Army of Two, the franchise best known for fist bumping, air guitar solos and big explosions makes its third foray onto consoles this generation with The Devil’s Cartel, and sadly the game isn’t much more than its predecessors. A middle of the road shooter experience that is equal parts luck as it is strategy and utter chaos throughout. Whether you’re playing this one solo, or in co-op as it’s meant to be played, the game might keep you loosely interested, but on the whole you’ll easily forget this game the second you push the power button off. It’s unfortunate too as the franchise has always been heavy on great ideas with moderate success at execution. With each passing attempt it seems as if ambition will almost always outshine the end result.
Gone are Rios and Salem as playable characters as you are introduced to two new characters named Alpha and Bravo. I suppose the developers were looking for a change of pace, but the new ‘bros’ are pretty much just more of the same but a lot less funny. In previous iterations you could always count on Rios and Salem to bust out a cheesy air guitar solo after a particularly messy battle but that type of interaction is strangely missing now. The bravado and macho boasting is still there of course, along with the bickering, but it’s far less funny this time around. One of the first jokes involving ‘bullet cancer’ for example falls really flat and is an indication of things to come. This time around the team travels to Mexico to face off against a high powered drug cartel in the aid of a do-good politician. The basis for being there is set but the storyline itself is thin and serves as nothing more than your reason for unleashing a firestorm of bullets onto wave after wave of bullet sponge enemies. To be perfectly fair though, the story has almost always played nothing more than a secondary backdrop to the carnage within the game.
As you advance through the locales you’re subjected to a very clunky cover system that is far more aggravating than it is useful. I had a horrible time trying to highlight areas that I wanted to move to and when I finally did highlight them I’d often find my character moving to the wrong side of the cover resulting in frustrating deaths. Add to this the fact that enemies quite frequently, as if magic, spawned behind me as I took cover. This made it even more annoying as I would frantically look around attempting to see where I was being shot from. As I mentioned above there is a lot more luck than strategy involved when you have banditos appearing like genies behind you to shoot you in the back.
The new TWO vision, an addition that helps you plan out the best route to flank enemies, can be handy at times but it will likely be left unused as the action comes so fast and furious you’ll hardly have time to plan out an offensive. The second new addition however, Double Overkill, is fun and will be used often. Each character builds up an overkill meter on their own and activates it once full. When triggered both players benefit and turn into invincible death dealers with infinite ammo. Unleashing an absolute swarm of fire the environment will explode and breakdown beautifully all while mowing down cartel soldiers like a hot knife goes through butter. If both players activate their overkill together the effect is even better with slow motion madness turning enemy cover into dust. As fun as the Double Overkill can be the excitement soon wears off as that alone isn’t enough to keep you from noticing what the game lacks at every other turn… any sort of inspiring play whatsoever.
Despite changing locales from a dusty border town to a creepy graveyard or fancy vacation resort each level feels like more of the last as you make your way down penned in corridors full of cookie cutter bad guys and destructible pieces of cover. The action never slows down much either to allow for anything other than tiny bits of story and then more shooting. You never feel like you have a chance to take a breath and explore your surroundings or take in the location. It’s unfortunate too as one of the things The Devil’s Cartel certainly got right is its stunning backdrops.
If you can stomach it there is a replayability factor as each section is immediately graded and your position on the worldwide leaderboards is shown. You can pop into your armory, equip yourself with as much firepower as you can afford and play sections over again while trying to improve on your last outing. This will keep some coming back again and again in an attempt to better their friends, but I found taking the time to replay sections with upgraded weapons doesn’t do much. Weapons don’t feel much different from one another even with all the perks loaded up on them. If anything you’ll spend more time and effort into unlocking pretty set pieces such as tattoos or masks like I did. If I’m going to unleash hell on a bunch of bandana wearing drug dealers I’m going to make damn sure I look good while I do it.
Playing this game through with a friend is your best chance at finding it enjoyable. While the game itself may not be ideally executed it serves as a good platform to get together with a pal and do some damage. I played through the game with my son and found having him as a partner was much more preferable to the AI. I’ll never tell him this but it’s true. That being said, when forced to play with the AI as your partner you can rest easy that it is smart enough to keep you alive and help you advance through the game with relative ease. The same can’t necessarily be said for some of the bonehead AI that accompanies the cartel goons mind you, but I’ll still give it a pass.
As previously mentioned the backdrops of the game while playing are gorgeous and well done. When environments are blown to high heaven in Double Overkill it’s a joy to take in no matter where you turn. Cutscenes are quite the opposite though. While they look great I found that there was near constant glitching and lines popping up that took me out of what little story they were trying to deliver. When you’ve got a game so thin on plot you can’t afford to let the player slip out of your grasp for even a heartbeat. A missed opportunity perhaps, but even without the glitching I’m not entirely sure the plot would have been any more enticing.
Listening to Alpha and Bravo banter amongst themselves was passable from an acting stand point, but trying to take in their humour, or lack thereof to be honest, was at times awkward and almost always conveyed at the most inappropriate of times. When you’re under a hailstorm of enemy fire and grenades are landing on your flank I highly doubt you’d welcome a friendly jab from your partner. Then again The Devil’s Cartel doesn’t exactly thrive on ‘likely’ scenarios. Any chance of encountering something likely to happen in the real world is turfed within seconds of advancing past the title screen.
Overall you’ll find that Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel can be a reasonably fun way to spend 8 hours of your life, but I don’t know if many people will make the effort to play through it again. It is a frantic shooter that challenges nothing more than your trigger finger and never advances past mindless slaughter. At times this is exactly what you’re looking for, but if you want an experience with any real depth to it you’ll likely want to look elsewhere.