I had fun precisely once in Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel. About three hours in, I started playing solo, and hopped in the driver’s seat of a jeep with a turret. My AI partner was going to pick off enemies from his elevated position, but I barely noticed. I slammed on the accelerator (in first-person, no less), running over everyone in my path for a good one to two minutes. Because of the game’s new “dismemberment technology,” bodies exploded and limbs flew around goofily. It was dumb, but it was different. Most of The Devil’s Cartel isn’t.
Most of The Devil’s Cartel is a joyless slog through poorly-textured buildings. And deserts. There were deserts a couple times.
You play as Alpha and Bravo, two operatives sent to help settle a drug war. You really don’t need to know much more. You’re in Mexico, and you shoot a bunch of definitely evil Mexicans, which is great because you can finally see their ribcages when you do. Dismemberment tech.
There’s also an “Overkill” mode that either partner can activate upon killing enough people, which basically gives you unlimited ammo for a short period of time and ups your damage. You can blow straight through most walls and cover, and kill most enemies in one pistol shot. It would be neat in a better game, where the destruction looked better, and the death animations looked better, and–okay, let’s be honest, a game where everything looked better.
I wasn’t expecting an especially nuanced examination of cartel dynamics or drug wars, but The Devil’s Cartel is still frustratingly facile. The people of Mexico are deeply affected and terrorized by this cartel (one of many operating today, as a hilariously deadpan text scroll explains in the main menu), and the solution seems to be sending two badasses in to kill all of them.
All. Of. Them.
For a lot longer than you might expect. The game could run you anywhere from 6-8 hours (my playtime was on the longer side of that) across its nine chapters and forty-nine missions within. All those missions are distractingly segmented, and laughably short: a five-minute combat arena, then a deserted hallway, followed by a jarring cut to a stats screen for completing the mission.
The moment-to-moment gameplay is functional but deeply unsatisfying. Every output has to wait a percievable time before it can properly react to your inputs. In the first couple hours especially (which I also played co-op, so that might have something to do with it), I would shoot an enemy with a shotgun, and wait for them to go flying backwards. When they did, it took a couple seconds for the bloodstains to pop-in on the walls and ground.
I also played the first mission without a character model. There was a head, and a floating gun. After dying, the model was restored, but at the start of the next mission it happened again. I’m happy to report that I had a character model for the rest of the game after that point. Good job pulling your shit together, game.
Most insulting about The Devil’s Cartel is how it manages to take a mediocre series with some neat ideas and strip those ideas out entirely. Remember those vaguely interesting back-to-back co-op shooting moments? The hostage situations? Even the dumb little interaction you could have with one another? All gone. The aggro system has also been eliminated, but the game relies upon the practicality of it strongly still. I was told to “flank the MMG!” over and over again. Seriously, like seven or eight times. Not so different from the eariler games, but this time you have no aggro meter or indication as to who the enemies are focusing on.
Despite that, the game still rewards you for becoming a decoy, or surprising an enemy with an attack. These bonuses happen regularly, but accidentally. The Devil’s Cartel would like you to think it is a tactical third-person shooter. It is not. I also didn’t realize (as the game said repeatedly), that finishing a ten to fifteen second fight across two pieces of cover constitutes a “surprise.”
Worth mentioning: there’s no competitve multiplayer. Granted, it probably wouldn’t be very good if it were a feature, but it bears repeating in a climate so focused on wringing value out of purchases.
There are good games with bad parts, bad games with great ideas, and insultingly terrible games through and through. But there’s also a genre that few people remember to acknowledge: the functional but uninspired lot. Some people view these games as average. I have no problem with that, but me personally? I don’t. For as marginally impressive as it might be that Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel technically executes on its basic premises some of the time, I find it a great deal more impressive that such mediocrity could result in something so tepid, boring, and almost insultingly lacking in imagination.