Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel – Review
Can you name another gaming series where you could play a round of Rock, Paper, Scissors and slap each other on the arse before strolling into battle, and, after your victory, perform a bit of celebratory air guitar and fist bumping? I thought not. As far as unique selling points go, apart from the now not-so-unique co-op play, Army of Two’s daft and non-gameplay serving hand gestures were hardly the strongest innovations in a genre overcrowded with meathead shooters. Something seemed to resonate with players, however, for respectable sales have led to Army of Two number three, The Devil’s Cartel. But guess what? There’s no air guitar, no fist bumping and no homoerotic arse slapping to be found here.
It’s nothing to cry over, but to drop the silly gestures as well as co-op manoeuvres, such as back-to-back, synchronised snipe and feign surrender, along with the moral decisions introduced in previous game The 40th Day, means The Devil’s Cartel never rises above conventional shooter norm, while also losing some the series’ identity. More baffling is the decision to side-line protagonists Salem and Rios, especially after The 40th Day went to such great lengths to try and make them more human and likable, in favour of the more po-faced and literal blank slates Alpha and Bravo, who are as indistinguishable and almost insufferable as Ant and Dec (is that possible, Ed.?). From beginning to end it’s hard to tell which one’s talking, and they’re so devoid of personality you soon give up trying. But let’s face it, you don’t come to a game like Army of Two for its relatable characters and engaging storylines (if you do you’re in the wrong place). No, you come to shoot some fools, and in this regard The Devil’s Cartel delivers. In spades!
This is a game that knows what it’s good at and sticks to its guns. There’s no ham-fisted rudimentary stealth section, just balls to the wall bravado. No morally challenging storyline or unexpected plot twist (come on, you can see who’s going to wind up as the big bad villain after the first mission), just dumb action movie tosh. It’s unabashedly, gloriously gratuitous, over-the-top, plain and simple, dumb, throwaway fun. What’s not to like?
Okay, so there’s a definite lack of polish on show that marks out the likes of Gears of War, Max Payne and Uncharted. On a purely technical front there’s nothing here a couple of extra months of development couldn’t fix. Things like the jerky animations, the limp grenade throwing, and the recurrent in-game loading (at least it has the decency to say “please wait”). A few months more and perhaps the cover system could be designed more elegantly, a much missed dive roll could be implemented, and some of the aforementioned co-op moves from previous games could be brought back. No, lifting heavy doors together and boosting each other over walls does not count.
The campaign is also very light on variety, making the seven to eight hour running time feel chunkier than it actually is. There’s a welcome, albeit clichéd, shakeup where Alpha and Bravo have to escape from captivity, stripped of guns and gear, having to make do with scavenged weaponry, a couple of sections where the un-dynamic duo are forced to split up, and a barely worth mentioning driving section (or turret section depending on which player chooses the driver’s seat), but other than that all Alpha and Bravo do is dodge and deliver a barrage of bullets against the La Guadaña drug cartel – most of its employees fresh from the local Rent-A-Goon store’s production line, it seems.
To malign The Devil’s Cartel for its lack of ideas and polish, however, would detract from how much fun you can get from how little it offers. It’s short on gimmicks, the mission objectives are by the numbers, and some of the self-knowing and slapdash humour is, at best, mildly chucklesome, but one thing The Devil’s Cartel understands is when you pull the trigger something cool needs to happen. While far from the most flattering showpiece for the tech, the Battlefield-powering Frostbite 2 engine means you can leave each area in a significantly worse state than when you found it. True, you can’t level everything, but watching wood splinter, concrete crumble and everything else explode under gunfire lends an empowering sense of feedback missing from other shooters of this ilk. As for the collection of bodies littering the ground, most of which are missing appendages, you can probably blame that on Overkill.
No prizes for guessing what Overkill might be. Yep, it’s a Rage mode of sorts, accumulating over time for each kill you get. Fill the bar up and activate it and Alpha and Bravo become an unstoppable force dishing out white hot death. Any ne’er-do-well unfortunate to be pummelled by your temporarily unlimited explosive rounds will be torn to shreds, and if you’re partner activates their Overkill at the same time you get a side serving of slow motion to make things even more delectable. If you’re playing solo you can trigger the AI’s Overkill with the D-Pad, and during some of the game’s tougher and genuinely intense fights (a shootout at a petrol station is particularly memorable), especially on the higher difficulties, knowing when to use it can be a lifesaver.
The partner AI in question is surprisingly competent at fending for itself. Only once did it not come to my aid when downed, and there were very few occasions where I needed to return the favour. The ability to issue commands is mightily helpful and useful, what with the game’s strong emphasis on flanking. Returning players will be familiar with the Aggro system, a way of taking the heat off one player while the other heads to a more advantageous position and Army of Two’s one and only clever feature. Calling it tactical might be a stretch too far, since you can normally just plough your way through like any other shooter, but once again on the Hard or Insane difficulty settings it becomes essential for survival. Less essential is TWO vision (trademarked, apparently), a pseudo detective mode that offers “tactical advice”. Yeah, you won’t be using it that much, even if this is where the Aggro levels are measured.
Customisation has always played a large part in Army of Two. Even though the options aren’t as extensive or extravagant here as in earlier games, you can still kit out your gear with all manner of scopes, grips and double drum magazines before tarting them up with a bit of BLING. A levelling system provides you with a steady stream of weapons, skins and attachments, body armour (unfortunately with no stat boosts) and decals for the mask editor. Not exactly a powerful tool, but if you put your mind to it the mask editor allows you to create a mask as artistic, intimidating or just plain daft as you want and could prove to be a minor time sink. Already I’ve seen versions of Iron Man, Spider-Man, Hannibal and Bane, but it takes most of the game to unlock the good stuff and by then you’ve probably had most of your fill of The Devil’s Cartel. There’s no multiplayer (a wise choice some would say) so why bother putting the time and effort into creating a masterpiece if you won’t be playing anymore to show it off? Unless you’re after the relatively obtainable Achievements and Trophies there’s very little reason to come back.Pros
- Pull the trigger and things go BOOM!
- Partner AI that can hold its own, mostly
- Frostbite 2 ensures it’s always at least easy on the eyes
- Alpha and Bravo? How about Alphie and Bruno?
- And some personality while you’re at it
- Lacks polish and variety
A basic game for the easily pleased, an unambitious and stubbornly straight shooter, unpolished but highly playable; if you’re willing to look past its obvious deficiencies there’s a lot to like in Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel. At times its spirit is admirable, so eager to try and please that it’s hard not to raise a smile, particularly the opening minutes of the finale, summing up its style over substance attitude perfectly. My heart wants to give it a slightly higher score, but my brain’s telling me lower, which ultimately is the score I’ve given it. Something as basic, limited and disposable means it’s hard to recommend when there are two contenders for Game of the Year currently doing the rounds (see Tomb Raider and BioShock Infinite), but if you’ve exhausted those games or just aren’t interested in them then The Devil’s Cartel might be worth a rental. Just remember to switch your brain off, and maybe bring a friend for maximum co-op enjoyment. It takes two, after all.
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