“I have no idea what’s going on, but everything is blowing up.”
I said those words to my co-op partner about 45 minutes into Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel, but I might as well have been summing up my entire experience with the game.
Right from the get-go, The Devil’s Cartel is a nonstop assault on the senses, the sort of Cro-Magnon ode to masculinity that makes Gears of War seem like an art game by comparison. Limbs fly off with a spurt of blood, an endless hail of bullets shreds walls into dust, buff mercenaries call each other “bro,” and every single thing that can explode does explode. But once the dust finally settles, it becomes painfully clear that the now-defunct Visceral Montreal has delivered a third-person shooter that’s big on bravado and short on everything else.
In other words, this is the 8-hour erection those Viagra commercials warned you about.
Superficially, The Devil’s Cartel‘s shtick is much the same as the previous Army of Two games. A pair of private military contractors, loaded to the teeth with customizable weaponry and fancy masks, sets out on some mission to a foreign country that quickly devolves into a senseless quest to perforate every working-age male within a 50-mile radius. This time, the action takes place in northern Mexico, set against the backdrop of real-world drug-cartel violence.
The other banner change when it comes to the story is that the protagonists of the first two games, Salem and Rios, have been shoved into supporting roles, presumably because they were close to developing actual personalities. They’ve been replaced by two new recruits, Alpha and Bravo, who are about as compelling and relatable as their generic names imply. Over the course of the game, they each get exactly one defining character trait: One of them wants to buy a boat, and the other has a girlfriend. Just don’t ask me which is which, because I have no earthly idea.
There have been far more significant changes on the gameplay front, though I can’t say they’re for the better. Up until now, I would’ve described the Army of Two franchise as deeply flawed but full of promising ideas. For all their fist-bumping nonsense, the first two games were decent co-op experiences that attempted some interesting and mildly innovative things, though they almost always fell short in execution. Rather than trying to build upon that foundation, The Devil’s Cartel effectively jettisons everything that made the series interesting and offers up almost nothing to replace it.
For reference, here’s a list of the features that have been axed from prior entries: the onscreen aggrometer, the morality system, going back-to-back, playing dead, feigning surrender, tagging enemies, dodge rolls, supply crates, social co-op interactions, and any and all competitive multiplayer modes.
And here’s a list of the features that have been added: TWO vision and Double Overkill.
The first of these is a fairly useless ability that lets you visualize the best route to flank your enemies. The second is just an unimaginative extension of the Overkill system, which returns from the first game in slightly modified form. Each player now has their own separate Overkill meter that fills up as they take down enemies. Once it’s topped off, you can tap a button to transform you and your partner into indestructible killing machines with increased damage output and infinite ammo. When both players activate Overkill simultaneously, the effect is magnified and time slows to a crawl.
That might sound like good, dumb fun, and for the first few battles, it is. Sure, the cover mechanics are clumsy, the shooting is a little stiff, and the game’s insistence on constantly spawning enemies behind you destroys any sense of strategy or positioning, but there’s a certain primal thrill to mowing down your enemies and blowing apart their cover while completely invincible. Before long, however, you realize that one-note adolescent power fantasy is the only thing The Devil’s Cartel has to offer, repeated over and over with almost no variation or downtime.
Well, that’s not entirely fair. You do get a painfully bad driving segment, a handful of on-rails shooting sections, and what might be the most half-assed stealth mission in gaming history. Outside of those brief interludes, though, all you’re going to be doing is gunning down the same four enemy types, marching down uninteresting corridors, and waiting for your partner to help you open a door. With so little on your plate, the game soon falls into a braindead rhythm and never manages to break free. Build up Overkill, unleash hell, rinse, repeat.
That’s really what holds The Devil’s Cartel back in the end: It’s a shooter that doesn’t know when to stop shooting. There’s no time to catch your breath, nothing to explore between fights, and no need to pause in the middle of combat to assess your next move, thanks to the shamefully bare-bones arsenal of tactics at your disposal. What should have been a chance to reinvigorate a promising franchise will likely serve as its death knell instead.
|Developer: Visceral Montreal ? Publisher: Electronic Arts ? ESRB: M – Mature ? Release Date: 03.26.13|
The core gameplay mechanics in The Devil’s Cartel seldom fall short of base competency, but they never really rise above it, either. With almost no combat variety, wonky cover mechanics, and cringe-worthy writing, it’s the sort of mindless, throwaway shooter you’ll have forgotten a half-hour after the credits roll.
|The Good||The murderous glee that accompanies your first rampage in Overkill mode.|
|The Bad||The depressed boredom that accompanies your 60th rampage in Overkill mode.|
|The Ugly||When the game crashed and wiped out my co-op partner’s save file in one fell swoop.|
|Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.|