Right now, in Mexico, hundreds of people are dying. They are dying because of the trade in illegal drugs between the US and Mexico. In border towns police have found mass graves, sometimes busloads of people, murdered by the drug cartels. These aren’t gangs, these are almost small armies, fighting each other for an industry worth an estimated $US13.6 billion to $US48.4 billion annually. Law enforcement officials who try to stand up to fight the cartels are either killed or scared into hiding.
Across the border, from California to Texas, US officials are fighting to keep the drugs out, giving more and more weight to the draconian conditions used along the border to keep illegal immigrants out. This is in part as workers, hoping to find a better life in the land of opportunity, are now being used as drug mules for the powerful Mexican gangs, as they are trafficked over the border.
With all of this intense conflict, political and police corruption at all levels, and destruction of innocent lives, not to mention the interesting debate around the misguided US policy on drugs, how could this not make a great video game?
Well, someone found a way, and they called it Call of Juarez: the Cartel.
The opening scene describes much of my disgust at this game. After choosing my character from one of the three stereotypes (slimy, perverted, big-talking Latino DEA agent; sexy, Halle Berry-esque FBI agent who is black therefore has gang affiliations; and grizzled old ‘cowboy’ and Vietnam vet who has a personal score to settle) I am put into a rolling car and told to lean out the window to shoot. So I do. Looking around I finally notice that people are shooting at me from Humvees, so I shoot back. Oh no wait, I change weapon. Then I throw a grenade. Then I finally shoot. Ineffectually.
My bullets seemed to spray around the target while my partners are saying witty lines like ‘Do you ever practice with that piece?’ and ‘If we didn’t have your back, you’d be [bad word] dead’. I finally discover that the only way to shoot someone is to use the iron sights. I find the button for this by accident. On-screen instructions in the first level never hurt anyone, and sometimes they really are needed.
But a lot of shooters have odd button configurations, so that’s not my biggest gripe. That is for the story and the characters, which are both thin and unlikeable.
In the first cut scene of the game (the first of many awfully animated sequences) we meet our protagonists. Their bios are a predictable mix of Hollywood action tropes. The LAPD ‘cowboy’ Ben, is even introduced by emerging from the shadows of the darkened room to announce that the main target is an ‘a**hole’. I took an immediate dislike to Ben. Given he was the character I had chosen to play, this was not a good start.
But it’s ok if I don’t like the characters, because they hate each other. No clever banter between them as they fight to bring down the evil Mexican cartel and discover which one of them is on the pay roll of the bad guys. Nope, they just swear at each other constantly and hate each other’s guts. But because a politician told them to, they are going to work together.
The story is a vague assembly of crooked cops and federal agents, drug dealers and weapons merchants, all of whom have a nearly limitless supply of gun-toting Mexicans to throw in front of your player’s guns. During the game you’ll be required to steal things out of sight from your partners (it occurred to me later that maybe I should be watching them to see if they were stealing things). This makes you an actual crooked cop, so I got confused about why the others were the main suspects.
The graphics are average for a game of this calibre, and while the cut scenes made everyone look like a lipless monstrosity, the gameplay seemed to look alright. In a forest scene the distance was made to look blurry and indistinct as though looking through mist. Annoying, but kind of cool. Except there was the ‘mist’ again, this time on the streets of LA. Then again in the desert. Oh, I see, it’s a glitch.
One-dimensionality isn’t just for the main characters. The AI bad guys are the same; usually all dressed the same and with the same voices. And there are hundreds of them, swearing at you before they run directly into your gunfire. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the American view of illegal immigrants; they are nameless, and faceless, and just keep coming and coming, trying to destroy your way of life.
Probably not, but it’s the only thing I could think of to make this game better.
Lasting appeal: 3
Played on PS3, also available on Xbox 360.