Look at the calendar, enticing isn't it? Starting next month, the awesomeness will return. Until then, we're stuck in the void with something like Call of Juarez: The Cartel. It's terrible, let's just put that out there straight away. If it was under a different name, then maybe we would have been nicer by saying it's not good. But no, it's terrible, horrendously bad, and predictably disappointing. Aside from being rubbish in almost every conceivable way, The Cartel is more confusing than anything else. Why oh why did Techland move a genuinely interesting franchise into a cliched, present day Los Angeles and Mexico? Humans are strange creatures by habit, but it really was a moronic decision. And now you're about to find out exactly why Call of Juarez: The Cartel deserves to have its head blown off. The ugly truth reveals itself at the hideous main menu, and the situation rapidly deteriorates when you start playing.
The only remotely interesting part of The Cartel is the story, loosely linking it to Bound in Blood. Having played both titles preceding The Cartel, it's nice to see the occasional nod to a lost treasure. Apart from a mildly engaging twist in the middle of the story, the remainder of the narrative is awful. You've got three main characters; two of them generic, one of them slightly less so. Ben McCall is a descendant of Reverend Ray from the original Call of Juarez, but his trust in God hasn't survived in the 21st Century. Despite being employed as a member of the local law enforcement, Ben (along with generic man number one and overly sexualised lady number two) goes about his daily business. That involves shooting and raiding the streets of Los Angeles, disregarding the safety of civilians and frequently destroying everything that stands in the way. The gritty sense of realism is ruined by the protagonist's lack of common sense. Unfortunately, we can't elaborate any further on the story because we didn't finish it. Why? Because this game is riddled with bugs.
The Cartel ended abruptly when our partner decided to get stuck behind a door, and since everybody needed to regroup before moving forward, there was absolutely nothing we could do. Restart the checkpoint, you say? We tried four times, no luck. And that was that, but really, it was a blessing in disguise because the gameplay is worse than the story. The standard shooting mechanics apply in their poorest form, with natural controls apart from awkwardly mapping the reload button to Y. It doesn't sound like much, but when almost every other shooter uses X as default, it's noticeably uncomfortable. Thankfully, the game constantly reminds you how to reload in the early stages, more or less admitting that nobody is expected to be familiar with it. Controls aside, The Cartel handles shockingly bad. We're not asking for much, solid mechanics surely aren't too difficult to develop? Surely...? The Cartel challenges that notion with flimsy gameplay, idiotic A.I. and some of the worst driving sequences you'll ever be forced into screaming through.
They're screams of frustration by the way. During the elongated highway commutes, The Cartel squeezes the camera inside the vehicle. The viewpoint if far too restricted, and you have to move the right stick if you want to see around the corner. It's just not practical when you're driving at high speeds, avoiding traffic and rockets. Even the potentially interesting parts of the gunplay are bad. If you stack up enough kills, you can activate 'Concentration Mode,' which is nothing more than a poorly implemented slow motion technique. It doesn't last long enough, and because of the shaky hit detection and buggy A.I., it's unlikely that you'll have much success with it. Your enemies and partners seem to have inherited their stupidity from Techland. They have a strange fascination with standing in the open and shooting around targets instead of through them. During co-operative play, The Cartel gives everyone hidden agendas where you can earn experience by collecting special items or completing specific tasks. All of this needs to be done incognito, but your partners won't do anything during the single player mode anyway. So unless you want to drag a friend through the misery, it's a pointless gameplay element.
You may as well look at the screenshots while you're here, they speak for themselves. Call of Juarez: The Cartel resembles the girl that everyone despised in school, the one plastered with make-up, trying her best to hide the blemishes. The Cartel is one ugly game when you see it in motion, and the 'fancy' effects highlight the rough visuals . Arguably the most infuriating part of the engine is how it fails to focus properly, so you're often staring at blurry objects. The animation is on a par with Prey, which was fine... when it was released five years ago. One part of the story has you entering a rooftop club where most of the patrons are dancing like epileptic robots having a fit. Everyone else was crouched on the ground, or on tables, or on top of each other. There wasn't any danger, no gunshots, just a bunch of drunken dancers and people trying to have a poo on the ground. Presumably it was another bug (that pun was absolutely intentional, get it?). As you stumble across The Cartel's four enemies, or thereabouts, you'll discover the reason why Ben and company kill so many of them. Their reasons are one hundred percent justified when these fools start shouting nonsensical trash.
The amount of explicit language is outrageous. Worst of all, there's no variety and the same lines are rammed into your head over and over and over and over again. Every second word starts with the letter M, B or F. Your team's language is similarly foul, and even though you're forced to do ALL of the work, they still feel obliged to complain about your speed and accuracy. Also during the slow motion sequences, Ben will repeat one of, maybe, three different catchphrases. And they're all littered with religious profanities too. There was also a semi-engaging scene in the story where a meeting was taking place at the previously mentioned rooftop club, everything turns sour and the action commences. But we hit another problem, the audio completely disappeared while the characters were speaking, so we don't know what happened. The subtitles (regularly featuring obvious grammatical errors) vanished at the same time, adding to the mystery. As for the music; when The Cartel briefly spends time in the open plains, the tunes are a fond reminder of better memories. Everything else feels like you're being aurally violated.
If you're feeling masochistic and for some inane reason want to play through the campaign again, then you'll be able to see alternative sides to the story. But you won't. So really, the only thing left on the disc is multiplayer. The matchmaking system works relatively well, and you'll start off in a criminal hideout or police headquarters. The modes are structured around these groups, and it's usually a case of attacking or defending. There's nothing wrong with the idea per se, it's the poor map design that really brings the whole thing crumbling down. Spawn camping is made easy and you better pray that nobody throws a flashbang, because if they do, your screen will turn white for what feels like an eternity. Who would have thought, an overpowered flashbang? A buddy system where you can benefit from sticking in groups of two for extra ammo and health is more intelligent than the community on Xbox Live. Once again, a useless component unless you have a friend who wants to share your pain. Everything else is very standard, uninspiring, and instantly forgettable.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel serves only one purpose in this world - to obliterate everything that was previously achieved in 2009. Bound in Blood mightn't have been spectacular, but it didn't need to be. First and foremost, it was built on solid mechanics. In comparison, The Cartel is built on putrid jelly. Those mechanics were previously supported by a decent plot, memorable lead characters and appropriate atmosphere. The Cartel doesn't provide anything like that. If you can, we would urge you to forget about this game and pretend that it never happened. Our sincerest apologies for taking up your time with this sort of criminal injustice, but we firmly believe in free speech, and we firmly believe that Call of Juarez: The Cartel could be the worst game of 2011.