|System: Xbox 360, PS3*|
|Dev: Visceral Games and EA Montreal|
|Release: March 26, 2013|
|Players: 1-2 (co-op only)|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language|
by Robert VerBruggen
Even if you don't have anything great to offer, you can go far with confidence.
That's a helpful observation for dating and job interviews—and also video games, apparently. Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel is little more than a Gears of War clone with a bit of Ghost Recon thrown in, but it's so assured of its own awesomeness that it's hard not to enjoy it.
Historically, Army of Two has always been a me-too cover shooter, EA's attempt to duplicate the success Epic had with Gears. Aside from the Tom Clancy nods—realistic weaponry, the welcome presence of human enemies who don't soak up ammo, and a slight emphasis on flanking and other tactical maneuvers—there isn't much daylight between Army of Two and Gears. The gameplay flows the exact same way, both feature manly-man co-op duos, and both rely on the same dank color palette to create a sense of decay.
Given that The Devil’s Cartel features input from Dead Space developer Visceral Games and was released just a week after Gears of War: Judgment, you might expect a fresh take on the franchise. Why else would a great developer go head-to-head with the mother of all cover shooters? But you’d be wrong. This is just as much of a Gears knockoff as its predecessors were. EA makes much of "Overkill"—a power-up that makes both partners invincible and powerful for a brief period—but this is a stray punctuation mark in the midst of a direct quote.
Once again, you and a partner, named simply Alpha and Bravo this time around—though with preorder DLC you can play as rappers Big Boi and B.o.B., who did the theme song and some voiceover work—run through a series of linear areas. You clear out the bad guys, use some basic military tactics, split up once in a while, enjoy brief on-rails turret segments, and make stupid comments. ("These guys don't give up, do they?" "And stay down!")
The similarities continue. The checkpoints are incredibly frequent, and there’s a “down but not out” mechanic that can make the game far too easy at times. Assault rifles will probably be your weapon of choice, but shotguns and other assorted killing machines are available. You can play with an A.I. bot if you choose, but everything will feel much more natural if you play with a human partner via couch or Internet.
In fact, some features that have set Army of Two apart from Gears in the past have been removed. There are no more rock-paper-scissors matches to decide things with your partner, and there's no more back-to-back room clearing.
One thing that has been added, however, is a fresh setting. This time, your T.W.O. operatives have been dispatched to Mexico to square off against a drug cartel—and to get involved in Mexican politics in the process. You'll be killing lots and lots of tattooed Hispanic men.
This is sure to dredge up controversy for a variety of reasons—players are encouraged to shoot people who are overwhelmingly of a single ethnicity, Americans with guns are shown swooping in to clean up the mess of another country, and the entire assumption seems to be that gamers in the U.S. couldn’t enjoy a story set in Mexico without an American protagonist to relate to. And that's not to mention how insensitive it is to set such an unserious game in Mexico with a focus on the cartel wars that have claimed so many real lives there.
But enough about that. Anyone who sees the very first cutscene, complete with its ridiculous attempts to depict male camaraderie, will know this isn't a game with anything deep to say about world cultures or drug laws or gang violence. Heck, anyone who’s played the brief demo, with its title screen sprinkled with falling shell casings, knows that too. No, this is a game about popping out of cover and shooting big mean gangsters right in the face, regardless of their color or creed. And at that it excels.
Everything just clicks. The combat emphasizes teamwork and destructible cover a bit more than what you might be used to, and while most players will miss the chainsaw bayonet from Gears, the brutal throat-slitting melee attacks are a suitable replacement. The Devil’s Cartel might be a ripoff, but it’s ripping off amazing material and offering just a little bit of its own spin.