Call of Juarez: The Cartel exposes your secret shame

, | Game reviews

It’s really not my fault. In fact, I call entrapment. I feel like I was getting mixed messages from Call of Juarez: The Cartel. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to do what I did. In fact, I’m still not sure whether I was or wasn’t supposed to do it. But the fact is I did it and now I feel compelled to explain myself.

After the jump, my confession

The first level of Call of Juarez: The Cartel is a shoot-out in the Sequoia National Forest while it’s socked in by fog. I think that’s a technical limitation rather than a meteorological choice. I’ve never been to the Sequoia National Forest, but I don’t think it’s quite so much like a wharf on the Thames in there.

This is a three-player co-op game, which presumably makes it 200% better than any Max Payne game and 50% better than Kane & Lynch 2 or Fear 3. When you start a mission, you can stand around and wait for online players to join you. I tried this for about five minutes before concluding I must be the only one who picked up Call of Juarez: The Cartel on opening day. So I just jumped into the mission with the AI playing my two buddies.

So we’re shooting a bunch of dumb guys. This is shortly before the mandatory helicopter battle but well after the bits where you plant explosives that politely explode without messing up the fabric tents in which you set the explosives. At one point, an eyeball icon popped up on HUD along the edge of my screen. Turning toward it, I saw it was superimposed on an object some distance away. From my years as a professional videogame player, I know this means I’m supposed to look at the object. So I trotted over and was given the option to “steal a secret item?”. That’s not a difficult question. Why would you ever not want to steal a secret item? So I did. At which point a message popped up:


That might not be word-for-word, but it was a message to that effect. And sure enough, there stood my sidekicks, their guns thrust straight out in their hands, a disapproving look on their faces. Well, on one of their faces. The other guy wears a Barack Obama mask. I’m not making that up. I don’t understand it myself, but I swear it’s true. It’s one of those grotesque caricature masks with a big toothy Vaudevillian grin. It might be racist if not for the fact that the guy wearing the mask is a minority himself.

I know he’s a minority because there’s a whole lot of exposition in the beginning of Call of Juarez: The Cartel. All three of us characters sat in a room for a drawn-out Plot Briefing, following by individual Character Briefings in which we learned how we were each special members of a team whose job is to stop the US from invading Mexico by taking down a drug cartel that…okay, frankly, I’m a little shaky on the specifics. Anyway, there’s the young hottie chick cop from the streets, the young firebrand minority dude cop with a war hero past, and an old gruff action hero who rattles off profanity-laced Biblesque quotes when he uses his slo-mo power. You know this is a non-American game by the fact that the gruff old dude looks like Klaus Kinski. At some point in Polish developer Techland’s offices, they must have had a meeting in which they had to decide what to make him look like. I imagine someone who had seen Aguerre: Wrath of God suggested Klaus Kinski and, voila!, now the action hero looks like the only actor who’s creepier than Udo Kier.

Anyway, I stopped playing Call of Juarez: The Cartel shortly after being caught red-handed by my partners. The game does some kind of gimmick where each of the three characters has his own storyline he can develop by secretly picking up stuff when the other two characters aren’t looking. For the next level, I had to furtively collect stray wallets while my partners were busy gunning down gangbangers. I needed the money because some woman called me during the mandatory “walking to the mission” sequence and said her baby has hepatitis. Once I got a certain amount, my character automatically texted her the message “done”. Now I’ve been told to keep an eye on Agent Guerra because of his gambling problem. I have no idea who Agent Guerra is. Later on, I’ll realize he’s one of the other teammates. Now to figure out if it’s the dude or the chick.

Interesting idea, Call of Juarez: The Cartel, but it’s not enough to keep me playing. If I want a little mistrust and betrayal — not to mention a good crime/heist shooter — I’ll stick with Kane & Lynch 2.

1 star
Xbox 360