“Careful, those barrels explode,” warns one of your team early on during Army Of Two: The Devil’s Cartel’s campaign. “You didn’t know that?” retorts another. “Red barrels always explode! You’re clearly not a big gamer.” It’s an exchange that sets the self-referential tone of the bleak seven or so hours that follow, but also serves to highlight the crushing lack of imagination invested in the game.
So little, in fact, that Visceral settled for Alpha and Bravo as names for its new protagonists. Recent recruits to Salem and Rios’ T.W.O. PMC, the interchangeable pair fight alongside its founders at first but come into their own farther down the line as the insubstantial plot moves into territory that will likely confuse and disappoint fans of the first two games in equal measure.
Not that the story really matters. The Devil’s Cartel sees T.W.O. go up against a ruthless drug cartel (is there any other kind?) in Mexico, moving from cover to cover as it wipes out every member, bullet by bullet. Mexico’s rich potential as a backdrop is squandered as each lifeless, brown-tinged courtyard and corridor blends into the next. Even Frostbite 2 can’t enliven proceedings, its destructible environments feeling disappointingly neutered for the most part.
The one exception to this occurs during Overkill. The chargeable mode renders you and your partner temporarily invincible, providing you with unlimited, more destructive, ammunition and grenades. It will often swing the battle in your favour, and is particularly useful when confronting ‘brute’ soldiers. It’s also welcome respite from wrestling with the game’s inconsistent cover system.
Moving in and out of cover is fiddly and often unresponsive, resulting in an awkward dance as you attempt to get Alpha out of the line of fire. His training doesn’t extend to rolling, either, which makes the arrival of an enemy grenade an unnecessarily fraught experience, and one that almost always leads to heavy damage. Thankfully, though, your teammate Bravo’s AI is reasonably good at staying alive and coming to your aid when needed. Enemy AI, however, is of the dimly suicidal variety.
It all feels phoned in, like the dev team was eager to get this generation out of the way and focus on something more exciting. As a result it’s riddled with avoidable missteps, like the invisible walls that hold you in place while the next area loads; the score tables that irritatingly pop up three or four steps into that newly loaded area; and the remarkable decision to create several melee death animations for standard grunts — which, if you’re playing properly, should be seen infrequently — and only one for the machete-wielding enemies that charge you. One that you’ll get to watch over and over again.
Those aforementioned score tables mete out points — for different types of kills as well as co-op actions — that can be invested in new weapons and customising your getup. This has little effect on how the game plays, however, especially as the available selection of guns struggle to differentiate themselves. And co-op feels less essential than it did in the previous two games: forming up behind a riot shield together is cute, but other than flanking enemies, opening doors or boosting your partner over a wall, it rarely feels like their presence is necessary.
The Devil’s Cartel quickly settles into a laborious rhythm, only occasionally punctuating its repetitious cover/fire/cover gameplay with uninspired turret sections or set pieces. These are over so quickly, though, that you’ll barely notice they happened. Only once does the game promise a change of pace, when an escape offers an opportunity for a stealth section. But it quickly becomes apparent that the whole sequence is a scripted pass or fail event which, again, rapidly devolves into gunfire.
The previous Army Of Two releases may not have been able to rival the games they so clearly held in reverence, but they at least demonstrated a willingness to deviate from the common path with original ideas and a brash, though memorable, personality. And while it’s ironic that a game about a mercenary organisation that doesn’t play by the rules adheres so vehemently to the ones that defined its genre, it’s simply baffling that it manages to make so many mistakes within such a well-worn template.
Xbox 360 version tested.