The elements that made its predecessors interesting have been all but destroyed, making Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel a functional shooter but little more.

The Good

  • Some fun set pieces
  • The more open levels give you room to maneuver
  • Cover system encourages fluid movement.

The Bad

  • All of the series’ best aspects have been removed or toned down
  • Forgettable gunplay, forgettable story, forgettable characters
  • Requires little cooperation between players
  • Problematic AI.

Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is a mostly competent, wholly soulless consumer product, the kind that might briefly satisfy your craving for action because it’s new, if not particularly special or memorable. The third Army of Two game usually functions just fine, and its decent third-person shooting might even be enough to keep you gunning down one nameless grunt after another until there are no more grunts to gun down. But any spark the series has shown has been stripped away in favor of homogeneity. Like its two new protagonists, The Devil’s Cartel blends into the background, unrecognizable among all the brown shooters that have come before it.

Sometimes, activating overkill is, well, overkill.

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Those two heroes are Alpha and Bravo, whose function is to make the stars of the previous two games seem spectacular by comparison; even their very monikers give off the generic vibe the rest of the game so curiously exudes. If you’re a returning fan, don’t fear, for Salem and Rios have parts to play, and provide the only glimmers of energy in a story otherwise lacking in momentum and wit. For the majority of the game, the story can be summed up thusly: the titular drug cartel is bad, and so you must shoot up every cookie-cutter mercenary that stands between you and their bossman. The narrative lobs a few surprises at you near its conclusion, but the effect is akin to dropping a bomb on a desert; there’s lots of noise and fire, but ultimately, the landscape hasn’t changed much.

The path winding toward that bomb has Alpha and Bravo making their way through the usual places you visit when dealing with gaming’s many drug cartels: dusty brown streets littered with cars that exist purely to catch on fire, weathered Mexican villages with graffiti scrawled across the walls, scrap yards loaded with rust-coated bins and barrels, and so forth. The two stop here and there to remind you of their mild “bro”ness by accusing each other of being gay, or grunting some nondescript action game dialogue, like “Watch out for ambushes!” For better or for worse, Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel lets the action do most of the talking.

With all this fire, it's a wonder The Devil's Cartel didn't burn brighter.

With all this fire, it’s a wonder The Devil’s Cartel didn’t burn brighter.

If only it had something more interesting to say. Like its predecessors, The Devil’s Cartel is a cooperative experience; either another player or the mediocre AI joins you in your mission of blandness. The cover system has been tweaked for the sake of mobility, allowing you to press a single button to slip into cover spots some distance away. At most times, speeding from one cover spot to another works well enough, making it fun to slide from one safe haven to another. At other times, certain surfaces won’t allow you to take cover, or your slick moves could go awry when you go accidentally charging into the wrong side of a wall and leave your back turned to a legion of cartel mercs.

Regardless, the tempo of battle remains remarkably even throughout: take cover, fire at dudes until they fall down, and repeat the process. The shooting is functional but toothless; enemy death animations and lackluster weapon noises muffle the oomph necessary to pull The Devil’s Cartel into the realm of power fantasy. Enemies scurry into the levels in predictable ways, and you mow them down, or you shoot the copious red barrels scattered about the battle arenas and watch them explode, taking all these copy/paste gunners with them. Even on hard difficulty, triumphing in battle isn’t particularly challenging, and on medium, you may not even see the need to take cover much of the time.

All the cooperative elements that made this series unique have been jettisoned in favor of--well--not much of anything, really.

All the cooperative elements that made this series unique have been jettisoned in favor of–well–not much of anything, really.

To the game’s benefit, several levels deviate from the corridor-shooting norm, opening up the environments and thus allowing the action to ebb and flow in sensible ways. It’s nice to have room to maneuver, particularly when enemies approach from multiple angles, which is, sadly, not so common. It’s too bad that mediocre enemy AI causes the game to so often fall on the “ebb” side of the coin, with soldiers sometimes failing to recognize your presence, or running right past your exposed buddy because they’re so intent on stabbing you.

The elements that made its predecessors interesting have been all but destroyed, making Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel a functional shooter but little more.

By Kevin VanOrd