Electronic Arts has supported some original titles this generation, such as Mirror’s Edge, Dead Space, and Army of Two. These three games were great examples of new ideas, but only two of them received any form of sequel. Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel, being the third installment in the Army of Two series, needed to differentiate itself from the rest of the market's triple-A shooters, but instead suffers from a bad case of sequelitis. The original concept of Army of Two gave players an intriguing take on gunplay by utilizing an aggression system (or, aggro, for MMO-savvy players) in order to up intensity. Unfortunately for EA, Army of Two, and development team Visceral Montreal, The Devil’s Cartel needed some aggro of its own if it hoped to stay afloat in the widening cesspool of mediocre games.
Opening just before a terrorist attack, The Devil's Cartel shows the Army of Two team driving down a deserted street as it escorts a government representative to a public address. Terrorists take shots at the escort vehicles and ultimately strand the convoy in the middle of a street. Suddenly, the plot leaps back to the events leading up to this point. With many badly scripted foreshadowing statements like “Nothing’s going to happen” moments before the terrorist attack, the cliché mood starts early in this sequel. To make matters worse, many shallow “so-and-so’s sister does such-and-such” conversations fill most of the dialogue throughout the entire game, and only a few lines hit a marginally humorous mark. Regrettably, if you’re looking for a deep storyline in this shooter, you’ll be wasting $60 on the wrong game.
This game renders textures rather nicely, and evening scenes work especially well in terms of lighting effects. Overall, the game is visually on par with many great-looking games from this generation, and even shadows hold up well enough without tearing or distorting. The only corners it cuts in this department are on generic baddies, but not many games give much detail to random enemies anyway. Really, The Devil's Cartel is a graphical success.
Voice acting is weak, but the sound quality is great, which feels like a waste--in an upcoming list of wasted concepts. Still, the guys doing the voiceovers sound believable, even though the script doesn't do them any favors. Weapons sound great, and the amount of useable guns is comparable to games like Call of Duty. But more on weapons later.
Much like the former Army of Two games, the aggro system makes a return, and it works like a charm. This system allows you gain the attention of enemies by firing your guns—and the game's entire arsenal—at enemies, which gives your ally a chance to flank and overcome the opponents. Unfortunately, the game doesn't have many points where this is necessary. Instead, the eponymous duo is often separated. When teammates are together, they can revive each other when they're downed like in any shooter, but you're so often separated from your teammate that this feature is nearly forgotten. Ultimately, this means that, when completing separate tasks, you will simply die when downed. Its inconsistent game design that clashes cooperative priorities with little opportunity for them to matter.
Another miscalculated decision is the cover system. Admittedly, it works well enough. By simply pressing the X button while holding a direction, you can move from cover to cover easily. The game also displays movement prompts at the bottom of the screen, so you always know where your character is going. Now for the bad part: the game isn't hard--at all. Even on hard mode, which is available from the start. So, you can literally have above-average accuracy with some mild movement and never need to go into cover. This could be a situation where Visceral Montreal wanted to have varied gameplay, but I have a hard time believing the game's ease was intentional, since the aggro system and the once teamwork-heavy gameplay are both terribly miscommunicated.
A fleeting strength to this game is the enjoyable customization of weapons. From color layers to stock modifications, the ability to create a completely unique weapon is only dwarfed by the entertainment of seeing your upgraded weapons wreak havoc on enemy mobs. All of these customizations can be purchased with cash earned from kill counts and through different means of executing those kills. After all of these negatives, though, it’s hard to look at this and feel like weapon customization can save a game from faltering.
If you're inclined to ignore my review and buy this game anyway, then please find a friend to play with you, online or otherwise; I recommend otherwise, so you both are only out $30 each. The online co-op works perfectly in terms of connectivity, but the splitscreen works just as well. When I say "works just as well," I'm keeping in mind both gameplay difficulty and how much the HUD covers the screen. The HUD in single player is already crowded by the Overdrive bar (when activated, Overdrive allows you to be invincible for a short time). The Overdrive bar arcs in two semi-circles around your character, so you can only imagine how convoluted the screen becomes in splitscreen. Even on hard, you can generally run through maps, forgetting about the simplistic and effective cover system, and, with average aim, take out everything in your wake--considering the rather annoying dialogue, the game's ease might actually help you get through it.
Amidst all of these flaws is one contradicting fact: the game plays well. Many games out there fail to have an experience that works this well. Like the last two games, Devil’s Cartel includes cooperative bonuses and combos that are rewarded for working together in tasks, like wounding then killing an enemy, which livens up gameplay nicely and motivates you to keep moving through the game. Together, the decision to make this game less tactical and the lack of difficulty unfortunately turn Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel into an arcade shooter rather than a tactical one like the series' original outing. Games like this have their place, and that place is not worth $60. Having a friend with common taste who’s willing to co-op with you nearly doubles this game's score, because Devil’s Cartel feels that much more entertaining playing with a pal.
Cooperative play, enjoyable gameplay, and engaging weapon customization are tossed together with weak difficulty and an almost-inappropriate cover system. Together with its lack of tactical necessity, The Devil's Cartel is hard to justify. Perhaps these mistakes will bring Visceral Montreal, and this game series, back to the drawing board, because the original idea was superb. Please bring a friend before you start this game, and do check the bargain bin before you buy it.
-The Final Word-
The Devil's Cartel takes what made the original Army of Two intriguing and replaces it with quick and simple gameplay that doesn't require much skill. Together with a weak script, this shallow experience is only for the most devoted of fans and trophy hunters desperate for another Platinum.