Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel Review

By   /   Mar 29, 2013

Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel hearkens to a time when people loved to get together to help each other through a campaign and there were abundance of games which allowed two or more players to play through a game simultaneously. Such games were all the rage in the arcades and included famous names like Contra, Final Fight, Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, The Punisher (1993), Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, X-men (1992) and TMNT: Turtles in Time.

At a time when offline multiplayer was in its decline, competitive online multiplayer was on the rise and co-op games were nowhere to be seen, Army of TWO came in the year 2008 to satiate the feeling of cooperatively finishing a game together and captivated a new generation of gamers to the joys of cooperative play.

What made the series special was that this was a time before Borderlands, Left 4 Dead, Little Big Planet, Resident Evil 5, Portal 2 and the LEGO series. Apart from Kane & Lynch there was not much that was providing a gameplay experience focused on cooperative play. While Kane & Lynch series was lukewarm at its best and died off with its second iteration Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, Army of TWO series has had moderate success and has lived on to present its third iteration; The Devil’s Cartel.

Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel is the latest edition in EA’s Army of TWO franchise. Unlike the previous games in the series, this one is not just developed by EA Montreal but also by Visceral Games, the developer behind the hit franchise; Dead Space.

So has Visceral Games been able propel the Army of TWO to the same heights as Dead Space? Does Devil’s Cartel match the same level of presentation and gameplay polish that was afforded by their recently released Dead Space 3?

Sadly, the answer to both of those questions is an emphatic; No.

However, a simple no would be tantamount to compare apples with oranges. While both franchises are action-based games, Dead Space’s emphasis is on delivering a horror experience whereas Army of TWO is focused on providing players with balls to the walls, action-packed co-op shooter. Therefore, it is important to judge the game on its own terms and take a look at how it performs.

Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel features the same bullet filled straight action romp that has been the series staple. This time, in place of Middle East, Korea or China, the game lets the players loose in the locales of Mexico. However, instead of series regular; Rios and Salem, Devil’s Cartel gives the player control of two new Trans World Operations (TWO) operatives; Alpha and Bravo.

One might ask the reason why developers would discard the characters, which fans of the series have made a connection to in the past games, in favour of anonymous grunts with clichéd codenames based on phonetic alphabets. While the change in characters is justified by the story elements presented in the game, however the generic names of the protagonists allude to the generic nature of the narrative.

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As its name suggests; the story of Devil’s Cartel revolves around facing the wrath of a particular Mexican drug cartel after a rescue and escort mission goes wrong.

Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel’s storyline is a one-note affair and features a twist that can be seen coming from a mile away. The plot of the game is what one would expect from a B-grade action movie and is basically a thinly veiled excuse for visiting different locales and taking part in various action sequences.

This should not come as a surprise to the fans of the series as the Army of TWO franchise is known for its fair share of shallow storylines. This trend seems to continue in Devil’s Cartel, complete with machismo dialogues and actions as well as heavy, almost offensive, racial profiling in villains the players mow down.

As mentioned, the strength of Army of TWO series has never been its narrative; the franchise has relied on solid gameplay to make its name and Devil’s Cartel’s case is no different.

Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel features the same robust gameplay mechanics that the fans of the franchise have come to expect. The game delivers solid cover based shooter gameplay and a co-op system that facilitates and necessitates players to coordinate and assists one another.

The game requires cooperative play style to survive the waves of enemies that it unleashes in the space of its campaign. These foes range from Kamikaze runners that rush at the player, other enemies that seek and utilize covers and the bullet sponge brutes that are hard to kill and dish out massive damage.

In order to survive the enemy onslaught, the players have to utilize, the series staple, Aggro meter. This time, however, the Aggro meter is not visible, which makes the players focus on the action at hand for visual cues rather than getting distracted by the meter itself.

In order to survive the enemy onslaught, the players have to utilize, the series staple, Aggro meter. This time, however, the Aggro meter is not visible, which makes the players focus on the action at hand for visual cues rather than getting distracted by the meter itself.

In addition to change in the Aggro mechanic, Devil’s Cartel also introduces Overkill system; which allows players to fill up the ‘over kill meter’ by shooting targets and then unleash ungodly power with a push of a button when the meter is full. The Overkill state is basically a god mode where the players become more powerful, more agile and invincible until the meter discharges.

While the Overkill meter is useful during tight spots, however, I find that it takes away from the tactical side of cooperative shooting mechanic that the core of any Army of TWO game. Instead of getting through a tough spot with use of clever gunplay and cooperative tactics, Overkill can become a crutch to clear the levels’ guns blazing.

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Still, the use of Overkill system can benefit players that are new to the system and can lead to more players enjoying the game. Moreover, the Overkill mechanic is left completely up to the players and thus is completely optional for use. Thus if the players want to ignore the system, there is nothing stopping them from utilizing classic Aggro based techniques to conquer enemies instead of walking through the opposition guns blazing

Even with solid mechanics and new gameplay additions, Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel can become pretty mundane, and that issue can be squarely attributed to its wonky pacing in the campaign.

After the first mission is complete, the game throws the players into a relentless cycle of cover based shooting where one enters a new environment, takes cover, eliminates waves of enemies, moves to the next locale; rinse and repeat. This process goes on for first half of the game.

It is only when the player reaches the second half of Devil’s Cartel when the game starts mixing things up. Elements like Crypt sequence, Car chase, Sniper Battle and Chopper assault help break up the monotony and change things up for the better. Devil’s Cartel could have benefited a lot if the set pieces and change of pace elements had been sprinkled throughout the campaign instead of making the game bottom heavy.

Other gripes that affect the gameplay experience include annoying temporary invisible walls used to load levels, abrupt chapter ends, camera issues during action in cramped spaces and the vague nature of the waypoint system sometimes leads to confusion regarding locating the next objective, especially in open and branching areas. Absence of buddy celebrations/ taunts is also sorely felt.

However all of these complaints seem negligible in the face of the strength of its cooperative gameplay experience that Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel has to offer.

Like the previous iterations in the franchise, Devil’s Cartel allows players to experience its campaign in three different ways. Players can chose to play with a buddy in offline split screen mode, they can play with anyone across the globe through online play and go through the story solo while partnering up with A.I.

While each mode has its own sets of upside and drawbacks, whether one plays it Solo, Offline or Online, Devil’s Cartel offers a solid play experience which does not compromise on playability, no matter which mode is chosen.

Offline mode allows players to buddy up with a friend that is by their side and experience the campaign via split screen. The mode allows maximum communication opportunity between the partners. However, due to the nature of split screen, the cramped view makes is difficult to spot enemies as the tiny frame of the opponents sometimes seem to meld into the environment.

Conversely, the online mode affords the players to engage the campaign with another person while maintaining full-screen visuals. Not only does it eliminate the need for inviting people over but also allows a cleaner experience with less difficultly in identifying the enemy forces.

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However, while first few levels can be cleared regardless, the later levels require players to have headsets to be able to play the game effectively. Moreover, offline mode does reduce the communication abilities as the player can only communicate via voice, and sometimes that is not enough to coordinate an effective cooperative tactic.

If one cares to experience the game alone, Devil’s Cartel offers a suitable alternative through its Solo mode. While retaining the co-op core element, the game offers methods of directing the npc ally as well as a solid A.I. governing the partner gun man that can maneuver every obstacle, capably take cover, hold its own in combat, heal the player when needed and sometimes be more competent than an actual person.

On the other hand, playing solo does derive the player of a very important part of the cooperative gameplay experience, that is; the joy of communicating with a human partner and developing tactics and strategies to conquer the obstacles.

The Army of TWO series is known for its brief campaigns, and Devil’s Cartel is no different. Clocking at around 7-9 hours the story lasts as long as it possibly can before wearing out its welcome. The replayability for the game is bolstered by the ranking system as well as the improved customization options offered in purchase and use of various weapons, masks and gear.

To the developing team’s credit, they have decided not to waste resources on frivolous additions from the past just to force replayability to the game without adding something substantial to it. Gone is the competitive multiplayer portion that was just there to put a tick on the box. The Karma system from Army of TWO: The 40th Day is also suitably absent. While these features were part of the previous iterations in the series they were never regarded as anything more than something tacked in.

In a day and age where Publishers and Developers are clamoring to divert resources from the core game just to stuff their games with competitive multiplayer elements and game lengthening add-ons, such initiative from Visceral Games comes off as a breath of fresh air and is something that they should be commended for.

On the presentation side of things, Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel is a mixed bag.

While the move from Unreal Engine 3 to Frostbite 2 engine is a welcome one which gives way to flashy explosions and interesting destruction effects in the environments, the graphical style does not impress the eyes as a 2013 game should.

What makes matters worse is the fact that all environments are universally comprised of shades of grey and brown. This makes the environments drab and unappealing, not to mention the repetitive colour palette creates a feeling of visual monotony.

The graphical shortcomings are exasperated occasional frame rate drops during gameplay as well as slow loading texture pop-ins.

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While the game faces issues in its graphical achievements, Devil’s Cartel fares better in the sound department. It features ambient and local inspired soundtrack that fills in the background and compliments the gameplay well. Moreover the game is home to sound effects that do justice to each gunshot and each explosion.

In addition to sharp and loud effects, the game also offers expressive voice acting for all the main characters in the game. While not always witty, the banter between Alpha and Bravo serves to enrich the campaign as well as punctuate each enemy encounter.

On the other hand, there are a couple of instances where the game is plagued by sound glitches. These range from missing sounds to delayed effects in certain instances. While minor is scale, these issues do take you out of the game whenever they occur, however, they seem to be small enough to be taken care off in future updates.

Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel is a game that offers very few major updates to the series’ formula, but what it offers is a great cooperative action game. If you are a fan of the Army of TWO series or looking for a co-op game, then Devil’s Cartel is definitely worth a play, however, if you have never warmed up to previous iterations in the Army of TWO franchise then this one won’t change your mind and you would be better off looking elsewhere for your next gaming fix.

Gameplay: 8
While the minor additions to the gameplay neither make nor break the game, it is the returning solid cover based shooting mechanics and the staple cooperative system that make the game fun to play through. Easily the highlight of the game.

Graphics: 6
While Frostbite 2 engine produces great environmental effects, the game lacks the graphical-wow due to mediocre graphical detail as well as abundance of brown environments makes each locale feel the same. Moreover the game is plagued with occasional framerate drops and texture load-ins that also hamper its visual fidelity.

Sound: 8
With top notch sound effects, great voice acting and music that complements the action at hand, the game offers a competent effort in the sound department. Aside from a couple of minor sound glitches, the sound design for Devil’s Cartel leaves very little to be desired.

Presentation: 6
This is another area where the game stumbles. From the campaign’s pacing issues to abrupt stage ends, from paper thin characterization to lack luster menus, from camera issues in cramped spaces to waypoint confusion in open areas, the game is rife with issues that stop this good game from becoming a great one.

Value: 7
With higher difficulty options, ranking system as well as customization options for weapons, masks and gear there is some incentive to revisit the game after you are done. However the true gauge of its replayability is dependent on how much you enjoy playing the game cooperatively. If the gameplay calls you back then the game might last you for months; if not, then Devil’s Cartel might just be an 8 hour game for you.

Verdict: 7
Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel is not markedly different game from its predecessors.  It features solid third person shooter gameplay along with its mix of cooperative mechanics but is marred by some presentation issues. While it might feature some updates in gameplay and presentation, those do not amount to much on the whole. The appeal of Devil’s Cartel is solely dependent on whether you like the Army of TWO series or not.

GAME SCORE 7 OUT OF 10
Solid Co-op action mechanics
Good environment destruction effects
Pacing issues
Bland, Brown environments