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Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel Review [Xbox 360]

Posted on April 3, 2013 AT 01:11pm

Every now and then a game comes along that is so bombastic and ridiculous that players can’t help but overlook any technical issues and just enjoy the ride. Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel isn’t the most polished game I’ve played this console generation. The cover system is clunky, the partner AI is at times nonexistent, and I hit a few areas where the game got stuck and I had to reload a checkpoint more than once, but I couldn’t help but smile throughout the rest of the experience as I took down swarms of enemies and laid waste to cartel controlled areas of Mexico with a sense of style and flair that feel ripped straight out of big, mindless action films like The Expendables and Crank.

In Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel players take control of the might-as-well-be-faceless mercs Alpha and Bravo who are sent to Mexico by their employer, the Trans World Organization, to aid the local government in the fight against the powerful, militaristic drug cartels. Series regulars Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios still play a major role in the game and while their bromance is missed in The Devil’s Cartel, Alpha and Bravo provide enough humor and sarcastic banter to keep fans of the series engaged.

New protagonists aside, The Devil’s Cartel does update a few aspects of the gameplay to keep the series feeling fresh. Aggro has now been greatly refined and is more useful than in previous incarnations. Players earn Aggro by killing enemies and destroying items in the environment. Fancy kills and teamwork are rewarded with more Aggro. Once a player’s Aggro bar is full, they can activate Overkill. In Overkill both players are invulnerable, do more damage, and have unlimited ammunition for a short time. Both players have their own Aggro bar and can even activate Overkill together to enter Double Overkill. Double Overkill extends the time in both players are in Overkill, adds even more damage, and slows down enemies to make kills even more easy to come by. Letting loose with a steady and nearly unending stream of hot brass into swarms of evil, powerless goons is one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had in a game this year so far. Overkill even receives its own arcade-like mode in the form of optional contracts that can be activated when replaying a chapter.

Overkill turns Alpha and Bravo into unstoppable killing machines

In an Overkill contract, players are automatically put into Overkill mode and must kill enemies and destroy environmental objects to remain in Overkill. If a player’s Overkill is depleted, they have 30 seconds to collect Aggro and reactivate Overkill before the contract ends. There are only 3 Overkill contracts available now but they are a quick and easy way to earn money which can be spent on weapons and upgrades, or customizing Alpha and Bravo. Players can choose from about a dozen signature masks and costumes from the outset or can unlock dozens more by playing through the game and earning money. Those who prefer for their chosen mercenary to be a bit more unique will enjoy the custom mask maker where they can edit and save 11 custom masks for their merc. This level of customization extends to the weapons as well as players can add attachments or bling to their primary or secondary firearm. Weapon attachments like laser sights, muzzle brakes, and blindfire cameras have a direct impact on gameplay as they make a player’s weapon deal more damage or fire much more accurately in battle.

The main campaign lasts about 5 hours and is divided into 49 short chapters that can be played with the AI or a human player through split screen, system link, or Xbox Live. The friendly AI is passable in most parts, drawing fire and dispatching enemies without much need for babysitting. As the game progresses and Alpha and Bravo are tasked with fighting larger and more powerful waves of enemies, the friendly AI becomes more of a headache than a help as he frequently ran into the middle of a firefight without taking cover forcing the player to revive him amidst a steady stream of bullets instead of risking mission failure. Thankfully most firefights take place in small enough arenas with the player and the AI in close enough proximity that this becomes more of a nuisance than a major issue. There was only one particular mission in my solo playthrough that started me and my partner at two opposite ends of the map which forced me to quickly clear out dozens of minor enemies and a handful of brutes before I could reach and revive him.

The issue of taking cover is not unique to the AI as the cover system in The Devil’s Cartel is clunky at best. Players move into cover by pressing the A button and can move between cover points by using the control stick to aim at a bit of cover until a blue reticule shows up on a chosen piece of cover. Pressing the A button again was supposed to send my character running to the next bit of cover but only worked about half of the time. Most of the time it did not work, my character would simply back away from the cover I was hiding behind and stand straight up drawing the fire of every enemy onscreen. Other issues popped up when I tried to move across a long piece of cover like a wall and my character would inexplicably get stuck, forcing me to exit and reenter cover at a different point completely. I also ran into issues where a reticule would appear on one side of cover by my character would lean against a different side leaving me completely exposed to enemy fire. To combat the cover issues I would hang back and pick off enemies from afar and use Overkill to allow me to move across the map without worrying about enemy fire.

Another issue I encountered throughout my time with The Devil’s Cartel was the occasional section where my AI partner or a checkpoint would refuse to load forcing me to exit out of the game and replay a section. With the game divided into small, manageable chapters this never set me back very far but was extremely annoying to deal with. After one especially brutal battle as me and my AI partner closed in on a mounted machine gun, I was forced to replay the entire section as my partner manned the machine gun and would not move on even after every enemy in the level had been killed. Another section had me and my AI partner ready and set to breach a door to the next area, but the prompt to breach would simply not appear.

One mode that is conspicuously absent from Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is any sort of direct competitive multiplayer. Players can see how they stack up against others with the included leaderboards, but there is no way to pit teams of mercs against each other in competitive multiplayer. Luckily the cooperative multiplayer is enough to keep most fans occupied for a while.

Technical issues not withstanding, Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel oozes over-the-top fun. Players are always fed a steady supply of enemies to dispatch in brutal and satisfying ways and are rarely left ammo-less in the middle of a firefight. The plot is purely linear leading the player from one relatively open battle arena to the next with requisite action pieces scattered throughout the game to break up any semblance of monotony. Players are also not saddled with collecting any items except for discarded weapons or ammunition from vanquished enemies keeping the entire experience focused purely on its strength, the nonstop action.  Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel may be shallow, mindless , and riddled with frustrating bugs, but the overall experience is perfect for those who enjoy loud, straightforward action without any filler.

Pros: Fun, arcade-like gameplay.  Simple and addictive cooperative multiplayer.

Cons: Clunky cover system.  Occasional glitches.  Lack of competitive multiplayer.

Grade: B-

James is a complete gaming geek that moonlights as a guitar player for local Miami rock band phoenix/NEBULIN. When he's not rocking out onstage he can be found on PSN and Xbox Live as Anxiety83. You can also follow James on Twitter @anxiety83

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