With a slew of shooters on the market at any given time, and a reliance on staple mechanics for the genre, each new game should make a deliberate effort to separate itself from the pack. The Army of Two series tries to do this with a focus on two-player co-op and the franchise’s latest entry, Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel, continues with this tradition. Unfortunately, despite being a surprisingly enjoyable experience, the two-player co-op focus is not enough to separate Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel from any number of other run-of-the-mill third person shooters.

In Devil’s Cartel, you play as the mercenary Alpha, alongside your ultra-generic partner Bravo, in a two-man strike team under orders from the paramilitary outfit T.W.O. After an unimaginative flashback which sets the stage for the story, you’re thrown headlong into what is, for all intents and purposes, an all-out war with a Mexican drug cartel led by Bautista. Your mission is to protect Cordova, a local anti-cartel politician with a penchant for pissing off powerful men supported by their own personal armies. Devil’s Cartel tells a fun, if entirely predictable story, but doesn’t take itself too seriously as it’s throwing out clichéd plot points left and right, even going so far as to have the characters joke in their dialogue about how they saw certain plot twists coming. This sort of humor goes a long way towards making the story palatable and, in fairness; you’re probably not playing this for the story anyway.

Even if you’re playing single player, Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel focuses on the cooperative dynamic, allowing you to issue commands to your AI partner using the D-Pad, which helps you work as a team to take down swarms of cartel fighters. Whether you’re moving from cover to cover, trying to outwit the less-than-clever enemies, or working with your partner to flank a fortified machine gun position, the cooperative cover-based combat is the most compelling part of the experience, although even that can get to be a little repetitive at times.
The Devil’s Cartel can be played largely solo without requiring much teamwork, but certain situations, like the aforementioned machine gun placements, will emphasize the importance of some level of cooperation. Firing at the enemies from cover will draw fire and take the heat off your partner, allowing Bravo to move in for the flank, or simply stay alive. If you like scoring headshots from behind a wall, tactically outmaneuvering your enemies, or making your AI partner play by your rules by sending him on a suicide run into enemy fire, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in The Devil’s Cartel‘s combat system.

In addition to the co-op focused gameplay, Devil’s Cartel tries to differentiate itself with the Overkill ability. By racking up enough kills, you’ll fill your Overkill gauge which, when activated, lets you wreak serious havoc on the world around you. Overkill makes you invincible, stops your gun from consuming ammo, and gives you bonus damage, allowing you to easily destroy whatever pieces of cover your enemies may be cowering behind. At the press of a button, Overkill turns you and your teammate into a duo of utterly unstoppable killing machines, which is a tad overpowered in most circumstances, but a welcome aid when you are otherwise hopelessly outmatched. As long as you’re playing the game for the joy of the kill, and not the thrill of the challenge, however, this mechanic provides some over-the-top fun in an otherwise homogenous experience.

Where Bravo’s AI is surprisingly adept at dodging bullets and sticking to cover, the enemy AI is noticeably less talented. The enemy units will spend some of their time hiding behind cover, only popping out occasionally to take a shot, but they also have a tendency to wander around out in the open for extended periods, or rush face first into a blistering shower of machine gun fire. The suicidal tendencies of the enemy AI is even mentioned during the in-game dialogue, lending enough levity to make it humorous, rather than just being an apparent fault in design. You can bet that when you’re playing on the more intense difficulties the enemy AI will be savvier in a gunfight, but blasting through the opposition on the regular difficulty can seem suspiciously trivial.

Devil’s Cartel is broken up into several missions with smaller subsections, each of which helps push the plot forward. Each of the 49 sections lasts between two and twenty minutes, so you’ll get between 12 and 15 hours of campaign gameplay. The system is very well implemented, such that you can pick it up and put it down practically anytime you need, with little to no loss of progress. If your play sessions are frequently interrupted by work, family, or other goings on in the real world, you can’t help but appreciate this setup from start to finish.

With each section you complete, you’ll earn some cash based on your performance which can be used to purchase unlocked weapons and character customizations. The bulk of the bonus money is awarded for teamwork kills, so if you want to maximize your income, you’ll need to focus on cooperation, rather than the solo play you’re typically rewarded for in shooters. As you earn cash, you’ll rank up and unlock more items which become available for purchase. This system offers a meaningful sense of character progression as you unlock bigger and badder guns, as well as allowing total customization for your loadout, from sniper rifles for precision kills to LMGs for mowing down the cartel en masse.

Once you get through the campaign, you’ll be left wondering what to do next. You can go back and complete the missions again, aiming for a higher score, an increase in leaderboard rank, and some extra money, or you can conscript a buddy to play through the game again with you on co-op. That’s pretty much it. There is no end game to speak of, and there’s no real multiplayer either. Co-op, which can be played online or locally via split screen, is as good as it gets, but the campaign is the same in co-op or solo, so if you’ve made it through the missions by yourself, finding a comrade in arms isn’t going to do much to keep you interested. The last thing you’ll likely do before you put down the game entirely is to spend 30 minutes playing through the Overkiller contracts. In this mode you play through small snippets of the story missions, with the goal of taking down a mini-boss and escaping with your lives. Of course, as the name suggests, you’ll have Overkill active practically the whole time, so it’s mostly just a matter of moving invincibly through the level as quickly as possible while racking up a high score so, as an end game, these missions are seriously lacking.

Bottom Line: Ultimately, Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is easy to pick up and fun to play, but generally lacks in distinction. The co-op centered gameplay is a neat trick, but it doesn’t do enough with the co-op mechanics to really set itself apart.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for something to play with a friend, and you’re not too interested in character or plot development, Devil’s Cartel should be right up your alley.

[rating=3.5]

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

Game: Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Visceral Montreal
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform(s): PS3, Xbox 360
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)

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