Possibly due to the annual release of Activision’s incredibly profitable first-person shooter series, Call of Duty, EA has made it their primary mission to unveil a new gun-toting sequel every year – spanning between different shooter-based franchises such as Battlefield and Medal of Honor. With the downward spiral of the Medal of Honor series currently producing poor sales (especially due to the less than spectacular execution of 2012′s Medal of Honor: Warfighter) and a small window of opportunity in between the inevitable release of Battlefield 4 in the fall, it seemed only reasonable for EA to look back to the co-op-infused Army of Two franchise for backup. However, with the latest entry leaving behind the series’ brotastic duo in place of new operatives, Alpha and Bravo, does Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel present an addictive, redefined experience that satisfies both newcomers and self-proclaimed Army of Two aficionados alike?
Developer: Visceral Games
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Release Date: March 26th, 2013
The T.W.O. Newbies
Unlike previous entries in the trigger-clinching series, Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel injects a more serious tone into the main storyline while simultaneously diving you headfirst into a violent conflict involving the infamous La Guadaña (“the Scythe”): a feared criminal organization located deep within Mexico’s blood-soaked borders. After a La Guadaña-generated ambush leaves Mexico’s political savior, Cordova fleeing for his life and eventually captured by El Diablo, fresh T.W.O. (Trans World Operations) operatives, Alpha and Bravo must (seemingly) blast apart every nook and cranny of Mexico in hopes of both retrieving Cordova, and dismantling the ruthless drug cartel that abducted him in the first place. While the plot itself may tread dangerously close to being downright predictable at times, the actual story connecting each bombastic engagement easily provides enough unexpected twists and noteworthy action sequences to warrant at least a single, conclusion-witnessing playthrough.
…Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel injects a more serious tone into the main storyline…
Unfortunately, with borderline psychotic veterans, Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios being unceremoniously replaced and pushed to secondary character slots, Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel ultimately misses a potentially game-changing opportunity to dive further into the series’ past heroes and instead, ends up implementing stale, cookie-cutter-reminiscent mercenaries into the otherwise fairly entertaining story. You see, the generically-named duo you actually assume during the roughly seven hour campaign undeniably lacks the sort of distinct, rather humorous personality that defines the Army of Two series and separates the franchise from other cover-based, third-person shooters. Sadly, even occasional dialogue interactions between the humdrum pair add little depth to the ongoing plot or even the characters themselves, and never once offer you even the slightest chance to truly identify with the central protagonists you should be fully immersed and invested in. Alpha and Bravo may throw out a few tongue-in-cheek wisecracks and “character advancing” conversations sparingly throughout the course of the campaign, but the forced delivery of each humor-attempting joke and noticeable detachment from otherwise emotional situations molds the Army of Two series’ latest recruits into gun-wielding robots rather than battle-hardened jokesters.
Let the Bullets Fly
Then again, the Army of Two franchise has never been about identifiable characters or clever plot development, and the inclusion of even a remotely comprehensible story only serves as a means to an end amidst the endless stream of bullets and explosions. Thankfully, in this regard, Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel does a relatively decent job at providing wannabe action heroes with an abundance of destructive opportunities, even if the series’ third installment does fall short of its predecessors in many other aspects.
For instance, the utilization of well-implemented teamwork scenarios seems greatly undermined and hollowed out in place of a more straightforward, single-player-like approach to gameplay. Whereas past entries featured intense, adrenaline-fueling co-op abilities such as the cinematic Back-to-Back maneuver or the high five-slapping Co-op Snipe, Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel merely incorporates standard Step Jump and flanking-based tactics across the entire length of the campaign. While some may favor the lack of emotes – such as playing air guitar or whacking your partner upside the head – in place of a more serious-toned experience, the seemingly barebones adjustment Visceral Games has taken with the cooperative-focused aspect of the Army of Two series leaves a lot to be desired.
That’s not to say that Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel doesn’t inject a fair share of co-op-directed situations into the mix of bullet-spraying madness, but oftentimes, it felt like teamwork could easily be avoided and set on the back-burner on all but the most highest of difficulties. During insane mode, for example, transitioning between makeshift cover points, utilizing you and your partner’s mobility to engage in battlefield-changing flanking maneuvers, and commandeering heavily-armored mounted weapons in hopes of turning the tides of war were essential if you wished to survive until the credits rolled. Unfortunately, it’s also during these more hardcore difficulty settings where the clunky cover transitioning system and confusing damage indicators hurt the overall experience the most.
…oftentimes, it felt like teamwork could easily be avoided and set on the back-burner on all but the most highest of difficulties.
For a cover-based, third-person shooter, it seems rather ironic that Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel suffers from a poorly implemented cover system. Ultimately, you probably wouldn’t even think twice about passing by the abundance of makeshift cover if it wasn’t for the improved enemy AI allowing every machete-wielding psycho and bandana-wearing narcotic dealer to aggressively advance and flank your position. However, with how necessary the use of cover is for survival, it’s simply stunning how many times transitioning from cover-to-cover via the game’s arrow system left us standing out in the open like some confused bullet sponge. It also doesn’t help that Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel introduces perhaps one of the most annoying damage indicators we have had the misfortune to suffer through in quite some time, with the direction of enemy fire irritatingly unclear and only worsening as your condition becomes more dire. Essentially, this makes slight annoyances – such as our AI-controlled partner pushing us out of cover due to some scripted sequence – all the more frustrating, leaving even the most calm, trigger-happy gamers debating the consequences associated with the vicious dismantlement of their own controller.
Like the series’ predecessors, the inclusion of a reliable partner to share the bullet-shredding shenanigans with ultimately serves as the most optimal way to conquer the action-packed campaign and allows Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel to demonstrate its true potential. Thankfully, split-screen and online co-op options still remain available for couch-warming soldiers searching for a more “classic” Army of Two experience.
…the inclusion of a reliable partner…ultimately serves as the most optimal way to conquer the action-packed campaign…
During our time with the online co-op portion of the game, rushing to save our downed ally and coordinating successful flanking maneuvers provided us with countless adrenaline rush-inducing moments that seemed greatly diluted in the single-player campaign. Maybe the pure excitement came from outsmarting our opponents and getting the drop on drug-pushing adversaries with a human-controlled virtual buddy by our side, sharing the same potentially memorable experiences with us and soaking in the hard-earned glory resulting from overcoming seemingly impossible odds. Then again, there’s just something about partaking in the shear destructible goodness unleashed by the activation of dual OverKill that makes playing with a friend an irresistible experience.
Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel, Overkill mode allows you to temporarily deliver ridiculous amounts of explosive bullet damage in a visually stunning, action-movie-reminiscent style that would make even Rambo blush. Obtained by slowly filling up the Overkill gauge – by accumulating kills and taking Aggro, the destructive capabilities at your disposal when this insane gameplay mechanic is triggered only heightens when both teammates are actively engaged in it. Ultimately, we thoroughly enjoyed utilizing this life-saving mode in potentially game-ending binds where enemy forces seemed overwhelming and flanking maneuvers proved useless. In some ways, Overkill’s tide-changing presence helped inject a small dose of strategy into the otherwise barebones experience, especially in higher difficulties where activating the limb-shredding mechanic too early could mean not possessing it in more dire circumstances later.
…Overkill mode allows you to temporarily deliver ridiculous amounts of explosive bullet damage in a visually stunning, action-movie-reminiscent style…
While Overkill mode may easily serve as the game’s most Army of Two-esque feature, it also does a terrific job of showing off the destructible opportunities granted by DICE’s Frostbite 2 engine. Thanks to Overkill’s magnificent, slow-motion capabilities, Mexico’s war-torn streets would constantly explode into a visually satisfying spectacle of shredded sawdust, disintegrated cement particles and slaughtered goons as bullets whizzed by and each conveniently placed red barrel violently detonated. Amongst the relatively bland graphics Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel showcased throughout the entire campaign, it was quite uplifting to see the acclaimed engine of Battlefield 3 demonstrate its marvelous abilities in another equally rewarding way.
Despite some relatively entertaining features, Visceral Games’ treatment of the Army of Two franchise unforgivingly hollows out what made the series a mindless, but enjoyable experience and sadly, molds together a less-than-stellar entry with the release of Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel. While completionists and leaderboard-topping overachievers may still be able to find some sort of comfort in the easily replayable, bite-sized mission layout and gratifying cash reward system, longtime aficionados will easily loathe both the campaign’s central narrative and the absence of any competitive online multiplayer portion. Though Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel should, in every aspect, represent a reinvigorated, highly-polished installment that truly exemplifies what the series’ first entry should have been, it seems as though EA’s dynamic, bro-centric duo has lost their identity behind a mask of mass-appeal-seeking shame.
BOG’s Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel Review Score
|6.0||Why so high?
Intense co-op-infused combat, improved enemy and partner AI, lots of unlockable items, outrageous environmental destruction
|Why so low?
Generic protagonists, confusing damage indicators, bland visuals, lack of co-op abilities, no competitive multiplayer