The first pair of Army Of Two games thrust a not-particularly-likeable duo of testosterone-oozing frat boys into a variety of international hotspots, where these exemplars of good ol’ privately contracted American justice proceeded to save the world by killing anyone who moved. The Devil’s Cartel, meanwhile, takes a new pair of barely drawn tough guys and plonks them down into cartel-infested Mexico, where they appear to be killing anyone who moves. As reboots go, it’s not so much radical as neoconservative.
That said, it’s nice to play a thirdperson shooter not running on Unreal Engine 3. This is the latest EA project to make use of DICE’s Frostbite engine, and though we’re fairly certain that the Battlefield studio had the realtime destruction of buildings in mind when it created the tech, it turns out human beings can be torn apart pretty readily as well.
The Devil’s Cartel is a gory, bloody game. Its enemies aren’t punctured by bullets, they’re ripped to pieces by them as new masked heroes Alpha and Bravo move through small cartel hideouts. It adds an appropriately visceral feel to the business of murder as business, but we doubt that any Spec Ops: The Line-esque introspection will be the pay off to the violence.
Rather than the aggro system of the previous game, which encouraged teamwork by allowing players to see how enemies’ hostility was divided among the pair, Visceral and EA Montreal have opted for more straightforward positive reinforcement. “We’ve taken away things from previous games,” says Greg Rizzer, producer at Visceral Games. “But we’ve added this layer of scoring, which is about you and I trying to rack up as much of those co-operative kills possible. A surprise flank, a tag team where you and I both attack at the same time: it’s all rewarded now and it’s really exciting.”
Earn enough points and players can then activate Overkill, a gory, time-slowing crescendo to a gunfight that lets both players target enemies at their leisure and with increased damage.
The Devil’s Cartel is under no illusions as to the kind of experience it’s offering. Its opening cutscene sees Alpha mock Bravo (or, quite possibly, Bravo mock Alpha) for requesting permission to engage an unsuspecting pair of cartel soldiers. Later on Bravo (or possibly Alpha) chides his partner for not realising that red barrels, when shot, are going to explode – “Red barrels always explode,” he says.
“We’ve been trying to ensure that we’re injecting humour into the game,” explains Rizzer. “When we announced this game, and we said we were going to have a grittier tone, people were concerned. We want to do dialogue of a buddy cop nature.”
That self-aware tone might well see The Devil’s Cartel through to the credits if it can be maintained, though it could also sit uneasily with the studios’ promises of a mature story worthy of the contemporary Mexico setting. A setting, of course, which saw Call Of Juarez: The Cartel sharply criticised. “We do get asked quite a bit about doing a game based on the drug cartels,” says Rizzer. “The first thing to remember is that every single person in this game you take down is working for the cartel. They’re pretty awful. Yes, there’s some stuff that’s from the headlines today, and we’re aware of that, but this isn’t a documentary.”
We’re sure that Visceral won’t blithely stumble into a delicate situation and somehow make things worse. That is, after all, the job of its game’s stars.