Developer: Visceral Games / Publisher: EA / Played on: Xbox 360 / $59.99 / ESRB: Mature 17 + [Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language]
My Google searches of Emma Watson had to be put on hold when I first heard that Visceral Games, of Dead Space fame, were working on the next entry in the Army of Two series, to be titled The Devil’s Cartel. Fans, myself included, were stunned when it was announced that the beloved tag-team of Salem and Rios were taking a back seat, with newcomers Alpha and Bravo leading the charge. I’m a huge fan of the series but questioned how EA/Visceral Games could do this. Those turn coat mother…………. Despite that apprehension I had to dive in to this new installment and find out if the new blood in the characters infused new life into the series.
Let me start off by saying I enjoyed the campaign even though it was linear and generic; it was fun in a 1980s action movie kind of way packed with over-the-top violence. Clocking in around eight hours you mostly move from one checkpoint to the next, shelling out extreme prejudice to the cartel. The overall storyline is very predictable; I had it figured out within the first hour. It picks up in the bloodthirsty streets of Mexico where Alpha and Bravo are members of Trans World Operations (TWO), ran by Salem and Rios. Alpha and Bravo are sent as bodyguards to protect a politician named Cordova who is attempting to bring down the drug cartel, La Guadana, run by a guy named Batista. Flashback to five years earlier, Alpha and Bravo are new recruits for TWO, trying to earn their masks. With the help of Salem and Rios the group rescues a girl named Fiona, but things get out of hand. Flash forward to present day where Fiona is a private military contractor and the three of you are on a mission to eliminate the cartel, Batista, and his lieutenant El Diablo.
Visceral Games was going for a darker, grittier approach this time around so gone is all the bro-love that made the Army of Two franchise what it is; no more high fives, no asking which Wu-Tang member was your favorite, no more sex with pandas talk. Periodically a glimpse of what was pops up, like Alpha and Bravo talking about Rios’ sisters, but those instances are few and far between. Maybe that’s why I was never really fully invested in Alpha and Bravo like I did Salem and Rios. I always played as Salem in the past, but with The Devil’s Cartel there’s no strong character arc to become vested in Alpha and Bravo; you’re just two gun-slinging guys. It’s a missed opportunity to establish these new characters and recognize that fans were distraught about Salem and Rios not being playable.
Gone are Heavies, replaced by Brutes, which are essentially the same thing! Gone are the sync’d shots, gone is Alice, handler for Salem and Rios for the first two games, although there is a mention of her towards the end of the game, so she’s not forgotten in the game storyverse. Gone is the feeling of being a private military contractor. In The 40th Day you dealt with Morality Choices that gave you two options and then showed the consequences of those choices. Although it didn’t affect the story at all in The 40th Day it could’ve been used here to tell more of a story and/or build upon the characters arcs of Alpha and Bravo.
Some improvements to the mechanics are evident; absent is the Gears of War style run, replaced by a more traditional running mechanic, a la clicking the left analog. Same goes for melee attacks; it’s now just a simple click of the right analog stick. Issuing orders is still effortless, executed through the D-Pad, the partner AI is more effective this time around but it’s still a dish best served with a human partner. I was put off with not being able to switch shoulders for my camera angles as it made it tough to shoot from cover on a handful of occasions. Speaking of cover, locking into cover could be a hassle sometimes; if you’re moving from cover to cover using the system, it works great, but if you’re attempting to jump into cover on your own, good luck. I found myself running to a car or a barricade trying to stick to cover, only to find out I had to be towards the edge of the object, not the middle, for the cover to be triggered. Also an evade maneuver would’ve been very much appreciated, especially when trying to avoid grenades. Leaving cover can get sticky at times; furthermore the enemies like to throw grenades as soon as you get into cover, reminiscent of the recently released Tomb Raider, leaving you sticking to cover far too long and being taken down by grenades far too often.
The old Agro Meter is out too, replaced by the new Overkill system, which can help you get out of sticky situations. As you perform co-op attacks and maneuvers, you accumulate points in the Overkill meter, the more cooperative the action, the more points you get, and the faster the meter fills. Once Overkill is triggered, either by you, your partner, or both, you’re basically in beast mode for a short period of time with massive amounts of fire power at your disposal. I really enjoyed going into Overkill mode and cleaning house on the rushing cartel members. Also, you get some sweet body dismemberment when laying waste to enemies or chucking grenades in a crowd of thugs.
The Devil’s Cartel is powered by the Frostbite 2 engine, which gives a boost in the graphics department, but more importantly it brings destructive environments to this franchise. Cover can and will be shot out, leaving you or the enemy exposed, making the cover-to-cover maneuvering system crucial to staying alive. It’s not just limited to cheap wooden boxes; if you have the fire power, you can shoot up buildings, cars, or a conveniently placed red canister.
Taking a page from the original game, The Devil’s Cartel allows you to customize your weapon and gear load outs after checkpoints are reached, where in the 40th Day you were able to swap weapons on the fly by pulling up a turn dial. Additionally, the ability to equip and un-equip suppressors and scopes has been scrapped. You do earn cash for the upgrades during your missions depending on how well you perform out in the field; the more teamwork you use, the more dollars you earn. In typical Army of Two fashion there are lots of items to unlock from weapons, attachments, skins, gear, and masks, which you can create on your own if you choose. I was disappointed that you were only able to put skins on your pistol, not any attachments though.
Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel only offers online co-op in terms of a multiplayer experience. You can host public or private games, but I experienced issues with the drop in/drop out co-op, usually resulting in a player not being able to join during a mission, only before a mission. I would’ve liked to have seen the Extraction Mode brought back this time around; it would’ve been awesome to have four-player co-op with Salem, Rios, Alpha, and Bravo.
Overall I enjoyed my time with The Devil’s Cartel, but it’s tough to look past certain gameplay problems like why for some reason every time I came to a checkpoint or a breach, I had to wait 10 seconds for the game to cycle over until I could proceed. Or why can’t I access Chuy and Baker, aka Boi Boy and B.o.B? If you pre-ordered the game, you were supposed to get access to the characters but I have yet to see them, and I pre-ordered it. But if you can get past a series of underwhelming features and gameplay decisions, you’ll see that Visceral Games has kept the core of Army of Two intact. And that alone should make fans and newcomers alike, very happy with this entry into the series.
+ Classic Army of Two over the top action
+ Lots of unlocks
- No Salem and Rios; missing bromance
- Linear/predictable storyline
7.5 / 10