It takes a special effort to dumb down one of the most brain dead shooting franchises in recent memory and for that, co-developers Visceral Games and EA Montreal deserve recognition. Not that stupid is always bad – mindless entertainment can be a valuable salve following a stressful day’s work – but not only does The Devil’s Cartel best its predecessors in a race to the bottom of a particularly brotastic barrel, it also scoops out the only systems that made those games even moderately interesting in the first place.
This time out, mercenary outfit Trans World Operations (TWO) is tasked with protecting a Mexican politician who is waging a war on the drug cartels – presumably because he is sick of them waging wars. With series protagonists Rios and Salem taking a well-earned holiday in Douche Landing, wannabe player surrogates Alpha and Bravo take the detail, only to have said politician snatched up from right under their noses. The pair may be horrible at their job, but at least they’re horrible people too: the pinnacle of manliness in The Devil’s Cartel is murdering hundreds of people, but cracking “jokes” about the sexual proclivities of mothers and sisters comes a close second. It truly is astonishing what some studios still think passes for witty banter.
Anyone seeking rich characterisation has clearly come to the wrong place, but what most normal people play it for is to engage in the serial act of killing. Unfortunately in this regard The Devil's Cartel is also disappointing. Previous Army of Two titles emphasised fistbumps, but also staying in cover lest the player be torn to shreds in a hail of incoming lead. In fact, teamwork was often required to draw fire away from one player so the other could be free to cap some baddies, with lone wolves often left howling for a revival.
So although it retains a cover mechanic, The Devil’s Cartel cannot be considered a cover shooter in the same way simply because the enemy are not nearly as ruthless, and the Aggro system is gone. While a good deal of hunkering down is still necessary, small groups are easily overcome simply by charging their position, the game’s extremely generous auto-aim and massive hitboxes allowing the employment of some truly dubious life-preserving strategies. A co-op or AI partner may still be commanded to flank or draw fire using the d-pad, but like the all-new TWO vision which highlights recommended routes through a section, they never need be used.
This de-emphasis on cover is actually a good thing as the system itself is horrible. Each piece of potential cover is highlighted by a green arrow when gazed upon, and a press of X will send Alpha or Bravo scurrying into it with no use of the left stick necessary at all. Unfortunately a lot of things that look like cover are not, and attempting to enter cover while standing too close to it will send the player dashing forward towards a distant wall already propped up by the enemy rather than have them crouch behind the one right in front of his or her face.
That's bad enough, but the real trouble comes when trying to coax the player back out of hiding. While adjacent pieces of cover may be dashed between with the single press of a button, extruding oneself from all cover to stand in the open is a tougher proposition. Pulling back on the left stick generally works, but leaving sideways, vaulting, or slipping past Gears-style is a gamble thanks to some very unresponsive controls. That discourages movement once the player is in cover and in particular causes real hassles when it comes to grenades, which may only be reliably avoided by pressing X to stand, reversing slightly, turning and running.
Somewhat surprisingly then, the best aspect of The Devil’s Cartel also concerns cover, or rather the destruction thereof. Almost everything that may be hid behind also may be destroyed by regular gunfire, including stone walls, pillars, and vehicles. In fact, the game does wholesale destruction very well, and looks great thanks to the Frostbite 2 engine. Cars explode and burn at the drop of a hat, wooden structures buckle and splinter, and most of the world’s supply of propane tanks is present just to kick things up a notch. It’s preposterously over the top, and all the better for it.
But the sugar rush is short-lived, as a combination of bugs, balance issues, and dodgy AI neuter any challenge that would otherwise have been present. Enemies can be described as unmotivated and distracted at best, and will often attack but then suddenly freeze, possibly overwhelmed by the detail present on our heroes' custom hockey masks. Others make their presence known by cartwheeling or dive rolling out of cover, or emerge single-file from a spawn point the player can easily sight, like a troupe of shirtless Mexican Gallipoli re-enacters. It’s equally hard not to laugh aloud when one after another steps out in front of the player's speeding truck, presumably in an attempt to enter its cabin via its air conditioning vents.
And just in case the bar wasn't low enough already, there is also plentiful ammunition, zero recoil and great range on all guns, a plethora of checkpoints, and infinite revivals. The player is invincible while performing a melee kill, and every couple of minutes they may enter Overkill mode which temporarily makes them completely immune to harm and substantially beefs up their gun's power. The resulting shooting gallery is fleetingly enjoyable simply due to the comically one-sided beating the player puts on the same handful of character models and environments in their path.
But Army of Two: The Devils Cartel has too many problems and bugs to warrant lengthy inspection.