Imagine this scenario: a zombie is approaching you, and you have a machete.
Outcome 1: You swing the machete and connect where his jaw hinges, cleanly lopping his head in two and felling him without further incident. Quick...efficient...satisfying.
Outcome 2: You run him through with a gut-piercing thrust. It has no effect, so you hack at his torso, taking bits and pieces of him. Finally, a downward chop to the forehead drops him just in time. You’re drenched in gore...but you’ve succeeded.
Outcome 3: You take a wild swing and manage to clip off his hand, which hits the ground with a wet smack. He groans and keels over, defeated. What the heck just happened?
Call of Juarez: The Cartel is a lot like Outcome 3. Whatever hint of excitement can be found is quickly undermined by its own sloppy confusion.
There is some real genius behind The Cartel...but it’s both painful and baffling to see these special touches run into the ground by poor craftsmanship. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I noticed how realistic the muzzle flash was while shooting a rifle - Techland actually added in powder sparks to imitate real life shooting in a way I hadn’t seen before. And yet, looking down your iron sights causes the gun to quiver and the light bloom to jump to unreasonable proportions. Using a zoom control should not turn the entire screen into a blob of muddy graphics.
Driving is straightforward and controls well. Having the windshield shot out during gameplay is an immersive touch, and adds some excitement. Unfortunately, your view is horribly obstructed by the vehicle’s interior - namely, the frame to the left of the windshield. You can turn your head, but it doesn’t help much. Expect left turns to be an exercise in extreme frustration, even though the driving scenarios are generally pretty fun.