The Army of TWO franchise has always had a nugget of awesome going for it: bro-op gameplay. If nothing else previous iterations embraced the insane antics of leads Salem and Rios as they racked up a higher body count than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s entire back catalogue, more explosions than Michael Bay off the studio leash and enough intimate bromantic moments to put Crockett and Tubbs, Riggs and Murtaugh and Lowery and Burnett to shame.
New developer Visceral Montreal in conjunction with EA Montreal manages to recapture the death and destruction, but neglects to bring with it the fun, well-paced action set-pieces which made the series a guilty pleasure for action junkies, and an all-around hoot to play through with a partner. Instead this is the blandest, most vanilla offering yet. Ar’meh’ of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel elicits such a response as it leaves no impression and will instantly fade from your memory once you reach its conclusion and leave you pining for its legacy of fist bumping lunacy, now lost.
Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel ditches the wise-cracking, a little off-kilter dynamic duo of Salem and Rios, head of the private military contractors Trans World Operations (TWO) for two blue-flame special rookies -- the forgettable Alpha and Bravo. The reason for this switch will become apparent very early on, as will any new characters or antagonists revealed. The plot development is laughable, the emotional delivery inconsistent and any twists and turns are so easily predicted and foreshadowed that a developing fetus could pick them in the space of two heartbeats.
That said, the franchise has never been the benchmark of Shakespearean type drama or outstanding acting. At least there has always been snappy one-liners, zingers, back-to-back killfests, fist-bumps and coordinated air-guitar riffs to dull the pain, right? In the previous versions, hell yes. In Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel? Hell no. All the personality, hilarity and insanity that had you shaking your head, snorting in lovable derision and hating yourself that you were smiling at such ludicrous shit has been cast by the wayside. I counted one fist-bump in the ten or so hour campaign. ONE! I was shocked, Cotton.
What blew me away was how the developer could bypass the core of the franchise so callously, and completely ignore it in its entirety. Any Army of TWO title which came before was a B-grade shoot ‘em up at best cut from the 80s action buddy team-up handbook. Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel has none of that. I stopped paying attention to the plot almost immediately. I believe it could be filed under military cliché #43 starting with an almost immediate flashback to Alpha and Bravo’s first mission rescuing a politician’s missing daughters south of the border.
Flash forward and the same politician has pissed off the Cartel and they’ve taken him hostage. There’s also a dude with a TWO styled mask on the Cartel’s payroll. You’ll pick who it is immediately even though the reveal is drawn out over the next half dozen hours. I tried to get invested, to get something out of the story, but it was so haphazardly delivered it was almost as if the game was mimicking my disinterest. This was compounded by the dialogue between Alpha and Bravo lacking the spunk and punch of previous versions, their emotional investment in the fate of support characters is inconsistent at best and you end up feeling absolutely nothing for the fate of anyone.
The gameplay is similarly marred by inconsistencies and blandness. I played half the campaign with a live bro-op partner and the other half with an AI-controlled buddy. Sharing the pain with a bro does soften the blow as the two of you can work around some of the game’s issues. You know, little things like an overly complicated cover system, identical objectives, enemy AI logic leaps, corner curving bullets and spotty hit recognition making sniper rifle headshots a crapshoot at best. Let’s break them down one by one, shall we?
Rather than adopt the tried and tested ‘works well for Gears of War, Uncharted and almost any other third-person shooter’ model, Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel goes its own dysfunctional way. It opts for a flick down of the thumbstick and button press to snap into cover, a button hold and flick up to vault over and it remains too sticky and not sticky enough almost as if it knows the opposite of whatever you want. It adds absolutely nothing other than frustration and is borderline counter-intuitive. It just doesn’t make sense.
Your mission objectives follow this cut-and-paste formula. Enter building via breach, wipe out all hostiles, enter courtyard, hold position, eliminate wave after wave of enemies, clear the area, approach turret, flank to kill, use turret to hold off new waves of enemies, move on. Occasionally there’ll be a variation like, hey, it’s a turret on a chopper, or, hey, we’re in the back of a van, but the overall gist remains the same. There were larger set-pieces but they didn’t carry any weight to them. It never managed to grab me by the balls and knock me for a loop. By the time I found myself moving to the final showdown (which just keeps on going for almost two hours until you reach the anti-climax) I wasn’t filled with the anticipation or exhilaration of finishing off the big bad boss man. All that resonated through my head was for fuck’s sake, will you just end already?
Enemy AI was really something to behold. For 75% of the game they either couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn or alternately managed to curve bullets around corners Wanted
style. The final quarter unlocked bullshit headshot mode where all of a sudden the Cartel was trained by Seal Team Six, the SAS and Casey freakin’ Ryback. Anytime I popped my head out of cover they’d knock the majority of my health off. I don’t mind a tough firefight but maintain some level of consistency, chaps.
Often cannon-fodder would simply run right at me with machetes drawn hoping to end my life with high pitched wailing and bad breath. A dozen shells from my upgraded automatic shotgun with dragon’s breath rounds to the face was the only appropriate response. My favourite AI cheap shot occurred when reviving a downed human co-op partner. They would spam grenades whilst mid-revive and considering there’s no commando roll (a huge oversight) it almost always lead to death followed by some of my more imaginative and extremely colourful curses thrown at the screen in a momentary flash of anger.
There were a few glimmers of light in the darkness. The completely under-utilised voice acting of Stargate Atlantis’ Joe Flanigan as Salem and The Shield’s Benito Martinez as Cartel kingpin Bautista never failed to plaster a smile on my dial. It may be a pop-culture geeky kind of thing, but it remained a highlight. The dragon’s breath rounds or armour-piercing bullets unlockable for much of your arsenal also provided a momentary respite from the overall mediocrity. The crazy masks returned as well with some outstanding design choices.
I found myself sporting a Dead Space 3 Carver faceplate with bright red eye-slits evoking Predator and an obnoxiously loud Skullcandy branded outfit. The cheesecake pin-up tattoos perfectly rounded out my attire. I dubbed it military douche and if I had the option to drape my character in Ed Hardy I guarantee you I would have.
Army of TWO: The Devil’s Cartel marks a low point for the franchise. The best way I can put it is that the soul of the series has left the building. It has action aplenty but it feels more like a slog. There are no blockbuster moments to leave your jaw hanging and you’ll forget the plot and characters almost immediately. All you’ll want is it to end, quickly. Grab some tissue and dry your eyes, bromance is dead.