Review: ‘Call of Juarez: The Cartel’

'Call of Juarez: The Cartel' sparks controversy, delivers generic action.

LOVED IT: Cooperative play has some nifty features, bold premise and setting.

Glitchy and buggy, unimpressive graphics, unlovable stars, lack of polish.

GRAB IT IF: You rent it for some online play . . . and are prepared for heavy cursing.

Just a few weeks ago, “Call of Juarez: The Cartel” was a modern-day Western with a storyline so realistic that it got politicians riled up about its portrayal of Mexico.

Today? Ubisoft‘s first-person shooter is proof of one thing. Politicians, for all their supposed intelligence, need to take a class on video games before they unwittingly provide publicity for one they think they won’t like.

I won’t bore you with the details or political rhetoric, mostly because I’d like to keep you awake for a few more paragraphs. But long story short, a few politicians called for a boycott of “The Cartel” because they feared it would sell a gazillion copies and make children believe Mexico was all drugs, marijuana and catch-phrase traffickers.

Thing is, “The Cartel” never inspired gamers to camp out by video game stores and anxiously await its release. Why? Because it’s a tremendously disappointing shooter with a few nifty features but not a single standout quality.

The politicians jumped on this game because of its premise. “The Cartel” casts gamers in one of three antihero leads – FBI agent Kim, LAPD cop Ben or DEA agent Eddie – then sends that party out to, yes, stop drug trafficking in Los Angeles and Mexico.

What they never realized is that it’s all incredibly basic (oh, and it’s not a game that kids should be playing at all). This is seven hours of battles against some rather generic Mexican gangsters and some unspectacular cutscenes. Instead of building off its originality and maybe pushing the envelope, “The Cartel” never evolves past a “Grand Theft Auto”-type stereotypes. Yes, you face those generic Mexican gangsters, but they never evolve as characters. Accents aside, they could easily be the Yakuza clan, or a gang in Philly, or the lunchroom bullies armed with guns.

The protagonists make the story even worse, and they’ll bore your average impressionable six-year-old to death. Kim, Ben and Eddie are equally one-dimensional and incredibly unlovable. They all play out like basic evil good guys, and the only thing more cookie cutter than their backstories are the annoying catchphrases they utter waaaaaay too often.

The sad part is how much this story – and the absolutely awful driving sections that are used to break things up – obscures a good but underdeveloped gameplay mechanic. “The Cartel” tries to introduce a little competition into co-op.

The three sleazy main characters are really out for themselves, and during each mission, you’ll receive random calls and texts. These give you secret missions, things that only your character can perform. Of course, your character can also be caught trying to do that – or caught trying to collect some secret collectables – by the other members of the party.


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