Esteban Bautista, a sickening drug smuggler with a penchant for kidnapping, murder, and control, exudes selfish cool. His mansion sits under the hot sun of Mexico, and unbeknownst to him, Bautista’s land is a videogame paradisio. His thugs are numbers, dollar signs prepped to explode from their shattered skulls, and his fuel reserves–which match that of many Arab nations–are destined to go up in flames.
Bautista is up against T.W.O., even if the awkwardly branded mercenary group is unaware of their foe. Alpha and Bravo lead the charge, new faces to the franchise as Salem & Rios take a crossing, secondary pathway through the story. For T.W.O., low level foot soldiers are profits, each kill signifying a career success. The less glamorous the death, the better the financial gain.
Devil’s Cartel often misappropriates what it has in its kill-a-thon, stopping and starting with choppy mission structures or ludicrous emotional curves that do ill-service to the style. Developer expectations aim at the audience’s heart with a money-versus-morals conflict, while the player’s trigger aims at exploding faces. It is an illogically crafted, self-aware shooting celebration that crushes its soul as key characters are eliminated.
The game is loud, booming with crumbling locales, ejected fuel canisters, and record-setting vehicle destruction. Somewhere sits an insurance adjuster cringing at the mere thought of their client’s cars being amidst the preposterous devastation. Also present is Overkill, a replacement for the co-op oriented Aggro of the first Army of Two titles, a voracious charged assault that celebrates the audacious. Alpha and Bravo’s waning personality takes to the rear as their physical facades push ahead, invulnerable with explosive, unlimited ammunition.
Limbs scatter and chests are ripped open in an orgy of power that only settles when the scale comes in view. Sickening gore shows the innards of dispatched thugs still, inexplicably, moving. If Devil’s Cartel is bound and determined to make the end user feel something, it does, but maybe not what was intended. Playful is hardly the right term, but it would be with the right tone, something more in line with a tongue-in-cheek exploitation of the medium. Odd as it is, the game pushes this notion, referencing the sheer absurdity of exploding red barrels and enemy counts. Army of Two knows how stupid it is, but seems to apologize for the lack of intelligence as opposed to embracing said faults.
As boomy as the game can be with its infatuation with grenades–crowd control is essential–Army of Two needs to be louder. Splashy effects and arcade-esque scoring counters need to be centered, not secondary reminders. The fist bump has been relegated to a mere cinematic thank you, and for this series on a new path, it fails to connect. Those who carry affection for the franchise’s roots beyond the slaughter will also be taken aback by the changes, the story pathway jarringly fierce with established parameters and characters, something flamboyance can cover up.
The results are deficient and lack potency, mired in vicious conflict that plays too nicely within its own linear world. Devil’s Cartel is showered with duck & cover shooting mechanisms adequate to its needs, and level designs become exhaustive playgrounds for the customizable weapons. As for enemies, Bautista’s gang, La Guadana, are few in type. Most seem to have spent their ill-gotten funds on baseball caps; that or the same character model proves serviceable to the needs of the thinning gunplay. EA’s third entry in their co-op shooter series finds little value in adversarial variance, placing developmental funds inside the set pieces. They are truly enormous.
In terms of story, La Guadana have infested Mexico with their reign, shuffling into all areas of the cities, an attempt to kill the mayor who stood up to their tactics. At some point, it becomes financially sound to give up the fight and bribe other authorities rather than to continue protesting the arrival of T.W.O. Alpha and Bravo take it all down, even detouring to ensure total collapse of the empire. It gives Devil’s Cartel more opportunity to utilize environments, from crumbling caves, rotting sewers, active mines, and colorful local celebrations. No doubt this is meant to mask the puny number of opposition models, and few offer tactical breaks in actual gunplay; Overkill makes sure of it.
However, the high spots are tremendous. Demolition becomes tradition, concrete frayed down to rebar, and sending upper floors to the foundation. A trek through a meth lab is contested amongst hazardous chemicals, and helicopters hone on positions for aerial superiority. Pacing slips into mediocrity near the close, picked up by well-spaced mayhem that eschews any logic for the sake of thrills. Devil’s Cartel is almost certainly overlong, although few will question it as the escapades fall into a freeway level car slaughter.
Maybe this is too harsh. Devil’s Cartel takes mild chances, and swings at a franchise that can carry only so much weight beyond its centralized ideas regarding co-op (stupidly capped with an online pass). This explores some dusty territory with thick chain combos and leaderboard posturing. Plus, it has a literal blast doing it. It is a shame then that it cannot quite capitalize on the voracious need for battlefield detonations with a narrative to match.
Army of Two: Devil’s Cartel is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language . This game can also be found on: Xbox 360