Let’s face it, whether violence in video games actually has an effect on a person or not, shooters are still going to be cranked out of the factory. Most of the time, if you’re playing a shooter, you are either a heroic soldier or some mobster trying to make it to the big times. The Army of Two series has always been a little different. You know all those P.M.C. (private military corporations) troops you kill in almost every other game that involves guns because they are labeled as money-loving, bloody-thirsty scumbags? Well, that’s who you play as in Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel, and for once, you don’t have to be those overly heroic good guys while simultaneously still encompassing some redeeming qualities of character.
First and foremost, T.W.O stands for Trans World Operations, thus, Army of TWO. Yes, it’s a play on words, since the main attraction for this series is the in-depth, co-op gameplay. The gameplay is standard, cover-based, third-person shooting, but with a heavy focus on co-op. The first two games starred Salem and Rios, who do make appearances in this title, but the main protagonists are Alpha and Bravo. They are basically mercenaries for hire, which always raises interesting ethical and moral inquiries having to do with if the character you are playing as is actually good. In previous games, there was a morality system, but that has been removed in this title, which is a letdown. The Devil’s Cartel is actually developed by Visceral Games, the same company that does Dead Space. That crappy fire-fight gameplay in Dead Space 3 certainly doesn’t carry over in this title, so leave that worry aside.
The basic premise of this game is rather simple. Alpha and Bravo – along with a good amount of other T.W.O mercenaries – are sent in to protect a rising politician, Cordova, who is trying to stop the all-powerful La Guadana cartel from controlling everything. Needless to say, things go rather poorly, and the duo is soon trapped in a Cartel-infested Mexico. You still need to accomplish your mission, but it’s slightly more difficult now, because you are essentially trapped behind enemy lines.
The story as whole is decent at best, but the truth of the matter is most shooters (first or third) tend to have lackluster stories. Fans of the series will probably be disappointed in this installment, honestly, and the characters don’t exactly make up for it. They aren’t horrible, but not nearly as likable as Salem or Rios. There isn’t too much revealed about Alpha and Bravo, but what little bit is uncovered is done through their simple banter, and it’s a welcomed break from the usual forced flashbacks seen in other games. It’s often humorous while still having an important undertone, which divulges their personalities just a little more. As the game progresses, you start to understand them and can get an idea on who they might be as actual people through their banter alone. That being said, Alpha and Bravo are not going to draw anything too deep from you, but you may chuckle at some of their comments.
The graphics of The Devil’s Cartel are decent; they are not mind-blowing by any means, but they certainly aren’t awful. There are some positives, like when beads of sweat can be seen on a character’s neck from their exhaustive work. The characters interact well with the environment, which includes the enemies, and it portrays a very realistic feel. The game does vary enough from area to area to at least make it appear like you are moving. The poor farm village looks vastly different from the ornate cartel hideouts, and different interiors of the buildings you advance through are enough to give you a general idea of where you are located relative to social hierarchies. That being said, the landscapes are fairly bland, so it is just enough to scrape by, and “scraping by” isn’t exactly a positive.
What everyone comes for and stays for, of course, is the gameplay, and The Devil’s Cartel does satisfy that requirement nicely. The co-op feature is still on the forefront of the game, and it isn’t an extra or just one element in the game. By all rights, it is the game. Everything in the game is based around the concept of co-op play, either with another person or just an A.I teammate, who, for once, is relatively smart and can follow your orders well enough. The game is designed so you need to use teamwork to progress through a level. Admittedly, any skilled gamer can ditch their partner, but the fun is using the aggro with your partner. For those that don’t know what aggro is, it’s pretty simple. Basically, whoever has the most “aggro” will attract the most attention from the enemy A.I. Technically, every shooter should have this to some extent, but sadly, it usually isn’t a big concern.
This aggro feature is wonderful in its simplicity. When you enter into a big area, you and your partner can both go up the middle, ducking in and out of cover as you go, slowly making progress. On the other hand, you can split up on opposite sides of the area. When Alpha shoots a lot, most of the enemies will focus on him, which leaves their backs exposed to Bravo. It sounds simple, but the fact it works so well in The Devil’s Cartel is the real beauty. The entire game is based off this elementary concept, and it’s a wonderful system when it works.
A new feature this time around is the overdrive mode. After amassing a certain amount of points, your overdrive bar will fill, and with a press of a button, you become invincible, have infinite ammo, and your bullets will do a lot more damage. You can double this up by having both you and your partner use the overdrive mode together. This is when things really get crazy, as time slows down and you become a rampaging beast destroying everything in your path. It’s fun and can really get you out of a tight jam, but it can be a little too over-powered, which could actually take away from the game. Then again, you aren’t forced to use it, so it’s up to you on whether or not you want to be unfairly strong.
Everything you do gets you points, and at the end of each gameplay section, you will receive money based off how well you did during that section. You spend money on weapons and what have you, but more on that later. Killing a person will give you the least amount of points, headshots a little more, double kill even more, etc. However, what really gets you the most points is when you work with your partner. Decoy, bait, flanking, tag-team, and other co-op encouraged moves will quickly rack up the amount of points you get. This is another incentive for you to go the extra mile to work with your partner and not just ignore him.
So what do you do with all the money you get after each level? You can customize the mask, outfit, and even tattoos your character wears, which adds that extra personalization everyone loves to see. More importantly, you can spend it on a lot of shiny new equipment to wreak absolute havoc the next time you enter into a fire-fight. The Devil’s Cartel gun customization is deep enough, but again, “deep enough” isn’t really a positive. At first it seems deep and vast, but after a couple hours, you pretty much get everything you need and its shallowness arises.
There are some other small touches that increase the game’s overall satisfaction. After each section, the amount of
money you earned, along with the time it took you to complete it, are factored together to give you an overall rank online against the world. It’s the competition factor that humans love to participate in. You’ll find yourself trying to play through a level quickly while amassing the most amount of points by doing flanking maneuvers to see what rank you’ll receive at the end. It’s more addicting than you’d think.
One of The Devil’s Cartel’s strongest aspects is the brilliant amount of destruction in the environment. You can destroy cover to get enemies into the open, shatter columns until only the steel rods are left, and even chip away the corner of some walls to reveal a sliver of a hiding enemy. Besides the obvious practical use of this, it grants a very rewarding feeling as well. You look back at where you just came from and see the place completely demolished from the hailstorm of bullets that reigned during the firefight. Seeing clear signs of a battle makes you feel like you are actually doing something in the game as you progress.
Yet, even if the game is fun, there are definitely some problems. There are bugs, and some were even so bad the level had to be restarted. Textures will pop in and out throughout the game. The cover system can be troublesome, which is rather strange considering the entire game is cover-based. It can be hard to attach and detach yourself from cover, and the last thing you want to do when facing dozens of angry gun-toting baddies is to have to deal with an unresponsive cover system. Admittedly, once you get the hang of it, things become a little smoother, but the question has to be raised: should we really struggle with cover systems nowadays in video games at all? The game is also fairly repetitive. You’ll go down a hallway, enter a big area, take all the bad guys out, someone will radio in telling you to wait, and you defend the same area before moving onto the next. Also, no multiplayer besides online co-op, another questionable move on the developers part.
Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel definitely feels different from its predecessors, and that’s understandable seeing how there are different developers this time. This means fans of the series may not like this game as much, since it strays from its original formula. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad game at all; in fact, there are some quirky moments where it even makes fun of itself by pointing out its own flaws, and that’s respectable in its own way. Still, on more important matters, like mechanics, gameplay, and overall satisfaction, it’s best to not hold out high hopes for this game. It’s still fun, but it doesn’t reinvent the genre and might even be a step back in the Army of Two series. You need to play it with a friend; otherwise, it will be a subpar shooter. Still, there is just something about being surrounded by dozens of enemies, but instead of backing down, you double up on a riot-shield and charge with pistols drawn.
This review is based off a retail copy of the Playstation 3 version of Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel developed by Visceral Games and distributed by Electronic Arts.
- Feels Different From its Predecessors
- Fun Sense of Humor
- Strays From its Original Formula
- Sub Par Graphics
- Could Have Better Controls