Platforms: Playstation 3/Xbox 360 Genre: Third Person Shooter
Developer: Visceral Montreal/EA Montreal Publisher: EA
Platform Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Released on the same day as the Juggernaut title Bioshock Infinite, it was easy to forget that Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel came out. However, for those of you who enjoy playing local co-op games in this time of online-only co-op, the Army of Two franchise has likely become something you’ve kept an eye on. The first two games in the series have had a heavy emphasis on tactical teamwork to stay alive and progress, but does the third entry keep those aspects alive?
The game opens with Alpha and Bravo riding in the back of an armoured truck, part of an escort for a “controversial” Mexican politician. Now that there is an entire T.W.O. company of private military contractors, you see five or six masked gunmen as part of this escort and you hear them talking and joking among themselves in an attempt to recreate that camaraderie we felt while playing Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios in earlier games. Unfortunately, while their comments may get a smirk or two out of the player, we know next to nothing about these characters so it’s hard to create that kind of connection. Moments like these are found throughout the game, where it’s obvious that the developers are trying to display the kind of bond between Alpha and Bravo, or try to make you care about some of the auxiliary characters, but they tend to fall short and become more of a hindrance than anything. The redeeming factor is that as the game goes on and you spend more time with Alpha and Bravo, those moments feel less forced and begin to seem more natural.
After the brief aforementioned cutscene, the game reverts back to when Alpha and Bravo were going through training and this flashback acts as a tutorial to allow players to become accustomed to the control scheme. At the end of training, the two protagonists are handed their “real” masks (as opposed to the test dummy ones they wear throughout training) by Salem and Rios themselves. Immediately following the training, the flashback continues with the first mission that Alpha and Bravo go on, accompanied by Salem and Rios, and this is where the action truly begins.
If you have played an Army of Two game before, the kinds of terrain you’ll find should feel very familiar. While the game is set in Mexico so the actual environment is very different, there are plenty of corners, barricades, and rooftops to be utilized as cover. The system used for entering cover seems to be a little more refined and makes for a much more fluid use of the various forms of protection, but a very significant portion of the environment in this game is destructible. You may be able to run from cover to cover and work your way towards your objective that way, but if there is a mounted machine gun in your way, it will make short work of almost anything you hide behind as well as your character if you don’t find a new hiding spot shortly after. The destructible environment is a welcome addition to the series and adds a little more tension to the bigger shootouts you find yourself a part of. No longer are you able to stay behind a single cement barricade and eliminate your enemies when their heads pop up. You will have to keep your eyes open for enemies trying to flank you, make sure to find new cover before or shortly after your current cover gets destroyed, and prioritize which enemies to eliminate first. There have always been enemies wielding sniper rifles and rocket launchers in this franchise, but they have traditionally been in very obvious locations such as on rooftops. There are a few moments where those enemies will continue to be in very obvious and easy-to-spot locations, but there will also be a number of them which are just on the ground with everyone else and it makes them significantly more difficult to identify.
The second aspect which the Army of Two series has always held as a core component is the reliance on your partner to progress through missions. Whether it be in the “back to back” segments, using a parachute while the partner guns down enemies, using the aggro system to bring down an enemy you can only kill by flanking it, or simultaneously sniping two enemies at the same time to avoid one of them being alerted, there was always a very heavy focus on teamwork and you gained the sense that if the other protagonist was not there, you would never be able to complete your mission(s). In The Devil’s Cartel, almost all of these co-op aspects are completely removed, leaving only the step-jump, breaching a door together, reviving your partner, and receiving bonus points for various “co-op” kills. I say “co-op” kills because you won’t find any awesome 2-on-1 melee kills or anything like that, instead you can shoot an enemy while they are shooting at your partner and receive a bonus, or run out into the open and act as a decoy or bait while your partner blindsides the enemies. The lack of those true co-op segments really makes the game feel like it is no longer the style of game it was meant to be. The commands you can give your AI partner also seem to have been dumbed down significantly and consist of telling him to shoot at things or hide. You can’t tell him to get behind cover but fire aggressively or to advance quietly, it’s one extreme or the other, although I found that even telling him to advance and fire didn’t always lead to him advancing.
Another aspect of the games which have been completely eradicated from The Devil’s Cartel is the inclusion of either optional objectives to complete, or various things hidden throughout the levels (such as weapon parts in The 40th Day). In The Devil’s Cartel, there are no hidden items, no weapons parts to find, nothing of the sort. The emphasis is completely on the mission at hand, and while that may make sense, it was a nice aspect of the first two entries that while you were shooting down countless enemies, there were optional things for you to find that would net you bonuses at the end, or unlock extra weapon parts. Removing those small features may seem like a very ridiculous thing to identify as a negative, but it was something that made the Army of Two games enjoyable. On top of the teamwork and action, there were things dispersed throughout the campaign to reward those gamers who like to explore every inch of the environment.
On the topic of weapon parts, everything is now unlocked based on your rank rather than simply costing an absurd amount of money for the powerful weapons. Your rank increases as you collect more money after finishing checkpoints and missions. The selection of weaponry seems to have decreased from The 40th Day and certainly the amount of custom parts has. You can no longer purchase grenade launchers or rocket launchers, and at no point did I feel like the most expensive machine gun was by far the best option available. This may seem like a positive thing as it can encourage players to try out the different guns and determine for themselves which ones they like best, but all I was able to think of when I was unlocking weapons was, “Why should I spend $15,000 on a gun that’s not better than the gun I have now, and have to dump another $10,000 into it in customization in the hopes of obtaining a gun that may be slightly better than what I’m currently wielding?”
In regards to the plot, the Army of Two series has never been a franchise with ground-breaking stories. The dialogue and sense of humour have been thoroughly enjoyable, but the plots themselves usually involved hunting down a significant kingpin or drug lord and then somewhere along the way, someone would get betrayed. Unfortunately, The Devil’s Cartel doesn’t break this trend. Once more you’re sent in to retrieve a politician and capture a cartel leader and sure enough, people get betrayed. There’s a plot twist in the game that is fairly significant, but it also incredibly easy to see coming. Obviously the developers are aware of this as a comment made by one of the protagonists after they learn of it is “I saw that coming a mile away.” The dialogue in this title isn’t quite as entertaining as the previous two entries, but it still has its moments. Starting at about the midway point of the game, the interactions between Alpha and Bravo get far more amusing and their playful jabs at one another feel more natural as you’ve know gotten to know the characters a little more than when we’re first dropped into their boots. In my opinion, the high-point of their dialogue is after making your way up a street with a mounted machine gun and several other enemies shooting at you while you progress towards them. One player takes control of the mounted gun and begins to shoot at the oncoming enemies and they begin talking about how these cartel members are insane because they’re running down a street towards the bullets. Alpha asks, “Isn’t that what we just did?” to which Bravo replies, “Yeah, but we’re f***ing awesome!”
One thing I am proud to report is that the local co-op is still significantly fun to play, even if a lot of the co-op aspects are removed. When you have the ability to plan things out with your partner with both of you in the same room, on the same screen, you can tactically approach the situation and the game begins to feel more like an Army of Two title once again. Unfortunately, it’s never a good sign when the game itself relies on the players to make it feel like it belongs in the franchise. There are a number of times when Alpha and Bravo are split up and one player watches over the other almost as a guardian angel from a sniper’s roost or a helicopter, and the ability to communicate where you need cover or point to the enemy you need eliminated in order to progress safely greatly changes the experience for the better.
When reflecting back on my experience with Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel, I’m truly unsure what to make of it all. It seems as if a lot of the aspects which define an Army of Two game have been completely removed or dumbed down, but in terms of the game itself, it is still a fairly enjoyable game, just not one belonging in the franchise. The length of the campaign has increased, the quality in audio is still there, you do start to care a bit about Alpha and Bravo by the end of the game, and the local co-op is just as fun to play as the previous games, but I can’t shake this feeling that the game would have been better off without having the Army of Two brand attached to it because of how much was removed. If you’re looking for a game that you and a friend can play together in the same room, it’s worth considering this game, but if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll likely find The Devil’s Cartel to leave you wanting more.
- Enjoyable local co-op
- Destructible environments
- Some humour is still alive in the dialogue
- Lack of true co-op features
- Failed attempts to make you care about other T.W.O. operatives
- Easily predictable plot
Eric is an editor for Analog Addiction where you can find all the latest gaming news, previews, reviews, and everything else that rhymes with those words. ‘Like’ Analog Addiction on Facebook to receive all of the updates as they’re posted.