Bad Cop. No Donut.
If there is certain things I know about being a gangster, it involves unreadable tattoos, baldness, filling up the closet with wife-beaters, and exercising the f-word every ten seconds. If there is one thing I know about being a cop, it involves manipulation, wearing sunglasses at night, being a dick, and… acting like a gangster.
How do I know this? Because I played Call of Juarez: The Cartel, which features a fairly predictable plot with three main characters. Kimberly Evans is an FBI agent and agile marksman who lost two brothers and aims to protect her youngest brother from gang-related activities. Eddie Guerra, a DEA agent, is suited for medium-range combat and specializes in equipping akimbo SMGs. He’s a gambling addict who finds himself deep in debt. Finally, gunslinger Benjamin McCall is lethal with handguns and is also an effective shooter with heavy machine guns.
Which character you choose determines what perspective of the storyline you receive, allowing you to learn much more about that character's history than the others. It also encourages players to see the other perspectives in a second or third play-through after the game is over. That is, if you make it that far.
Once the game started, I rode shotgun in a high-speed chase while the driver recklessly dodged in and out of incoming traffic on the opposite side of the freeway. Meanwhile, my AI teammates yell at me to fire at the attackers behind us. I pull myself up out of the passenger window, turn around to aim and shoot, but “Wait, am I even firing? What the hell…” Oh, the gun was firing all right, but there wasn’t any recoil. Only a few minutes into the game, this marked the beginning of many problems.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel does manage to add some variety to the gameplay with different scenery and a few great effects. While on the docks, you can dodge shots from a grenade launcher while a cargo ship unexpectedly tips over, forcing large storage containers to come crashing down below, making the scale of the scene notable. A different level involves locating weed fields in the forest, but a helicopter disrupts your mission. You and your AI teammates run to a nearby house for cover, only for the helicopter to demolish half of the structure with missiles as the impact of the blasts repeatedly knock you down.
However, these dramatic scenes do not hide the rather lackluster details scattered throughout the game. In every other car scene, you are able to crash and side-swipe other cars, but the car itself remains perfectly intact. During chase scenes, the windows shatter from gunshots, only for the windows to reappear magically in the next scene. There is also an extensive weaponry selection, but there isn’t any emphasis on the guns themselves. Due to the said lack of recoil, I wish I could use the game's AK-47 in other shooters. (Not.)
Combat, other than gun fighting, includes hand-to-hand combat, but nothing too complex. You have two fists, controlled by two buttons, and it only takes three hits to take out an enemy, which all add up to a very poor and uninspired brawl. There aren’t any combos or strategies involved, just blocking and a few jabs. Yay…
Encountering glitches wasn’t a surprise, either. The AI often becomes too friendly with the wall or your character goes through spasms while entering or exiting doorways. There are also issues with loading the backdrop in certain scenes.
But all is not completely lost. You have the option to drag a couple of buddies with you through the drop-in/drop-out co-op feature. Surely, the three of you can break up the monotony. If not, there is always another mode to try.
Multiplayer consists of one mode: team deathmatch. Two teams, one Cops and one Criminals, face each other in four maps and four scenarios driven by a different storyline and each with different objectives. Cops must storm the gang's hideout, grab evidence, and escort witnesses to the courthouse, while criminals must to the exact opposite, defending and chasing down cops to prevent them from completing their mission. The ranking progression is fairly standard, allowing players to level up and choose class customizations and abilities like increased damage resistance.
The online mode is surprisingly enjoyable with an interesting concept, but it does need work. A couple of the maps feel incomplete, where one portion is refined and the rest isn’t, leaving players easily exposed to one another. This changes a match into a killing frenzy, where respawn killing takes place and there isn’t any cover to hide behind. With only four maps, four scenarios, and one competitive multiplayer mode, replay value is short and quickly becomes repetitive.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel is a mixed bag. It’s your basic shooter without any impressive features and that’s the problem: It’s a game that doesn’t stand out from the rest. It feels like the game was developed with an idea, but the idea wasn’t executed to its fullest. If there's one thing I know about cops and gangsters, it’s that they don’t mesh well together in the virtual world. At least, in this case.