or fighting with your fists.
- Story and presentation; three player co-op with side missions.
- Very much spoon-fed; driving and hand-to-hand combat go badly awry.
The latest instalment of Juarez is rough around the edges, highly linear, and slightly broken in some respects - notably the poor driving and fist fighting mechanics. Yet there are positive facets too, as the story, presentation and pacing are all pretty well worked on the whole. The hidden objectives and three player co-op also add a dollop of intrigue.