The third installment in the Call of Juarez series takes on the more modern Columbian cartel with heavy focus on human and drug trafficking. The RPG style mixes surprisingly well with linear gameplay, although sometimes it feels too much like an on-rails shooter to enjoy fully, and with only 15 missions, is over quickly.
Sticking to its tried and true FPS form, Call of Juarez: The Cartel instead derives originality from other avenues; namely, the ability to play three different characters with different strengths/weaknesses (representing short, medium and long range combat), a level-based weapon unlock system, and intelligent AI (sometimes). The game doesn’t bring much new to the table, but incorporates the classic elements well. I played as Eddie (dual wielding SMGs is his unique ability, and who doesn’t love that?), a suave but dirty cop working for both sides at once. It presented an interesting mechanic that you don’t see often; in order to gain experience, the player has to collect secret items hidden in plain sight throughout each level, and can complete a secret objective as well for a huge bonus. Be careful, though, because if your other two team members see you, they’ll rat you out and you won’t gain any experience at all. Early into the game, you’ll receive a prompt about watching your teammates as well – they’ll be doing secret stuff to benefit themselves when you’re not looking. This, however, only comes into play while in multiplayer mission mode. That means that if you’re not already playing with others online, you’ll be watching the AI run back and forth into walls trying to catch their shady business. Your NPC pals follow you like leg-humping dogs until enemies pop up, at which time they completely forget you exist, except to berate you for missing shots at other gangsters or being hit too much. The AI are also the only ones with a cover system; sure, you can hide behind the scenery if you want, but you’ll find yourself being hit from what seems like nowhere, only to realize that your elbow’s hanging out one side and everyone has their sights on it.
As I mentioned before, you gain experience towards leveling up by completing secret objectives. The level cap is set to 21, and with almost every level, you unlock new weapons. For a diligent and observant gamer, some guns will be obsolete around the same time you unlock them, because you’ll get a better one in the same round. They’re not class specific, so by the time you get around to playing the other two characters, you’ll have had the opportunity to use everything once. For each member of your team, there are different loading screen phone conversations, as well as separate endings and secret collectibles. Still, the storyline is almost entirely the same. There is some incentive to play all three, but only if you really like the game. Sometimes the lack of extra content (aside from the secrets, but it’s a main game mechanic, so it doesn’t really count as extra) coupled with short, linear gameplay makes the experience somewhat boring, making Call of Juarez 3 more of a, “pick it up, play a couple missions, put it down” type of game. Achievement hunters will be pleased to know that if you die, you restart at the last checkpoint and all the enemies respawn. This makes farming kills very, very easy. I blew most of the requirements away repeating the same section three or four times.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel plays like an arcade FPS. That just happened to be exactly what I expected, and I enjoyed it. The few problems are fairly easy to ignore if you try, and looking for the secret items feels like a miniature treasure hunt. The multiplayer is solid but sparse, with only Mission and Team Deathmatch as match types. The guns are well balanced and the characters’ strengths are unique; each has its own pros and cons, and they are many, so finding a combination between weapons and character that suits your play style is easy. Chasing down Columbian drug lords is refreshing. I found a golden pistol sitting beside a toilet. All that being said, there’s not much new or exciting, it’s short, and at times it’s generic, slow, and boring. It’s a great thing, in medium-to-small doses.