Contributed by Travis
The first two games in the Army of Two series were solid, if unexceptional. They offered an alternative to the bigger shooter titles, but lacked that extra something to make them great games. Yet both the first and second installment left hope that the next one could take that step forward and drag Army of Two into the big leagues. Unfortunately, Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is not that game.
It begins by introducing the two new protagonists: Alpha and Bravo, who take the mantle from Salem and Rios. After a brief flashback to show them being trained up for T.W.O., the game follows the duo as they seek to rescue a Mexican political leader from a drug cartel. What ensues is a series of derivative story arcs punctuated by fights with hundreds of cartel members. While the story was never the best or most important aspect of the previous two titles, this third installment feels noticeably worse. There isn’t anything original to be found – not in the evil cartel leader or the team trying to track him down.
Where the Army of Two series comes into its own, however, is in its cooperative gameplay and, to an extent, The Devil’s Cartel is no different. It embraces the idea of working together, designing levels and weapons specifically with two players in mind. It makes it so that fighting as a team is the most efficient way to survive. This isn’t a drop-in and play co-op game where the second player joins as a random person never mentioned or as an exact clone of the single player. Player two is a character in his or her own right.
This emphasis on co-op is reflected in the rewards granted at the end of each mission, with extra points given for co-op kills and using strategies such as flanking. There are also the now familiar multitude of gates that need two men to open them and walls which need two men to scale them. Yet, while a lot of the cooperative aspects from the other Army of Two games are still there, it seems less vital in The Devil’s Cartel.
Rather than adding to the co-op, The Devil’s Cartel takes away, which is strange considering EA said there would be no competitive multiplayer because they wanted to focus on a more intense co-op experience. For one thing, the aggro meter is gone, despite the tactic of one player shooting to get an enemy’s attention while the other player flanks him still being as important as before. Another thing that seems to have been lost is the humour. There is no more taking a time-out to play rock, paper scissors with your teammate or to whip out the air guitars; The Devil’s cartel appears to take itself a bit too seriously at times.
This change is most prominent in the transition of main characters. Salem and Rios were a huge part of what made Army of Two enjoyable: their silly banter, trading insults back and forth, hitting the other on the head for doing something stupid or simply for fun. In their place steps Alpha and Bravo, two characters who have very little going on behind their T.W.O. masks. While the game strives to retain the humour from the previous titles, it is poorly written, poorly delivered and doesn’t match the tiny bits of personality Alpha and Bravo show throughout the course of the game. It seems fitting that two such bland characters should be called ‘A’ and ‘B’. While Salem and Rios do make an appearance, it is in a way which may feel a bit hard to take for fans of the series.
On the positive side of things, customisation is still as in-depth as ever. There is a wide array of guns on offer and an even bigger array of attachments, accessories and skins to go with them. Each mission grants money to buy these different additions, and levels you up to enable the ability to unlock more. The idea is that you can completely individualise what gun you use and how you use it. But while you can make your gun any colour under the sun, the actual gameplay doesn’t make up for the lack of story and poor characters. It tries to apply strategic cover-to-cover gameplay, but is hindered by awkward controls and mechanics.
The cover system is fiddly and unreliable, sometimes flowing well and sometimes not letting you go from one piece of wall to the other. The AI enemies aren’t the most intuitive things either. When their heads aren’t sticking a mile out of cover, they will probably be charging forward into the open as if hungry for bullets. Fortunately, the ally AI isn’t bad, although Army of Two is still a game better played with a friend.
One new system that has been implemented is Overkill, which makes you invincible and gives you unlimited ammo and grenades for a short time. Once activated, time slows and bullets become explosive, tearing into enemies and scenery with mutual destruction. It’s a fun addition which adds a little bit of variety to what can quickly devolve into a slog as far as the fighting goes. There are other instances where it’s clear the game is trying to do something a bit different, such as the level conducted in dark tunnels with only the flashlight on a pistol to see the way. Another level leaves Alpha and Bravo with only a pistol and limited ammo, and there’s a section where one stray bullet will signal game over. But these concepts are hindered by the inherent flaws in the gameplay and don’t detract from what is ultimately a repetitive fight filled with bad AI.
Rather than being the game to finally fulfil the promise seen in the Army of Two franchise, The Devil’s Cartel is a step in the wrong direction. The dull new characters and story could perhaps be forgotten if the gameplay was distinct and exciting, but it just isn’t. Once the initial fun wears off, the missions can easily become repetitive and very little has been added that hasn’t been done before. By the time the credits start rolling, players will only be left with the hope that maybe the next title in the series can finally get it right. Though whether there will be another one or not is a different story.
+ Good ammount of Customisation
+ Fun Cooperative gameplay
- Characters are Balnd
- Fiddly gameplay mechanics
- Poor story
The two new protagonists can’t fill Salem and Rios’s shoes (or anyone else’s for that matter) and the story is lacklustre. For the third title in a franchise, The Devil’s Cartel doesn’t show much progression.
Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is out now for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.