01 May 2013
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Review: Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel

By Darren Price

It’s time to strap on the Kevlar vest, put on the mask and get back into the fight as an operative of Trans World Operations, in EA’s balls to the wall co-op third-person shooter, Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel.

The game comes from EA Montreal who were also responsible for the first Army of Two and the sequel, Army of Two: The 40th Day.

As with the previous games in the series, The Devil’s Cartel’s emphasis is on co-operative gameplay. You can play either solo with a console-controlled partner, or co-op via split-screen or Xbox Live.

You play as either Alpha or Bravo, operatives of Trans World Operations, embroiled in a Mexican drug war.

Whilst guarding Cordova, a politician making a stand against the drug cartels, their convoy is ambushed and their VIP kidnapped by La Guadana, one of the cartels.

What follows is a paper thin and throwaway plot that gives ample reason for two guys to blow away as many gun-toting hoodlums as possible.

There’s a little betrayal and a few plot twists, but nothing that you are going to be able to remember once the credits role.

The Devil’s Cartel is a piece of all-out action from the start to the finish that, in order to be properly appreciated requires you to turn down your IQ a few notches. The game is the very definition of big dumb fun.

At first I was a bit hung up on the lowbrow gameplay. But as soon as I stopped dwelling on it I actually found myself enjoying the rather mindless destruction. The game wasn’t making me question my motives, or the morality of anything.

It was just me, my mate and some guns shooting the crap out of anything and everyone in our way. And that is really what Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is all about.

The game is set out as a series of missions, which are split in to chapters. The objective in each case is to get from A to B though heavily guarded areas. The levels are well set out and not as linier as your average combat shooter.

Alternative routes provide lots of flanking opportunities for both players and enemies. Being primarily intended as a co-op game the levels are designed to be traversed using teamwork; one player, for instance, drawing machine gun fire whilst the other flanks it. At the end of each chapter XP and cash are awarded based on performance.

The game environments offer plenty of variety ranging from urban areas to graveyards. One sequence which involved making my way though some catacombs with the only light-source being that mounted to my pistol, was particularly inspired; with lunatic cartel members jumping at you from the shadows.

The game features an advanced cover system that allows you to automatically run from cover position to cover position with the touch of a button. Only highlighted cover positions can be used, mind you.

I was caught out a few times when I tried, and failed, to crouch behind something clearly capable of protecting me from a hail of bullets.

Taking pot shot from cover is all very well, but the enemy is a bit handy with grenades, thus cover does stay cover for long. Shunning Epic’s Unreal Engine for what is becoming EA’s default game development tool, The Devil’s Cartel makes full use of DICE’s Frostbite 2 game engine, the very same used to power Battlefield 3.

What does Frostbite 2 mean to non-geeks? Well, it means stuff – including buildings – can be blown to bits and fall to pieces. Firing at the corner of a building when the enemy is cowering will result in bits of masonry flying off everywhere exposing the coward to your gunfire.

The game doesn’t mess around when it comes to the gore. The fact that you can blow a bullet ridden corpse’s feet off is testament to that.

As players notch up kills and combos they charge a meter that enables the overkill mode. As well as making players invulnerable, it also supercharges weapons making them able to dismember enemies with one shot, leaving the ground littered with blooded arms, legs and torsos.

Again emphasising the team-play, if a player is downed, the other can revive them. Whilst incapacitated, you can still take out opponents with your sidearm in a very similar fashion to the Left 4 Dead games.

Even though most of the time the Alpha and Bravo fight side by side, every now and then they are required to go their separate ways leaving them both to fend for themselves.

Whilst this is good for a bit of variety, there is no opportunity resuscitate your downed colleague or support a less competent player.

Death means a checkpoint restart during these sections, which can be frustrating, especially if your co-op partner keeps on screwing it up for you.

I found the medium difficulty setting to be no challenge whatsoever, and I can assure you it was nothing to do with my gaming skill.

Any game whereby you can run headlong into a crowd of heavily armed opponents and melee kill the lot of them with a knife is too easy in my book. If you really want to get your monies worth out of The Devil’s Cartel, you really need to play in on the hard setting.

For the most part, the enemy cartel members are no more than cannon fodder. They do nothing very surprising, apart from the knife wielding nutters that ran towards my gun barrel. Whilst players can get away with bringing a knife to a gunfight, the enemy can’t.

Even my first encounter with one of the armoured brutes, which should have been a bit interesting, proved to be underwhelming. He was easily dispatched with a few rounds to his unarmoured legs, as he mindlessly lumbered towards the business end of my rifle.

As well as the campaign missions there are also a series of extra contracts, which act as optional challenge levels. One of the contracts, Overkiller, treated me to an overkill mode-enhanced romp.

The result was a gratuitous splatter-fest of enemies exploding in clouds of blood in what was the most unashamed and continuously violent thing I’ve ever seen in a video game. I’m seen nastier, but not sustained for this length of time.

Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel features enough ordnance to sate the needs of all but the most obsessive gun nuts out there. All those XP points are not for nought, as you rank up more powerful weapons and upgrades become available in the armoury.

Players can choose their own load-out of primary and secondary weapon as well as a sidearm. Assault weapon, LMGs, SMGs, shotguns and sniper rifles can, again, all be purchased with the in-game currency.

All the guns come with a variety of customisations such as extended mags, better sights, stock and muzzles. It’s total gun porn and you can really get lost in it.

The armoury even allows you to try before you buy which is a nice touch. You can also chose you guns’ paint-jobs allow for the creation of a truly unique arsenal.

As well as guns, cash and XP also allows players access to a number of character customisation options. There are dozens of masks, tattoos and gear available to purchase with cash earned in-game.

If the game wasn’t so slick and polished the whole escapade would raise eyebrows. It’s clear that a lot of effort has gone into this morally questionable, but shamelessly fun game.

If anything The Devil’s Cartel deserves some recognition for its honesty. The game doesn’t try and justify itself with some pretentious plot.

It’s not pretending to be art or to have any point. Nor does it bring anything new to the combat shooter genre, if anything it takes some away. But that is alright; it is what it is and is unapologetic about it.

The Devil’s Cartel didn’t exactly welcome me with open arms, initially coming across as a very generic and rather stupid take on the genre.

But it did grow on me and with time became a very endearing shooter in its own right. Perhaps not the triple-A title it would like to be, Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is still certainly worth a look if you enjoy a good, mindless shooter.

Graphics: 8.5Gameplay: 7.0Sound: 8.5Lasting appeal: 7.5

Overall: 7.5

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