Call of Juarez: The Cartel abandons the series' Wild West setting

Game developers follow the “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” philosophy when it comes to creating sequels or developing a franchise, often retaining core gameplay elements that worked well for a previous game in the series while attempting to evolve the game into something better with subtle additions to mechanics and other elements. Well, at least the good developers do. Then there are the confused ones such as Polish developers Techland, who have chosen to abandon the Western theme for their Call of Juarez series in favour of a modern one. Their previous game, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood was surprisingly good — the universe was immersive, the story interesting, the shooting tight and the game looked superb on a good PC, thanks to Techland's proprietary Chrome Engine 4 graphics engine. Most importantly, the game proved that Techland was capable of delivering a quality product. However, with their latest release, Call of Juarez: The Cartel, there's a feeling that publishers Ubisoft had some unreasonable expectations (be it with deadlines or the game itself), and it seems like they were looking for their Modern Warfare with The Cartel. Well, they didn't get it.

The Cartel is a modern-day tale of cops, drugs, gangs, prostitution and intrigue. Returning to the series are the descendants of Juan ‘Juarez' Mendoza (villain in the previous games) and Reverend Ray McCall, Juan and Ben respectively — no prizes for guessing who is on which side. The story kicks off with the Mendoza drug trafficking cartel blowing up the DEA offices, leaving one survivor (another playable character in DEA agent Eddie Guerra). A task force comprising Guerra, McCall and FBI agent Kim Evans is then formed to investigate the bombing and bring the Mendoza cartel to justice by any means necessary, and by playing as any of these three characters (or all of them in co-op over the internet), you will achieve exactly that — if you can look past the convoluted plot, (strangely) poor graphics and repetitive gameplay. Well, the story isn't so bad actually. There are lots of twists and turns (some make sense); there are multiple plot angles with each character having his or her hidden agenda, personal issues and questionable motives. So if you're into that sort of thing, you could probably put yourself through the game's laborious levels to get from cutscene to cutscene. There's a decent amount of effort that's been put into making this game different — it's just the gameplay and poor visuals that let it down. Perhaps if the game wasn't rushed into release, we could have seen a superior product.

It seems that the single player experience was sacrificed in favour of co-operative play (Bound in Blood did the opposite to good effect). However, the game doesn't present any co-op-specific scenarios. Sure, if you're sick of playing Left 4 Dead or Zombies in Call of Duty: Black Ops, you could probably invest 30 minutes of your time in The Cartel, but would you, really? Call of Juarez: The Cartel is difficult to recommend, but you should be able to get good deals on Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood right now. Pick it up if you haven't played it already.

Call of Juarez: The Cartel is available on PS3 and X360. The PC version releases in mid-September.