Developer: Visceral Games / Publisher: Electronic Arts / Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC / Release Date: March 26, 2013 / ESRB: Not Yet Rated
The names may have changed, but the bromantic overtones remain distinctly familiar: In Electronic Arts’ forthcoming Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel, series T.W.O. co-stars Salem and Rios are off the marquee (relax, they’ll still make their appearances), yielding the ass-kicking, name-taking spotlight to newcomer mercenaries Alpha and Bravo. This time around, developer Visceral holds the reins, the Frostbite 2 engine replaces the Unreal 3 engine and brashly peacocks its stuff with some arresting visual touches (chiefly in the form of some spectacularly gruesome gore), and—hopefully you’re sitting down for this one—Outkast’s Big Boi and B.O.B. are not only in the game, but they’re playable.
As the title The Devil’s Cartel all but telegraphs, you find yourself flexing your bro-tastic paramilitary muscle on the streets of an alas all-too-plausible Mexico, and plopped smack in the middle of a full-on drug war against a brutal cartel named La Guadaña–’the Scythe.
Along with spectacularly fragile/gloppy human bodies, Frostbite 2 allows the environs of The Devil’s Cartel to be packed to its virtual rib-cages with destructible items and scenery: crates, boxes, and ubiquitous exploding barrels, of course—but there’s also furniture to machine-gun to chips and splinters, and even stone columns to full-auto chew down to eroded skeletal ruins of exposed rebar and loco-wire. In this kind of game and hostile environment, one of things you thankfully have working for you is a decent if unadventurous cover-scheme.
Hitting one button while closing in on a wall or other suitable cover-point effectively locks your character to said cover-point, letting you either take calm, deliberate potshots from safety or simply spray-and-pray wildly from behind the obstruction until someone of interest dies. A back-flick of the analog stick frees you from the restriction of cover, while a sighted-target system lets you rapidly scuttle from your current cover-point to the next desired one. This is all Combat 101, of course, but this particular Cartel’s Devil is in the functional details, and that’s all that matters.
Fight like a good Bravo by using cooperative tactics like ‘leapfrogging’ advances or flanking, and you’ll more quickly max out a meter giving you access to the Overkill Mode, which is a freakin’-sweet deal of Peter Griffin-like proportions: Effective invincibility, and an endless-ammo capacity to crank out radically magnified damage in a timed mega-damage boost. If both co-op players trigger Overkill simultaneously, their resultant combined death-storm output whangs triumphantly into the realms of the ridiculous—but it certainly feels good… especially if you’ve just managed at the last conceivable minute to suddenly Overkill your way out of a badly outnumbered, rapidly deteriorating situation.
And ay dios mio, the lovingly presented carnage: The blasted-open chest cavities, the brains Jackson Pollacking everywhere, it’s just…alarmingly detailed. And in a way, that’s part of how The Devil’s Cartel threatens to short-circuit itself. At first blush, it might seem that the new setting—tackling and tapping into the serious and still-topical issue of Cartel violence south of the Border—would give the glorified-mayhem, high-fiving franchise an opportunity to flex its conceptual muscle just a little bit and take a somewhat more serious dramatic stance, maybe just this once…. but in what we played it really doesn’t. Which doesn’t take away from the purely mechanical play-factor one iota, of course… but it’s kind of shame, and we hope that fleshes out as we head towards release.
The Devil’s Cartel, to its credit, doesn’t shirk the duty of weapon customization or creating a sense of that mercenary mindset. As you progress through the game’s numerous set-pieces and so-called ‘Big Moments’, you’re tangibly rewarded for any measurable dents you blast into the hostile world; and not merely figuratively ‘rewarded’ in the chest-bump sense after a satisfying Overkill rampage, but actually—with in-game money that translates directly and (more importantly, practically) into a buyer’s market freedom to wildly slap together the elements of all kinds of custom sidearms, sniper rifles, assault rifles, shotguns, and so forth; in this way, you can bring painstakingly assembled, meticulously customized weapons of your choosing to the next battle.
Finally, The Devil’s Cartel features drop-in/drop-out online cooperative play, and will also support split-screen two-player; in a somewhat eyebrow-raisingly odd choice, it offers no competitive multiplayer, but rather aims to focus on a more extensive and thoroughly polished cooperative campaign—in a strange no-man’s land somewhat awkwardly termed “co-petetive multiplayer” (which may not go a long way toward extinguishing the series’ long-entrenched ‘brodude’ mentality). Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel, ostensibly ‘sterner’ storyline and all, is slated to ship this side of the border on March 26.