The first thing I’m told as I sit down to play this latest kill-everything-buddy-shooter is that Army of Two: Devil’s Cartel, more than the series’ previous outings, will bring with it a deeper and more engaging storyline. This plot is centred around the Tactical Worldwide Operations (T.W.O.) operatives Alpha and Bravo as they attempt to cleanse the streets of Mexico from the corruption and violence of the powerful drug cartels. Back-stabbing, the fuzzy line between friend and foe and government corruption is hinted at…
While I’m not here to pour cold water on Visceral’s claim that Devil’s Cartel will feature a stronger narrative, the mission I played was virtually devoid of it. Although, in fairness, the goal of previews for games like this is usually to demonstrate how the gameplay, not the plot, will draw players in.
The mission is called Ghost Town and it takes place, I’m warned, in the final quarter of the game’s campaign. That means it’s pretty darn difficult, and teamwork is going to be the only way I’m going to see it through to the end. Before you know it I’m down.
Things begin, I presume, at some point after a cut-scene that I’m not shown ends. I, as Alpha, am standing on a walkway that loops around a small courtyard below, my job is to make it down to ground level and revive the wounded Bravo before he bleeds out and dies. Snapping my way between pieces of cover, I make it to Bravo in time to pick him up. Bravo, being played by one of the game’s developers, immediately hightails it to the safety of a low wall… leaving me to eat the grenade that has been thrown at my feet.
Cue Bravo returning the favour.
Staying in cover really is the name of the game here. Ignore cover and you die. Die and things get frustrating very quickly. It’s fortunate, then, that Devil’s Cartel’s cover system works a treat. There are plenty of things to hide behind, some of which are completely solid and other that are less so. By aiming your crosshair at your desired piece of cover you can hit a button and your onscreen he-man automatically runs and crouches behind it. The effect is to remove any of the potential nit-picking so common with games of this sort in the form of getting caught up on small pieces of the environment at the worst time, or finding that the awkward camera controls send you running right by your intended location.
Once in cover, aiming the crosshair at a different object and hitting the button performs a cover switch. If you’ve ever played Ghost Recon Future Soldier, this idea will be familiar to you. Only here it’s more streamlined and a lot easier to use, with fewer restrictions on what you can use as cover and how fast you can move.
Cover, shoot, move, cover, shoot is the basic gameplay loop, and it’s one that has been proven to work over the course of many, many games. Where Devil’s Cartel bucks the trend is in the addition of Overkill, a special move of sorts that (like everything else in this game) works better when you and your partner coordinate your actions. For each kill you make a gold bar at the top of your HUD fills up, once full to the brim you can activate Overkill.
Activate Overkill solo and you’re rewarded with more ammo and increased damage. Both players activating Overkill in tandem takes you into a slow-mo state in which you’ve got increased health, more ammo, a faster fire rate and sees you generally deal a lot more damage. Without exaggeration, tandem Overkill can result in the deaths of 20 or 30 enemies in a matter of seconds. Because it’s so powerful, it’s best to save the ability for times when things are getting hairy. During the demo I’m told Overkill has been tweaked to build up more quickly than it probably will in the finished game, the idea being that Visceral is keen to show off just how impactful it can be to those of us with early access.
The finale of the Ghost Town mission is a face-off against an attack helicopter equipped with mini-guns, rocket launchers and what can only be Superman-grade bullet protection. There’s plenty of cover in the battlefield, but the problem is that you can’t hide forever; you have to poke your head out at some point to shoot the thing. There are also some grunts running around at ground level, providing the kind of fodder perfect for building up that Overkill gauge.
Five minutes and two complete rounds of Overkill later and the chopper comes down in a sea of smoke, dust and fire. As with seemingly all of EA’s triple-A games, Devil’s Cartel is being built on DICE’s Frostbite 2 engine and the results are predictably impressive; particularly as far as the environmental destruction is concerned.
Undoubtedly, Devil’s Cartel is looking like a far superior product to previous attempts at making Army of Two work. The question is, though: no matter how good this game is, have those previous games already done too much damage? Is the series too ‘tainted’ to be successful?