Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel makes its intentions immediately clear. “Pure Co-Op”, “Lethal Cartels” and “Explosive Destruction” shout the bullet points on the back of the box. Lastly “DOUBLE OR NOTHING” is heavily emblazoned on the artwork seemingly as much a warning to the player as a tagline. Can the game deliver DOUBLE the fun or be NOTHING to write home about?
The original Army of Two was far from perfect but it managed to be over-the-top, fun and really nailed down what it meant to be a co-operative third-person shooter. While it was overlooked in favour of showier, bigger budget titles, à la Gears of War, the game delivered something satisfying and entertaining. Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel picks up the story following the events of Army of Two: The 40th Day and although a knowledge of the series is not essential it certainly helps.
Players assume the roles of Alpha and Bravo, rather than the traditional protagonists Rios and Salem, although the latter play important roles in the story. Alpha and Bravo begin the game as rookies joining T.W.O. (Trans World Operations), the ethically shaky private military contractors now run by Rios and Salem. Their mission is to safely escort and protect a Mexican politician who is attempting to bring down a powerful drug cartel known as La Guadana. Inevitably, the plan goes wrong (within minutes) leading to many, many shootouts against seemingly endless waves of, usually shirtless, enemies.
From a narrative perspective Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel was hardly going to make any serious waves but it is disappointing how predictable and clichéd the story manages to be. Both Alpha and Bravo are largely unlikable characters employing torture and violence in a manner as bad as their opponents. Their wise-guy, macho bantering soon irritates as does the treatment of the game’s sole female character who is not merely objectified but lacks any agency. Series fans will likely be especially displeased at the bizarre character changes Rios and Salem have undergone, in particular towards the end of the story.
Gameplay largely remains unchanged from the earlier titles with much of the action revolving around cover-based third-person shooting interspersed with occasional turret and vehicle sections. The shooting mechanics feel average and lack the crispness and responsiveness of other genre stalwarts.
Similarly, the cover system itself has been unnecessarily altered leading to many of the game’s frustrations. Instead of a simple button tap to enter, exit and move between cover you now have to hold a button down briefly before using an analogue stick to select the obstacle you wish to hide behind. It is a seemingly minor change but one that makes a world of difference when timing is of the essence in a large fire-fight. There were many occasions when Alpha or Bravo were stuck momentarily when trying to find protection and moving out of the way of an incoming grenade was made unduly challenging.
The new addition of the Frostbite 2 engine has allowed for greater destructibility of environments and this is undoubtedly a satisfying element. Cover can be blown up or shot through forcing you to keep on the move and adapting tactics: an element that can be effectively used against your foes. However, with the new cover-system problems this can lead to many cheap deaths as you are left in the open while battling with the controls. Visually, the game looks reasonable although the colour palette rarely varies from oversaturated sun giving the title a bleached and washed-out appearance.
Thankfully the Aggro system remains effective and unique. Alpha and Bravo can draw attention to themselves, allowing their partner to flank behind by making noise with the biggest and shiniest guns. It is always a useful and essential tactic to adopt and slipping past groups of enemies only to annihilate them from behind is always satisfying and rewarding. When played in co-op with a human partner this is rarely an issue but with an AI player it can be a real challenge.
Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel offers a rudimentary command scheme when playing with the computer, allowing you to order them to stay still and draw fire, follow your lead, advance while attacking or throw grenades. Sadly, it is difficult to use these as occasionally they are unavailable without explanation and at other times the AI seems to take them on advisement. This can be extremely testing when you want to flank only to be repeatedly shot as your partner has been creeping along behind you instead of building Aggro. It is a shame considering the enemy AI is also patchy with enemies usually displaying a handful of behaviours: namely shooting and not-shooting.
The other traditional Army of Two gameplay that returns is Overkill: a brief, powerful ability that can be activated after killing enough enemies. When unleashed you and your partner gain temporary invulnerability, infinite ammunition and grenades and the ability to fire continuously without reloading. It is fun and entertaining going on rampages, especially in Double Overkill which lasts longer and slows time. Other minor elements that return include the abilities to step jump your partner for a height advantage in combat and to pick up and use riot shields. Both are employed infrequently and largely make no significant difference to the gameplay, in fact often it is quicker and easier to ignore them completely.
The other iconic returning gameplay feature to Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is the collection of money and post-mission gun modifications. Killing enemies earns cash, with more awarded for co-operative slayings, headshots, melee executions etc. This is then pooled together and can be spent in an armoury allowing you to purchase and modify everything from assault rifles to shotguns. There is a pleasing versatility on offer and choosing two different load-out styles for Alpha and Bravo can make missions easier such as one opting for an assault rifle and shotgun while the other carries a light machine gun and sniper rifle.
However, despite the return of some good ideas the game fails to make enough use of them. Much of the game feels dull, repetitive and uninspired. The enemies really lack variety most carrying the same weapons and it is only rarely a tougher “Brute” appears who can be taken down relatively easily with a simple melee quick-time event. The locations are also largely bland and samey despite their destructibility. Indeed, placing such an emphasis on violence feels more adolescent than mature with some particularly unpleasant and poorly employed mutilation effects coming across more comedic than horrific. Notably when enemy stumps and limbs hover randomly in the air or vibrate rapidly like a piñata being hit by an angry child.
One of the biggest limitations to Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is the campaign’s length. At around eight hours in total there is very little replay value whatsoever with no extra missions or content aside from an unlockable difficulty. Each mission is broken down into chapters, clocking in at anywhere from three to ten minutes in length. It is pretty surprising that a full retail release can offer such restricted value and it is unlikely that the quality of the gameplay will have you rushing to play through the title again.
Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is by no means a terrible game. However it is so clichéd and uninspired it is very difficult to recommend. Its gameplay offers nothing new or really innovative which is especially problematic considering the plethora of alternatives out there that do it better. Similarly, for Army of Two fans the odd story and character choices are unlikely to go down well. The title lacks a sense of polish and refinement with a repetitive and intrusive soundtrack that occasionally disappears without explanation. There were also numerous gameplay problems we were faced with requiring checkpoint reloads in order to progress.
Fundamentally Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is a game about killing. It never manages to move beyond a base template of unquestioning, monotonous slaughter. As a rudimentary co-operative bloodbath it certainly succeeds but for gamers craving more meaningful and satisfying joint play there are far superior titles on the market. It is a shame to see the series reduced to this, considering some of the promise and spirit shown by the previous entries. Perhaps it is time to lay the Army of Two series down to rest, perhaps in the same way as one of its dead enemies vibrating limbs.
- Split-screen and online co-operative gameplay
- Comprehensive weapon customisation
- Aggro and Overkill features provide some diversity
- Dull, repetitive gameplay
- 8 hour campaign with little replayability
- Lack of polish and variation
- Strange characterisation and clichéd narrative