Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel Review
An adequate shooter that does nothing to stand out from the other games in the genre
“What’s the plan?!” Bravo yells at Alpha.
“Find (spoiler deleted) and kill him!” Alpha calls back.
“Damn right!” Bravo confirms.
This adequately sums up the larger thematic ideas of Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel. This testosterone powered, bullet slinging joyride is a mesh of fist bumps and “Hell yeah”s wrapped in a body count that would decimate the population of Mexico. The Devil’s Cartel is - on the surface – a capable game that delivers solid shooting mechanics and a teamwork philosophy with relative success. Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel succeeds at being an adequate shooter, but its decent mechanics are all it has to offer.
The Devil’s Cartel departs from the traditional Army of Two plot structure, changing the focus from the series’ previous protagonists, Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios, to agents known as Alpha and Bravo. If you’re an Army of Two fan, don’t worry, Salem and Rios continue to pop into the narrative from time to time. The game starts with Alpha and Bravo being hired by a Mexican politician named Juan Angelo Cordova for protection against Bautista - I don’t recall him ever getting a first name - who is the leader of the largest drug cartel in all of Mexico. In the opening sequence of the game, Cordova’s caravan is blown up and things go downhill pretty quickly.
Where The Devil’s Cartel really runs into trouble is its narrative. The game only has a single player mode and thus forces players through a story that is eye-rollingly cliché and laughably obtuse. The lead characters have been stripped of names, possibly to help players feel more like their respective character. The only problem with this is the characters spend almost the entire game talking to each and providing their own distinct attitude. Immersing yourself as either character is impossible because the game goes out of its way to build these characters, what’s worse they build them poorly. After spending nearly eight hours with the duo I know that one owns a boat, the other wants a family, and they both might have an attraction to the supporting female character, but it’s hard to tell as they never establish any connection beyond talking shop. In the end, the names Alpha and Bravo are well suited as they feel like mobile gun turrets that serve to do little more than move the missions along.
The narrative of the game moves in snappy succession and the Mexican backdrop provides an interesting setting with unique landscapes and buildings. However, despite the locations varying in name, they are all relatively the same. Objectives pop up on the screen from time to time, almost as reminder that you’re still doing the same thing you were ten missions ago, find so-and-so and kill them. This is the biggest problem with The Devil’s Cartel, you just kill things. Look for the guys wearing baggy pants and t-shirts and light them up. Where are the civilians? Where are any other characters? The whole of Mexico feels like it consists of whoever is on your team, some omnipresent voice on the radio, and thousands of Cartel soldiers. The game never bothers to give any personality to its villains, its heroes, its supporting cast, its setting, or itself. The only time someone actually talks about Mexico is when Cordova - the game’s most fleshed out character - talks about what Mexico once was, but as we never see any other part of the country, it’s hard to imagine that it actually exists.
However, the story is meant to simply be vehicle for the combat, the characters are just supposed to clear rooms, and the game is reduced to only that, a game. Which is perfectly fine, The Devil’s Cartel hints at some greater messages and themes, but it seems pretty aware of its purpose to simply create a scenario where shooting enemies is justifiable. The majority of the game is delivered with tongue-and-cheek dialogue proving the game isn’t taking itself all that seriously.