It is immediately apparent that EA has had high ambitions for Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel. The game puts focus on the failed U.S. drug policy, and how the drug trade has turned Latin American countries into battlefields for ruthless drug cartels; well beyond anything local law and order can handle.
At the same time, it's an accurate character study of the motivation of people who are employed at private security services (mercenaries). One of our main characters, Alpha, is a former military man who has been kicked out of the Corps and is now almost desperately trying to regain the boundaries and routines that have been the framework of his life up until now. Bravo, meanwhile, used to provide muscle for a criminal organisation, but he has put his shady past behind him, hoping to earn some quick money and retire somewhere warm and relaxing. And perhaps somewhere in there, the devil lies around, waiting to punch when you least expect it.
Right. The only problem is that the above text is just something I made up while experiencing one of the numerous cutscenes we're treated to in Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel.
Instead the story is paper thin, you can compile shopping lists and text friends while watching the cutscenes and still follow the action. The plot is very predictable, and the characters are walking clichés to the extent that you can hardly even call them characters, as most of them are just as bland and expressionless as the masks they wear. Although the latter can be customised.
I am, in a way, impressed with Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel, because I can not remember when I last played a game that appeared this content to be average. There is not a shred of an original idea or concept anywhere to be found. No vision, no attempt to be anything but forgettable. There is indeed nothing here you have not seen a thousand times before.
This does not mean that The Devil's Cartel is inherently bad. It's just unambitious in almost every nook and cranny. At least the mechanics and craftsmanship are up to par.
By virtue of this being the third game in the series, the gameplay is well established. Two soldier types must shoot at everything that moves. The aggro meter from the game's predecessors that helped people keep track of who the enemy was focusing on is now missing. It is replaced by a system where you get points for teamwork. Kill a foe, you get 10 points, but there are bonuses to be had from being a decoy and creating diversions, and even bigger bonuses for flanking enemies that are shooting at your partner.
It's not a very deep system, but it works decently in practice. A new system, which in turn works better, is the so-called Overdrive. In short, every time you shoot someone you fill a meter and when it is full you can go into overdrive, where you're temporarily invulnerable and deal extra damage. Overdrive is activated individually, but if you trigger it at the same time as your partner, it doubles up on both slow motion and damage, with explosions, destruction and limbs flying all over the place.
The Devil's Cartel is a completely generic shooter, a Gears of War-lite, if you will, moving from one shooting gallery to the next, and there is not much here to mix things up. Sometimes you have to use a mounted machine gun or a rocket launcher. Other times you have to snipe. You can buy new weapons and small upgrades for the points you earn. And thus I have gone over everything that's worth mentioning about the gameplay.
As with many other recent EA games, Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel uses the Frostbite 2 engine; the engine responsible for the breathtakingly beautiful graphics of Battlefield 3. And this is evidence that graphics are much more than just the technical side of things, as The Devil's Cartel looks quite dull. Especially when cars and other vehicles are equipped with hopelessly uninspired textures, and there is nothing in the environment that really sticks out or is eye-catching. No great vistas, or anything memorable. The only redeeming factor is that most everything can be shot to pieces.
Like its predecessors The Devil's Cartel was created with co-op in mind, but apart from your AI buddy being controlled by a friend, there is virtually no difference playing the game in co-op - but you can revel in the bro-ness that flows out of the speakers. And this brand of mutual despair can be quite enjoyable over a few cold beers.
Co-op can be played both in splitscreen and online (which in usual EA-style requires an Online Pass). There is unfortunately no drop-in/drop-out, which otherwise is almost standard these days, but your progression through the game is shared across single player and co-op, and you can start from any mission previously unlocked. So it is workable.
The co-op in Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel entertains. There are certainly many better shooters that can be enjoyed with friends out there, but it's okay because the mechanics are well crafted, and the technical side also delivers. If you're going to play this on your own, you can remove one point from the score as it becomes monotonous and bland pretty quickly for the solo player.