A gangster emerges from cover, points his guns in the wrong direction and sidles toward me like a drug-addled crab. How did this man even survive this long in a Mexican drug cartel? I shoot him the face and turn on his two-dozen equally dopey friends, tapping the fire button impassively until the assault ends. This is justice in Techland's vision of the modern Wild West. Brutal and boring.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel puts you in control of one of three corrupt, foul-mouthed law enforcement officers. There's the dual-wielding jerk, the shotgun jerk and the jerk who stands at the back with a rifle. All three roll together through each mission, eliminating hordes of heavily armed drug dealers and the occasional helicopter, earning points with every kill that can then be used to buy better weapons at the start of the next level.
You must protect the daughter of a former drugs official, a key witness in a drugs trial, by killing everyone she has ever witnessed and occasionally ferrying her to new safe houses in rubbish driving bits.
The previous Call of Juarez games were half-decent shooters set in the badlands of the Old West. They had heart. They had a grizzled Biblequoting preacher and excellent revolvers, but all that has gone. The modern day setting is brainless, generic and devoid of personality. The engine is capable of throwing out environments of notable scale, but they're always painfully linear wide corridors full of pop-up drug fiends and pop-in textures.
There's some attempt at pacing. Sometimes you'll run into overwhelming fire and have to take it in turns to rush to prescribed cover locations, which is exactly as boring as it sounds. Occasionally you'll breach and enter a locked room in slow motion, blasting mooks who wouldn't have stood a chance even if time was moving at an ordinary clip.
The most interesting addition by far is the secret missions each team member must try to complete for extra experience. These tasks are delivered by mobile phone, and inevitably involve picking something up while no one is looking. If a teammate sees you, they get the experience instead.
It's a great idea, designed to add extra spice to the three-player co-op, but the dull objectives and poor execution let the system down. Mobile calls come unbidden and slow you to a crawl so your horrible character can swear down the mouthpiece for a few minutes.
There's nothing worse than seeing that goddamn phone loom into view as you're throwing a grenade at a cluster of bad guys. Even as the fire pours in, your out-of-control character pushes the phone into his own face to read a text message, and then actually texts back as the world explodes around him.
The Cartel's finest feature is a mess. Everything else is merely bland, repetitive and dull.