The two times I played Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel prior to its release, I was completely enamored. The Devil’s Cartel is representative of the types of shooters that exist solely for fun. There is no complex nor intricate plot revolving around international foreign policy and doomsday scenarios. It is a game about two guys, with one objective, who frack things up in the process. For every Modern Warfare and Battlefield, there actually needs to be the occasional shooter that is constructed solely on the basis of causing as much destruction and mayhem in the shortest amount of time possible. Take away the seriousness and dark tones of a game like Spec Ops: The Line, and replace them with some insanity and nonstop action and you get The Devil’s Cartel. Unfortunately, the game lacks substance in almost every aspect, and does not make use of some of its strengths in more excess.
Alpha and Bravo are the two protagonists this time around, replacing Salem and Rios, whom were at the forefront of the two previous installments, Army of Two and Army of Two: The 40th Day. Fans of the previous games may appreciate the roles that Salem and Rios play in this one, as they are both very integral to its story. Alpha and Bravo are tasked with taking down Estaban Bautista, who is played by Benito Martinez (The Shield), in order to retake control of Mexico from the drug cartels, which Bautista is the leader of. The pair hooks up with Fiona, their ‘sidekick,’ who is a Mexican citizen and out for Bautista’s blood.
There is not much to say about the game’s protagonists. Zack Ward and Emerson Brooks do a good-enough job in their roles as Alpha and Bravo, respectively. David Sobolov and Joe Flanigan as Tyson Rios and Elliot Salem are decent as well. Alpha and Bravo are largely reactionary characters; we get a feel for them as soldiers and textbook badasses, but that is about all we get. The names Alpha and Bravo were assigned to them in order to break down the barrier between gamer and playable character, so as the gamer can invest themselves more in the story and characters. The banter between the two is at times funny (though other times, facepalm-worthy). There is just too much of a blank slate in regards to their characterization, there is nothing for the player to form an emotional tether with. Additionally, the dichotomy between the two different pairs of operatives is barely explored, and at times the relationship between Salem and Rios was much more interesting to watch, though it is barely explored beyond the most basic level.
Estaban Bautista is the primary antagonist for most of the game, though he is largely unseen and barely on screen; a huge underutilization of Benito Martinez’s talents. For an action game that willingly takes many cues from the action genre, it was surprising that they did not use the oldest trick in the book to get me to hate Bautista: make the audience hate the villain, by whatever means necessary, no matter how cheap. There are inklings of this near the end of the game, but by then it is obviously too little, too late.
Think of any famous buddy-cop action film that you may have seen in the past 20 years or so. The writers of The Devil’s Cartel seemed to attempt to channel elements from Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys, and Die Hard, coupled with the aesthetic tones similar to films like Once Upon a Time in Mexico and The Expendables 2. The difference between those films and The Devil’s Cartel is that there was something at least memorable or relatable about them. The Devil’s Cartel has neither of those things and it lacks any charm or allure, as its narrative is very, very hollow. In the attempt to emulate the campiness of the action film genre, The Devil’s Cartel finds itself being driven solely by clichés: the deaths we see coming and phoned in twists are the biggest culprits. The lacking story then causes the gameplay to feel more like a chore to get to the end, due to the fact that it simply cannot supplement what the story lacks and vice versa.
The Devil’s Cartel is the first game in the series to utilize DICE’s popular Frostbite 2 Engine. The design of mimics the crisp and quasi-realistic nature of environments seen in games like Battlefield 3 to an extent. Aside from the environments and overall graphics, the engine is not tapped for its full potential, given the game’s subject matter. Constant use of the same color palette (“browns and beige! Earth tones people!”) drags it down some as well.
One of the premier features of the gameplay (in place of back-to-back and rock, paper, scissors, featured in the previous games) is Overkill. Overkill obliterates not only the bodies of your enemies, but the surrounding environments as well. The effect is noticeable, but does not generate the amount of carnage and destruction that I have normally come to expect from the Frostbite 2 engine. It is demonstrated beautifully in the game’s few fixed-gun set pieces, in which large parts of the environment collapse and wreak havoc, but like Benito Martinez, it is underutilized.
Overall, the gameplay is fairly monotonous. Most of your time will be spent on foot, going from cover to cover and shooting bad guys. There is the occasional set piece in a helicopter or a jeep, but these are few and far between – unfortunate seeing as how they were probably the most enjoyable parts of the game for me. Everything seemed to be in perfect during those sequences.
The enemy A.I. is a mixed bag; at times they can present a noticeable and worthy challenge, carefully hiding behind cover and at times give the game an unorthodox feel, unlike most A-to-B-to-C shooters. On the other side of the coin, the right enemy placement allows for the player to simply run around and melee everything in sight. Even the times in which the enemy A.I. displays brilliance are marred by the fact that the game is almost impossible to lose. If you are downed for any reason, Bravo will immediately run to your aid and revive you; you could theoretically get taken down by enemy fire continuously and come out on top, regardless of the odds and firepower being thrown at you because you are constantly being revived.
Customization is a huge part of the game. There’s a notable selection of pistols, shotguns, sub-machine guns, machine guns, assault rifles, and sniper rifles to choose them; most of which are par for the course for military shooters in a contemporary setting. A wide array of attachments and upgrades are available; much like the guns themselves, many of these optional attachments are recognizable and familiar. I had fun playing around with the different combinations, but I did not get the impression that there was anything between the different weapons to distinguish them from one another. I ended up switching between a modified AK-47 and machine gun for the duration of the campaign. Players can also customize their T.W.O. operatives by purchasing different tattoos, masks, and body armor, also from a wide selection. The higher tiers in the aforementioned customizations are not all available after a single playthrough.
There are momentary flashes of brilliance and humor, but they are easily overridden in a hodgepodge, an ultimately unsatisfying game. The experienced is magnified tenfold when playing with someone who is sitting next to you on an adjacent screen, but this is obviously not the ideal or practical setting when playing the game. You will play it alone most of the time, nothing will make you desire the company of another player whether it be online or off. As far I was concerned (having played many shooters), this was just another day at the office.