Trading its horses and lever-action revolvers for SUVs and Desert Eagles, Call of Juarez embraces the modern world of drug trafficking in “The Cartel.”

'Call of Juarez: The Cartel' kicks off its tale with an on-rails highway chase sequence that quickly shifts into the main campaign menu. Here you are free to choose which character you will take on your adventure, replay missions and get some general information on your three selections. The three stars in “The Cartel” are Benjamin McCall, a true modern gunslinger who works for the LAPD. Born in Hope, Texas, McCall is the eldest son of the Preacher from the original game. Next up is the overachieving FBI Agent, Kimberly Evans, a former hood-rat who worked her way out of poverty to become long-range specialist who demands respect. Lastly is DEA Agent, Eddie Guerra. Eddie is a proficient with modern weapons, a trickster, who fights for revenge after a friend was murdered in a drive-by shooting. Surprisingly, McCall is the straight lace player with both Kim and Eddie having secret agendas that are tied into the narrative and gameplay.

Although each character has their own agenda and back story, their playing styles are identical. Under their personal Bios it might have their weapon of choice listed, but when it comes down to it, they all fire the guns the same. Plus, their load-out is the same, so don't expect a bonus for using the "long range specialist" over the McCall whose weapons of choice is revolvers, pistols, heavy machine guns. The only real difference is the "side objectives" that both Kim and Eddie can try and accomplish without getting caught. These small diversions add a little intrigue to the tale, although as a whole Techland missed out by not adding more variety to the gunplay.

Whoa partner, we're stepping backwards
Focusing more on the combat, “The Cartel” feels dated and a step backwards from 'Bound in Blood.' Beyond the "floaty" sensation of the characters movements, Techland fails to add any modern features like cover mechanics or squad controls. Even though each level is littered with boxes and other objects to hide behind (heck, there is even a run-and-cover aspect put into the game) you can never really stick to an object for cover. Instead of naturally progressing they went with a first-person melee and driving component. Both additions are a nightmare, appallingly clunky and disjointed. At least the hand-to-hand fights are sparse, while the driving elements seem to come in after every second mission. It's truly a broken mess that only takes away from the somewhat solid shooter basics.


Re-rooted to drugland central
Trading in its country-and-western roots modern/urban gang-warfare setting was a brave move since it was the spaghetti western spin made “Call of Juarez” stick out from all the other “modern” shooters. Still, the drug cartel vs. Law enforcement isn't seen too often, so it has its own merits. However, it's not as refreshing as the previous Westerns. Into the drug war your rag-tag team will crossing through the slums of gang life weaving all the way up to Mexico in this cat-and-mouse type of tale. Like their previous games Techland does a good job flushing out the personalities to make the plot seems more interesting. The tale is very character driven and holds its own, even if we have already seen parallel scenarios in a hundred different movies. Slapping it all together, it works, and there is even a twist ending that makes replaying the game more enjoyable. So if you are a fan of gritty "gangsters vs. cops" films, "The Cartel" will be right up your alley. Also, this is a “M”ature title so nothing is held back so expect an overabundance of swearing, senseless violence and the occasional topless woman.

In its defence, “The Cartel” tries to incorporate themes from the earlier games such as a few classic revolvers, a western soundtrack and even a few locations from the previous outings. The "modern-western" feel "kinda" works, but it needed to be more dominante when pulling in its influences. For memorable moments, "The Cartel" has a few. Over the 15 levels a few highlights come to mind; first being the opening 'Sequoia National Park' mission where your troop climbs the hill-side to sabotage a marijuana farm; then all the way to the later stages when you are fighting through strobe lights of the 'Panorama Night Club' shooting down your enemies as well dressed club goers cower on the floor. Even with its moments, “The Cartel” has promise, it's always fighting against some shoddy game mechanic that holds back the entire project... and really, what is with all the car chases?


Whoa partner, we're STILL stepping backwards
“The Cartel” is powered by Techlands' proprietary game engine, the 'Chrome Engine 5.' In its fifth rendition you it seems like things are running too smoothly as "The Cartel" looks like a major step backwards from the previous 'Call of Juarez' offering. More bugs are present, the graphical look seems rushed and unfinished with several audio glitches. From screen-tearing and game slowdowns to audio popping, the troubles keep piling up. Aside from the terrain geometry and some of the lighting dynamics, “The Cartel” is oddly dated (there is that term again.) I honestly expected more coming into “The Cartel” as I have been partial to the look of the previous games. Following this is the audio component that has its own list of issues, mainly poor voice-acting; the Roger Howard character, I'm pointing at you. Bottom line, instead of the production pulling you in, the shoddy work in the production makes the “The Cartel” feel second rate to the series previous offerings.

If you want to keep playing...
Lastly, offering up some replay value is the hunt for achievements/trophies, which will require to play through the entire game as each character. You can also try out the co-op features, or head online to try out the multiplayer. The multiplayer component is basically two team modes thrown over a progression system filled with unlockables. While its not overly impressive, it seems like some thought was put towards keeping the players online. However, like the rest of the game, you will have to deal with the dated look and feel of the game which is only embellished when you head online. Online the combat is even more choppy and flighty than the single player game, which makes it hard to keep spinning this disc when so many alternatives have a better online game.


Compared to the previous 'Call of Juarez' titles, "The Cartel" is a colossal disappointment. I am not sure what went wrong in the modernization of this title, but it seems like Techland is moving backwards instead of forwards. Even with their updated game engine and the promise of fighting the drug war across southern America, the pieces don't come together to make a memorable experience. Beyond a few set pieces shoot-outs, "The Cartel" doesn't have too many redeeming qualities. If the series continues I hope we can get back to firing Lever-Action Repeating Rifles while pursuing the riches of Aztec Gold. After all, it's a family tradition.

  • Character development helps flush out the narrative
  • Delivers a few “cool” moments
  • If you can dig it, multiple characters offer up replayability
  • Co-op gameplay is available
  • Load times are a lengthy
  • Lots of graphical glitches, not to mention its overall poor quality
  • Gameplay isn't satisfying, we've been here before
  • FPS extras like driving and fighting simply don't work
  • Audio is underachieving with its own set of glitches
  • Online was give some thought, but you've played better
Quote: "Compared to the previous 'Call of Juarez' titles, "The Cartel" is a colossal disappointment."
Reviewed by DowntownJimmy | 07.22.11

Similar Games: Call of Juarez (8.5) | Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood (8.5)


Call of Juarez
The Cartel




US Release
July 2011


PS3, X360

Players 1
MP co-op 2-3
HD 720-1080p
5.1 surround
Uplay Enabled