Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel Review for PlayStation 3 (PS3)

Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel Review for PlayStation 3 (PS3)

Going Against Gears

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.

Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel Screenshot

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!”)

Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel Screenshot

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.

Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel Screenshot

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.

While the story isn’t exactly good—who would expect that from this sort of game?—it does provide a nonstop thrill ride of explosions, gunfights, and so-bad-they’re-almost-good one-liners. The over-the-top bravado of the entire exercise is infectious once you learn to take it at face value, the music and sound effects capture the Michael Bay spirit, and the voiceover work is competent enough not to be distracting.

The graphics make nice use of the Frostbite 2 engine, too. Much like Crysis 3, The Devil’s Cartel manages to show both the capabilities and the limitations of the current console generation. It looks amazing at times with the textures installed (1.5 GB on Xbox 360)—but plenty of minor hiccups are visible, too, and one can’t help but think that it would look better on a good gaming PC.

Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel Screenshot

The Devil’s Cartel does have its share of minor issues, though. The co-op isn’t drop-in/drop-out. (Fortunately, the checkpoints are frequent enough that you won’t lose more than a few minutes of progress.) And competitive multiplayer has been removed, though the lengthy co-op campaign and leaderboards make up for it.

More problematic is that, for some bizarre reason, the developers departed from the Gears control scheme in a few awkward ways. Running isn’t combined into the cover button, and sometimes you need to hold the cover button rather that just pressing it to execute contextual maneuvers. This will feel unnatural to Gears vets, and there’s really no reason for it.

But perhaps the worst problem here is this: If there’s a way to turn off the auto-aim, I haven’t found it, and I spent quite some time searching every menu I could find. The feature is incredibly generous, too; if you’re facing in the right general direction, pressing the aim button will instantly lock you to an enemy. This doesn’t make the game any less fun, but it does make it far too easy on the normal setting, and there’s no way to change your difficulty mid-game.

The auto-aim also renders the elaborate gun modification system much less important. From the main menu—but, irritatingly, not from the between-chapters menu—you can use the cash you’ve earned to buy more guns and outfit them with great accessories, including crazy stuff like front-mounted shields. You can also customize your operative and the mask he wears. But when your gun automatically aims itself, everything else is secondary. Simply put, this needs to be fixed in a patch.

But unless auto-aim is a dealbreaker for you, The Devil’s Cartel is worth checking out—once you’re done with Gears of War: Judgment, of course. The game sticks too close to its inspiration at times, but it still offers a meaty campaign loaded with non-stop action. If you enjoy Gears, you will enjoy this.

They’re great sometimes, but they also reveal the inadequacies of current consoles. 3.0 Control
There are some needless changes to the Gears controls. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice acting isn’t great, but it’s passsable. 3.7 Play Value
It’s Gears, but with a few modifications. 3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Shoot-and-destroy tactical co-op: Work together and perform challenging strategic maneuvers with your friend in a true two-player co-op experience with flanking, dual-breach, riot-shield attacks, and much more!
  • Unleash the ultimate destructive power of Overkill: Build up your Overkill meter by performing cooperative maneuvers and unleash it with your partner to take destruction to a whole new level.
  • Challenge a powerful and ruthless Mexican cartel: Experience a grim but relevant story set in a modern Mexico that’s been torn apart by the drug war.
  • Customize your character for explosive action: Use the powerful customization tools to outfit Alpha and Bravo with personalized tactical gear to prepare for a dangerous, action-packed mission to end the cartel’s ruthless reign.

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