Cooperative gameplay, especially on PC, is a good thing. Choosing your character is even better. A story with different endings, it’s already virtual Heaven. Intense shooting with actual tactics, it’s obvious that a few days off are a must so you can transform your bathroom into an office, move the fridge in there too, so you won’t lose a second of play.
Calm down, it’s just Call of Juarez: The Cartel – it has them all, but not one is good enough to take you to the above-mentioned Heaven. It’s more like going down into a universe of boredom and repetition, where the elements above could have created a hit, but instead are there just to coagulate into what we usually call a video game.
Basically, you get to choose between 3 characters: LAPD cop Ben McCall (descended from the character in the first title of the series), FBI agent Kimberly Evans and DEA officer Eddie Guerra, who are forcibly brought together into a special team to discover who bombed the DEA headquarters in Los Angeles. There are also a couple of differences (in theory, at least) between them: Ben is the classic gunslinger, probably thanks to the genes inherited from his Wild West ancestor, good at soaking up bullets and using low range weapons; Kim on the other hand fancies sniper rifles and long distance shooting, while Eddie prefers shotguns and heavy guns, from a medium distance.
In practice though, I went for Kim and used pistols and an AK 47 without any problems, with the specialization coming into play only in certain missions at the end of the game, when you are actually forced to use a sniper rifle. For the rest, the idea is good, but using a sniper rifle with enemies coming on to you like nuts is a bad idea. The “dead and reload checkpoint” kind of a bad idea.
The story is the same regardless of your choice, but each hero has a secret agenda, built around the idea that the 3 institutions (police, FBI, DEA) don’t really get along and the fact that they are forced to cooperate doesn’t mean they also trust each other. Thus, you have to recover phones, plant bugs, save undercover agent or blow up cars, things that give a certain aura of mystery to the story. Since the campaign is meant for three players, if you are online or play with your friends, it should all be even more interesting. Your partners also get calls from their agencies, but you hear only half the dialogue and you can just assume what their goals are. Thus, the cooperative gameplay is completed with competitiveness and the need to always keep an eye on your colleagues to stop them from completing their secret agendas. Also, the levels hide special objects that you have to take without your friends seeing you. They represent experience points that will level you up and unlock new weapons; but if you are caught in the act, the points are lost. All nice in theory, but there are also numerous bugs and glitches in these missions. I found special objects in rooms impossible to get into; the goals of the missions are received through random text messages or calls, but usually right in the middle of fire fights or in a driving sequence.
And you can only pray not to die or hit a pole because all around you slows down and you have no control and just have to wait for the call to finish. Other objectives couldn’t be solved at all, or required actions on an invisible or stuck object (so script-wise inactive). Also, if you play with the AI, it doesn’t have secret missions at all, just follows you around like a puppy preventing from getting the special objects.
Still, with human allies you get the chance to complete a series of Challenges: kill enemies with headshots, in melee, blow up cars etc., all coming in with experience boosts. The only trick is that if one of you succeeds, the others automatically fail, so you have to work extra and this adds to the competition. Of course, there are also issues: the challenges are presented in a huge block of text on the screen, which hinders visibility and might get you killed. Which is also true for the messages that tell you to reload or use slow motion, notifications that remain in the middle of the screen like you don’t know on your own how to reload or push Q when the yellow meter is full.
Of course, all 15 chapters of the story involve fights. A lot of shooting, with dozens of enemies coming at you, sometimes remembering to use the cover areas. Most of the levels are big enough for tactical approaches (the Sequoia National Park or the cemetery), ranging from ghost-towns in Mexico, clubs in LA and narrow roads to the tunnels used to smuggle drugs. Unfortunately, all the levels also come with an invisible limit that results in “mission failed” if you cross it; the barrier is random and you usually find it when it’s already too late, which is way too often during the driving parts.
Speaking of which, I think these are the worst driving sections I ever went through in the last decade and each level has at least one. Actually, the game actually starts this way and after 10 minutes you just pray for it to end; if you have human allies, you can at least swap places and shoot the enemies popping out on all sides; if you only have the AI, you just drive and more or less guess where you’re going, since the direction indicator is a white dot with invisibility and slowness issues. I would’ve liked a GTA-type indicator, on the mini-map, not a dot lost in the background. There is also a map, but it’s the most useless one ever encountered lately.