My biggest disappointment with Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel (TDC from here on in) is that EA and Visceral Montréal thought fit to expunge the series of all its dudebro-ness. There are no back-to-back last stands, no more rock-paper-scissor mini-games, and the assorted fist-bumping and back-slapping animations are all gone. It’s not just baffling because it’s stripped the game of what helped it stand out in the genre, but also because it’s still very campy and self-aware despite this. Odd then, that they’d remove them at all.
The in-game dialogue is filled with tongue-in-cheek one-liners that reference everything from generic videogame tropes (such as the notorious explosive barrel) to the increasingly ludicrous situations the protagonists find themselves in. Even the eye-rolling action movie plot isn’t spared, and it’s all charming enough that you’ll find yourself cracking the odd grin from time to time. To be fair, the story and premise isn’t all bad. The developers clearly decided that they’d try something different by shifting focus from our heroes from the last two games in the series to a new set of TWO recruits named Alpha and Bravo.
To call them characterless or bland wouldn’t be entirely fair, especially when you take into account the superior quality voice acting and cutscene direction; something that’s now par for the course across all EA games. On a general note, those of you who play a lot of EA titles may notice an eerie sense of familiarity in the production; perhaps a by-product of them using the same producers or a set of generic production checklists across multiple games. The last thing we need is for games to feel even more similar than they already are.
Those of you who play a lot of EA titles may notice an eerie sense of familiarity in the production.
Back to our game of the moment, though. Alpha and Bravo find themselves in Mexico on the trail of a politician who’s been kidnapped by a local drug cartel. Topical sure, but it’s only ever used as an excuse for destruction on a city-levelling scale. The cartel’s big cheese is a particularly evil chap and there’s a mysterious gringo lieutenant to deal with as well.
TDC is as distilled as a third-person shooter can get. You’ll run-and-gun through a range of environments with an AI squad mate in tow, stopping only for the occasional turret or vehicle sequence. Your AI buddy can be substituted with either a splitscreen local co-op partner or randoms over Xbox Live or PSN. Creating a lobby and inviting someone from your friends list into it is easy, and the netcode is robust enough to ensure lag-free play. Unfortunately, the co-op mode isn’t drop-in/drop-out, and insists on freezing and forcing you to either restart the chapter or quit to the main menu each time your online amigo leaves your game. Not cool.
It’s inoffensive fun, and the kind of B-game that the current generation of consoles is short of.
You’ll really wish there was more interaction between your partner and yourself. There were times when I had to do a double take to check if my co-op buddy was still in my game or whether the AI had kicked in. Sure, you can revive each other, hoist your partner to a ledge, and occasionally split up to explore alternate paths, but that’s just not enough. The aggro system has also been toned down significantly. There’s no overt measure or in-game depiction anymore of either your squad mate or yourself drawing enemy fire. You can still engage enemies while your squaddie flanks them (as you would in normal combat scenarios), but fans of the previous games may feel let down than it isn’t name dropped as a ‘feature’.
The game plays very well mechanically, especially the combat, but there were a few minor niggles that were evident. Moving from cover to cover wasn’t always as easy as it should have been. Pointing to a cover-spot should display an icon which lets you run to and snap to it, but these icons wouldn’t always show up for some reason. Vaulting over cover requires that you hold a button rather than just tap it, which somehow seems counter-intuitive.
I also would have liked to see a bit more variety in the melee animations. Switching between weapons works well, however, and you always get a good curve on your grenade tosses. Enemies range from armourless and armoured grunts to heavies and the now de rigueur helicopter boss. It’s inoffensive fun, and the kind of B-game that the current generation of consoles is short of. You’re also scored on your on-field performance (as with most games these days), unlocking weapons, upgrades, and outfits and masks as you level up. More on this later.
EA’s unabated Frostbite 2 usage across its titles continues, but TDC surprisingly looks to be the best example till date of the engine on console hardware. Granted you’ll have to install the 1.5 GB HD pack (on the Xbox 360) to make the most of it, but that’s a small price to pay for the level of detail you’ll receive in return. Textures and lighting look very nice for a console game, and the environments are bursting with physics-laden destructible objects. There’s an explosion ‘round every corner, not-so-subtly helped along by the game’s aptly named overkill mode. Build up your meter, tap the overkill button, and you’ll turn into a temporarily invincible force of nature, cutting down everything in your path. Buildings fall, skin melts, and limbs sheer clean off (this is a bloody, brutal game), and things get even crazier if your partner engages overkill at the same time as you.
I found it unusually satisfying to customise and kit out my character, and it’s always a kick seeing the models up close during cutscenes.
Weapon unlocks and customisation has returned, along with the ability to customise the masks, outfit and the arm tattoos on your operative. As banal as customisation modes in videogames can sometimes get, the mask and outfit options are surprisingly good and there’s a fine range of weapons to purchase and upgrade. I found it unusually satisfying to customise and kit out my character, and it’s always a kick seeing the models up close during cutscenes. Competitive multiplayer has been jettisoned completely, so those of you who don’t want to replay the 8-10 hour campaign on a higher difficulty may find replayability to be an issue.
I went into Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel expecting a rushed, awful game. I haven’t been impressed with Frostbite’s showing on consoles, and the fact that EA shuttered the developers even before the game’s release didn’t really instil confidence. What I found instead was a polished action game that’s relatively fun to blast your way through; something you should actually consider picking up when it eventually drops in price. It doesn’t do a lot (thanks to features being removed wholesale) and what it does do isn’t remarkable in any way, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen a game do average quite as well as this.