Of all the things to loathe about Call of Juarez: The Cartel, there is perhaps nothing greater than your two AI teammates, a couple of foul-mouthed clichés (no matter which of the game’s three characters one chooses to control) who provide next-to-no combat assistance and yet have the gall to ceaselessly shout at you, “If we weren’t watching your back, you’d be motherfucking dead!” Death often seems preferable to completing the entire campaign of Ubisoft’s third entry in its Call of Juarez series, which—in a move that makes no sense, and pays no positive dividends—relocates the first-person-shooter action from the Wild West to the modern streets of L.A. for a rote saga of federal agents (a grizzled bad boy, a suave guy, and a tough girl) pitted against Mexican drug lords. Even given the fact that Red Dead Redemption had bested Ubisoft’s cowboy franchise in virtually every way, this Modern Warfare-style shift to contemporary mayhem is a pointless one that, in basic terms, reduces the game to merely another personality-free FPS throwaway. It’s so formulaic that it begs to be dubbed forgettable, and yet The Cartel is something worse: an unoriginal and technically shoddy rip-off that delivers only crude monotony.
The design blueprint of Ubisoft’s latest is so repetitive as to be infuriating: choose some guns at level’s outset, exit a car, gun down faceless villains from a distance in functionally indistinguishable environments (forest, docks, pit stops), move forward, gun down some more baddies, drive somewhere, and then after even more identical gunplay, break down a door and blast a few waiting villains in slow motion. Those skirmishes can be hectic and challenging, but the lack of variety is enervating, and compounded by a selection of weapons that, though diverse, are a dreadfully standard bunch.
From stilted cutscenes in which characters’ mouths barely match their dialogue, to cruddy visual textures, computer-controlled characters who run into walls, and on-screen text that features typos and looks like it’s been ported over from a ColecoVision, The Cartel’s aesthetics are similarly underwhelming, as is the ability to blast through the game as a three-player co-op experience, which doesn’t rise above being a perfunctory gimmick, albeit one that’s still more enjoyable than dealing with worthless auto-sidekicks. In fact, there’s not an aspect of this FPS that doesn’t feel either dated, ungainly, or tossed-off, a fact that’s most obvious with its story, which provides only haphazard reasons for killing lots of random evildoers, all while assaulting players with a verbal vulgarity that epitomizes the proceedings’ juvenile dullness.