Announced last August, Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel came somewhat out of the blue. With publisher EA cutting back on high-risk titles and the series’ less than ecstatic response from critics and consumers, before its announcement the notion of a third instalment seemed dubious at best.
This time around the game is set in Mexico with mainstay guns-for-hire Rio and Salem taking a back seat. Instead players fill the boots of Alpha and Bravo, Cartel’s creatively-named newcomers who are charged with tackling a ruthless drug empire known as La Guadaña.
No matter how refined and endearing a game’s characters are, a fifteen minute, action-packed demo usually fails to do them justice. However, in this instance, a quarter of an hour seems more than enough time to get a read on Army of Two’s substitute shooters.
Alpha and Bravo could have intriguing motives for joining T.W.O and their crusade against “the Devil’s Cartel”, though the gameplay preview suggests otherwise.
Aside from the occasional, bare-boned exchange in dialogue there is little going for the characters. Rio and Salem were hardly well-written either, though their frequent fist-bumping, air guitar solos, and general musings at least gave them some kind of dynamic.
With that said, this is just a demo; Visceral could have crafted a meaningful relationship between the two mercs that develops over the course of the game, though it seems unlikely. Either that or we could have ourselves another Isaac Clarke/John Carver situation.
Compared to The 40th Day, gameplay feels much more refined in this latest addition.
The control scheme is generally tighter and the shooting more responsive with a few, minimal changes made to the game’s co-op mechanics. When playing with an AI partner, locally, or online you’ll still be working together to open doors and climb to high spaces with an occasional fork in the road here and there.
Army of Two’s “Aggro” mechanic also comes into play though isn’t quite as intrusive this time around. Previously, players’ actions in combat would be registered on a progressive, tug-of-war style meter.
As one player became more aggressive they would draw fire whilst the other would be free to sneak around and pick off stragglers. Though the concept still exists, the stealth/aggressive divide has been replaced by an “Overkill” meter which allows players brief phases of increased damage.
A number of cosmetic changes have also been made. For instance, Cartel’s UI and in-game displays have a washed out, computerised look almost identical to that of Medal of Honor and Battlefield. Visceral has also adopted Frostbite 2 technology but this is really only present in the game’s destructible environments.
They may add a bit of flare but ultimately do very little for the overall experience.
The Devil’s Cartel isn’t doomed for failure. If anything it’s a solid, responsive shooter though one that has very few ideas of its own. No doubt there will be plenty of punters wanting to get their couch co-op fix but if Visceral wants to settle for more than a passable product it needs to deliver some much-needed innovation.