Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel Review
I am often wary of blindly stereotyping any given franchise or genre, and I’m the first to remind others to remain open-minded and even optimistic. Therefore, I’m not a big fan of statements such as, “Meh, it’s just another shooter.” But in the case of Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel, despite the fact that it’s a third-person shooter and not an FPS, I have to say with all conviction that such a comment is apt. It’s really unfortunate, too, because this represents yet another example of a token consumer product. Lots of enemies, lots of bullets, lots of cheesy bravado, and absolutely nothing even remotely fresh.
I suppose one could argue that the graphics take a step in the right direction, depending on what you value in a visual presentation. For instance, if you’re more of a big-picture individual, you will appreciate the variety of environments and backgrounds, even if the drab art style begins to chafe after a while. Or you might appreciate the slight upgrades found in character detail and animation when compared to past entries in the series. However, if you were expecting a significant increase in overall technical quality, you might be disappointed. This is one of those instances where I find myself looking forward to next-gen hardware, as this really looks…tired.
The sound falls into much the same category; i.e., “tired.” Sure, there are some great effects and some of the soundtrack is stimulating but other than that, it’s nothing special. The voice acting is decent but you have to allow for some really stupid dialogue. I’m often a fan of cheesiness and cornball, over-the-top humor, but only if the production is designed to be tongue-in-cheek. When you’re trying really hard to be all tough-guy bad-ass and you still come across as an immature douchebag, you’re doing something wrong. Then you’ve got the obligatory one-liners and needless warnings about bad guys coming your way. The music could be better, as it also errs on the generic side, as does the majority of this production.
Okay, so there are two dudes, as you might expect. This is a cooperative-based shooter, after all. The two heroes are fittingly called Alpha and Bravo and while the developers promised us an edgier, even more enthralling story and partnership, we basically get exactly the opposite. We get a predictable, clichéd, stereotypical action game with all the expected components. Now, for the record, none of those components are especially poor and in fact, several of them are good. The problem is that I think gamers (and critics) have long since gotten bored with this formula. Yes, it works but we’ve done this before and as for the rest of it… ‘yawn’
You gun down countless cartel baddies, typically wandering through dirty Mexican villages, all the while exhibiting borderline painful “bro” traits. The story is a throwaway script as far as I can tell, as you never really care about what’s happening, where you’re going, or even what you’re trying to do. You constantly live in the present, moving from one gunfight to the next, wondering when things will finally get interesting. The worst part is that if you’re not playing with a human buddy, the AI is just plain dumb. You drop the ball in the one area where the game is supposed to shine? I know it’s designed for two human players, but still.
The cover system is a little better than it was before, as you can dart from one cover location to another with the simple tap of a button. This only becomes a problem when you try to hide in a non-cover location; try that in a risky situation, and you’re probably screwed. The overall process of advancing is about as generic and ho-hum as you can possibly imagine (in my eyes, at least). The encounters begin to run together right off the bat: Swarms of enemies, which always fall in much the same fashion. Take cover, shoot, move on. We don’t even get the slickness and polish of a super high-tech production, so it feels even blander and devoid of spirit.
As I mentioned in the graphics description above, it’s nice to have some different environments in which to play. You get to sample both tight-quarters corridor shooting and open areas that require a more strategic approach. But the end result is always exactly the same, and how you go about attaining the result is also nearly identical. It doesn’t help that your foes don’t offer much of a challenge; both ally and enemy AI isn’t up to par, which is decidedly unfortunate. There are some invigorating set pieces, such as the time you take control of a mini-gun in a helicopter, but that can’t spice things up enough. Tedious, monotonous and lacking in impact and intensity equals disappointment.
Yes, the Aggro system has returned but it’s almost pointless now. There’s really not much to do but push forward and shoot anything that moves. They’ve removed the moral decisions we have to make, the back-to-back shooting is gone and for the most part, we often wonder why we even have a partner. Sure, two guns are better than one when facing the cartel run amok in hostile territory, but there’s very little that makes playing with a partner that much more intriguing. Again, I just can’t figure out why designers would skimp on the one gameplay element that might make this adventure worth experiencing. Absolutely nothing about this begs to be experienced, in fact. It's merely passable or, optimistically, decent.
I liked upgrading my weapons but it doesn’t seem that much different than it was in The 40th Day. The Overkill Meter is back, too, which – when completely full – allows you to enter into an all-out maniacal assault on your hapless opponents. It’s kinda fun to go into Overkill at the same time as your partner but other than that, you won’t be impressed by the gameplay. Combine this with lackluster technical aspects that should’ve been cleaner and more refined, and you get a title that is found wanting clear across the board. It might be worth playing if you’ve got a gung-ho shooter friend but other than that… I'd say save your money.
Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel had all kinds of potential, especially after the last entry took a big step in the right direction. Sadly, this just goes backward. It’s generic to the core and wholly uninteresting, as the AI isn’t anywhere near good enough, the developers didn’t do enough with the co-op concept (a huge disappointment), and we don’t even get a drop-in, drop-out feature. With plenty of great games currently available and more on the horizon, I’d have difficult recommending this to anyone but the die-hard shooter co-op aficionados. And even then, I would strongly suggest you take my reservations and criticisms to heart.
The Good: A few appropriately gritty backdrops. Overkill is always entertaining. New cover system adds to the dynamic nature of combat. Still worthwhile playing with a friend.
The Bad: Unimpressive technical elements. Mediocre enemy and ally AI. Doesn’t take advantage of the great co-op concept. Monotonous, repetitive gameplay. Series takes a big step back.
The Ugly: “Geez, listening to these two idiots makes me cringe.”
4/1/2013 Ben Dutka