Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel Xbox 360 Review
It would seem that EA is in love with eliminating studios these days, or at least rolling them in to adjacent locations. With EA shutting down Visceral Games while they were still finishing Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel, and making EA Montreal the main developer (the game’s credits actually say that EA Montreal developed it, which is technically true, since Visceral was a branch of that division), this game had the potential to lose much of what made it an original concept. Plenty of people have seen games with lone soldiers on crazed missions. We’ve even seen games with private military corporations involved in highly dangerous political situations. But the whole Army of TWO series stepped it up a little bit. However, some of the best elements from the previous games are still present, and are done up quite well.
Story-wise, the beginning to the game starts off in familiar territory for many shooters and action games involving the player controlling a gun-for-hire. As a member of Tactical World Operations (apparently, in the game universe, there was some sort of trademark issue where “Trans World” anything gets sued), you start out protecting an anti-cartel political candidate in the fictional town of La Puerta, Mexico. Following a cartel attack wherein the cartel uses military-grade hardware to take out a heavily-armored TWO convoy protecting a political figure named Cordova, you have a flash-back to five years prior. If you’re in solo mode, you will always play as Alpha, but in Co-Op mode you could also wind up playing as Bravo. They are never given real names, but it is established that they were the first recruits that previous series protagonists Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios brought in to TWO to make it a legitimate private military contracting company. You go through a little training bit (in case you have never played any EA-developed FPS in your life, or rather, never played a first-person shooter on a console), but that’s mostly to establish that the game is set at least five years after Army of TWO: The 40th Day (if not even longer).
It’s supposed to apparently prove a point, which is that most missions that involve TWO seem to go completely sideways no matter how you slice it. However, this also has a connection to the opening scene, since the team of four (Alpha, Bravo, Rios, and Salem), as the mission involves trying to rescue somebody that the cartel in question – La Guadaña (The Scythe for those of you that don’t speak Spanish) – has taken hostage. Apparently, the Mexican authorities can’t or won’t go in, so TWO are contracted to do the job instead. They fight their way through a compound, only to find their objective is already dead, but to also discover a woman who was taken. While Salem argues that they should leave her and just focus on bugging out, the rest of the group, Rios included, argues that they should save her. Salem basically just leaves the rest of the group to fend for themselves, trying to save his own skin in the process. This leads to the vehicle he steals going out in a huge explosion, the other three fighting like hell, Rios getting his legs shot out from under him, and the four people barely escaping in a chopper.
Flash forward to the armored car holding Alpha and Bravo getting blown up underneath them, and the rest of the game is just one big fire fight against what amounts to an army that seems to have much better training than they should. Although the main objective is to rescue Cordova, they run in to the girl they saved five years ago – Fiona – who is now a La Puerta cop, and is looking to take down La Guadaña’s leader, Bautista. Seeing that TWO is now going right at the cartel with everything they have, she joins Alpha and Bravo in their mission to save Cordova, working on the assumption that Bautista keeps him close by. During this conflict, they also encounter the chief military operator for La Guadaña, El Diablo (they had to justify the title somehow), who is wearing a ballistics mask that looks like he’s been to one too many lucha libre events. The final confrontation with El Diablo occurs over multiple stages (there are 49, some of which can be completed in two to three minutes), and the final chapter is completely insane. The story’s end feels both like the trilogy is complete – the story for the series’ original protagonists really doesn’t have anywhere left to go by the end – and that, if EA Montreal wishes, they can make another Army of TWO without needing much explanation. Throughout, the levels are renders with a high attention to detail, and the effect is stunning.
As far as game play goes, one key feature is customization. While you do have a default mask and clothing style, you can purchase new outfits and signature masks with “money” earned during game play via combat efficiency and style. (Note: SkullCandy paid to have its merchandise included in the game, so if you’re an audophile, you can have your character dress like one). There are also a multitude of different arm tattoos available, including some custom designs from the crew that appears on the TV series Inked. You can also design custom masks, the decal options of which expand as the game progresses. The best part about the character customization system is that the choices are also how your character appears in co-op. Even if you wind up playing as Bravo, you will still have the mask, clothing, and tattoos that you use in solo player mode.
The weapons choices are similar, with certain weapons only unlocking after a player reaches a certain level, which is related to monetary intake. The game offers regular assault weapons, light machine guns (think “belt-fed gun of doom” from a bunch of different movies), sub-machine guns (some of which are better than the assault rifles), shotguns, and sniper rifles as part of the main weaponry choices. You always have a pistol as a side-arm, but instead of just giving you the gun and calling it good, the game also has multiple pistol variations. The customization element for weapons comes in with all of the weaponry add-on options. Although all of them have magazine upgrades, specialized scopes, alternate stocks, and paint schemes available, many also have different barrels, muzzles, and side and under mounted devices that can be added to a gun. It makes for a wide arsenal that is enjoyable in and of itself. There are even times where you have the opportunity to man a Gatling-style gun and just let it rip until everybody you want dead is dead. The enemies that one face are just as varied as the combat styles available, and they all add up to challenging a player just enough to keep up the interest without being overly frustrating.
In terms of actual combat, the controls themselves are fairly intuitive, although that might be due to playing multiple EA-developed shooter games more than for the ergonomic appeal of the control design. The aiming system is fairly accurate, although, as seems to be the norm these days, head shot kills are not always scored as such. Sometimes, it is to the player’s favor (e.g. a neck shot counts as a head shot many times), but other times, it’s blatantly incorrect. The cover system is fairly realistic, with pillars, boxes, and other regular items that lack in reinforcement falling apart due to a continuous hail of weapons fire. However, it is also at times clunky, with no clear way to move forward from cover to cover, not putting the player in to cover due to timing mis-cues, and allowing hits from opponents that clearly have no shooting solution. One incredibly fun part of the game is the Overkill system, which allows players, after a certain amount of killing, to go on a spree wherein they do not need to reload, they suffer no damage, and their shots do a considerably higher amount of damage. If timed properly, it can be the difference between failure and success in regard to a mission.
As far as two-man team aspect goes, it plays well enough with an AI ally. Although the in-combat commands are somewhat basic – normally, Bravo can either join you or split with you to engage the enemy, though you can also tell him to throw a grenade or activate his Overkill gauge – the AI plays well enough on the team. However, there are times where it is completely idiotic or useless. With harder-to-kill targets, you’re basically on your own, as the game seems to think that Bravo is for taking down the small fry. It makes the final battle especially problematic, since he definitely doesn’t pick the right targets in target-rich environments. Although Bravo is useful for healing and what-not, it’s much better to play co-op with a real person. The down side for that is that it requires an online pass, and for XBox users, it also needs a Gold Membership. However, the co-op play really improves the game; having a real person that has your back makes for a far more interesting experience.
Ultimately, with this game being Visceral Games’ swan song and a foray from EA Montréal in to a possible new business of taking over a game still in development and seeing it to the finish, its simple availability puts it ahead of expectations. Because of this, a lack of polish was to be expected. However, what resulted was a game that fans of the series will enjoy, and which shooter game enthusiasts will find mostly worthwhile.
+ Intuitive/Familiar control design
+ Detailed level design
+ A ranking system that rewards good game play
+ A story that feels complete, and fits as an ending
+ Character and weapon customization
+ Combat that generally is enjoyable
– An aiming/scoring system that is sometimes off
– A buggy cover system
– A partner AI that sometimes behaves erratically
– Requires an online pass to play Co-Op with others