Its probably fair to say that Army of Two: The Devils Cartel isn’t a fondly remembered title. In fact I would go as far as to say that Army of Two is not a fondly remembered series. The second title, The 40th Day included a rudimentary choice element and despite being more average than the dead centre of a beige circle, had enough explode-y stuff going on to entertain through a dreary winters eve. At any rate EA thought the sales warranted a third title and here we are.
I actually got this as part of Microsoft’s Games With Gold on Xbox 360, so strictly speaking it was free. Turns out despite the price its still a game you wouldn’t necessarily recommend to anyone, unless you wanted to put them off joining a drug cartel.
The Army Of Two franchise is now De facto dead as disco and its not hard to see why after this third title. EA always seemed desperate to get their fingers in the third-person shooter pie and steal a bit of Gears of Wars market share but the formula never quite gelled, much like the way the Medal of Honor reboots never quite captured the Call of Duty magic. In point of fact, The Devils Cartel (TDC from now on to save my poor fingers) is a very good analogy for EA’s copy and paste attitude to franchise gaming. All the elements are in place; huge budget, decent developer, tech know-how, bombastic set-pieces that would make a cocker spaniels eyes bleed; yet like a crude hand-traced version of a great work of art, something doesn’t seem right.
TDC was developed by Visceral Games, who I am in general a fan of, mostly for Dead Space 1 & 2 and the underrated God of War facsimile Dante’s Inferno. In another divergence from the previous titles, TDC uses the Frostbite engine meaning things now crumble like wet biscuits when you shoot them; which is nice.
All the elements are in place; huge budget, decent developer, tech know-how, bombastic set-pieces that would make a cocker spaniels eyes bleed; yet like a crude hand traced version of a great work of art, something doesn’t seem right.
TDC’s story takes place in Mexico and follows two new characters to the series, replacing Salem and Rios. The T.W.O. operatives named Alpha and Bravo are now the leads and presumably these guys don’t have names
as they don’t have personalities as the developer wants you to immerse yourself fully into the characters or identify with them. However if you manage to identify with these guys perhaps you need to seek help, or hand in all your automatic weapons to the local police station before you do something ill-judged and silly. I don’t wish to get bogged down in moral relativism and drive off any remaining good will in what is a game review, but its automatically going to be difficult to try and identify with someone who would willingly kill people for rich clients, so your writing has to be top notch or your characters at least vaguely likeable to allow you to engage.
Unfortunately, Alpha and Bravo have the moral code of a stray hungry dog and when they decide to risk it all to save someone part way through for purely altruistic reasons, it just raises eyebrows. As Loki says to Black Widow in Avengers “Can you wipe out that much red?”. Oh and there’s also some dire banter between them about girlfriends back home, but most of the time they walk around making blindingly obvious declarative statements like “I’m going to Kill this f-ing guy!” like they are narrating for a passing idiot drawn to the smell of cordite. All you really need to know though is one of them is angry and impetuous, one is calmer and workmanlike, yet they are both one-dimensional and not worth caring about.
At any rate, trying to describe the story of TDC is a pointless venture, as they basically walk from one small Central American village to another, killing anyone with a tattoo or slightly darker skin than their own, blowing up barrels and abjectly failing to achieve any of their aims, be it rescue someone, escape from somewhere, or protect a VIP. Alpha and Bravo are surely shoe-ins for the worst bodyguards that have ever lived award; I bet they can’t even cat-sit without inadvertently strapping C4 to it.
Throw in some standard side characters; a moral but doomed mayor, a lip-smacking drug baron who pauses a lot during monologues, a spunky female resistance fighter who wears short-sleeved t-shirts to gunfights, and the like. Even some of the old cast show up to remind you that they you know, exist and stuff. However my emotional connection with Salem and Rios is such that I forgot what they looked like, bit like that guy you bought drinks for in a student nightclub twice as he liked your t-shirt, before you awkwardly notice each other on the street a decade later.
All of which would be completely forgivable if the gameplay was up to scratch, after all, no one hangs around with Marcus Fenix as hes a fun guy who brings Jaegermeister to house parties. Unfortunately, TDC’s gameplay is functional at best.
Alpha and Bravo are the worst bodyguards that have ever lived, I bet they can’t even cat-sit without inadvertently strapping C4 to it.
The cover shooting works just about… that’s about the best I can say really. It doesn’t sing in the way that even mid-budget stuff like Fuse does but its perfectly serviceable. Its the usual combination of 2 weapons and side arm and occasional sniper and mini-gun bits.
The structure of the levels is slightly frustrating and destroys any rhythm you might fall into as the game breaks to a load/stats screen every 5-10 minutes. Although this break from shooting what seems to be a ceaseless army of gang-bangers in the melon is often welcome and allows you to change up your weaponry, it does feel unnecessary for the most part and takes you out of the game. This level structure worked reasonably well in the otherwise average Gears of War: Judgement but its not quite as well implemented here.
The structure of the levels is slightly frustrating and destroys any rhythm you might fall into as the game breaks to a load/stats screen every 5-10 minutes.
Most of the levels are pretty much the same as well and fall into either; move to a marker, or defend an objective against waves of bad guys, which is only broken up by the odd vehicle turret thingimy-stuff and a handful of sections where you split up and one provides over-watch. These sections provide welcome respite from the norm, not for the obvious variety reasons but more that you aren’t forced to directly interact with your AI partner.
The friendly AI is so dumb he probably puts his hands in the toaster and thinks it’s a really hurty form of bread; constantly dying in silly places, or running off rashly into groups of bad-guys his water-head IQ isn’t possibly equipped to handle. The enemy AI is equally as inept and most firefights end up in the usual third-person cover ‘whack-a-mole’, with only the odd heavily armoured enemy willing to do anything else.
Overall the game lasts about 5-6 hours (not counting the multi-player which I didn’t partake of, sorry guys) and when a game is this dull, that probably is enough. Considering TDC was a later stage last gen title, there’s a genuine lack of any real invention on display in the gameplay. It feels like it was designed by focus groups and bolted together by bored automatons in an outsourced factory somewhere.
Credit where credit is due though, the weapon customisation is pretty good and up to 6-7 attachments can be made to each weapon. Character customisation is also present allowing you to pick your clothes, tattoos and most importantly your mask. I know its an aesthetic USP of the series in a way but these masks seem like a startlingly impractical thing to have a firefight in, especially in a desert. Poor visibility? Check. No back on it to make you vulnerable to being shot from behind? Check. Hot and sweaty with poor ventilation? Check. Guys, maybe wear a helmet instead?
Credit where credit is due though, the weapon customisation is pretty good and up to 6-7 attachments can be made to each weapon.
Anyway, you can even design your own mask if you like. There’s some pretty good ones that fans have made on the web, search them out. Its probably more entertaining than sitting and playing the campaign.
Rather nicely, the game remembers what gun you had between levels and even in cut scenes. I know this is a small thing but it doesn’t half get on my boobs when a game constantly resets your loadout. It’s little additions like this that show that TDC did have a big budget and at least a little thought behind it.
Graphically TDC is a disappointment for a late-gen title funded by EA. The Frostbite engine can render rubble and destruction well but I would happily trade this for everything else not looking like a dog thew up on it. Every level seems to take place in a brown desert or a brown street…. or a brown palace. The screenshot of gameplay included above makes it look a lot nicer than it is. When compared against its 2013 competitors, it holds up visually as well as a weightlifting chaffinch.
As for other stuff, well the score by Brian Tyler (who now does most of Marvels movies) is actually a pretty good and points to the AAA origin of the game which isn’t present elsewhere.
Army of Two: The Devils Cartel is a step back from the decent but uninspiring second game, ejecting most of the improvements from The 40th Day and throwing the baby out with the bath water in the process. The game plays very averagely, is as samey as hell from start to finish, looks wobbly as a drunk jellyfish and has savagely dense AI. Its a shame to see a potentially great developer like Visceral make such a bland and homogenised title. For fans of the series only I’m afraid.
Was I too harsh on The Devils Cartel? Let me know what you think below.
Thanks for reading.