Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel – hands-on

We get to grips with EA’s classy reboot of the much-maligned “buddy ‘em up” shooter

Army of Two and its sequel were decent enough shooters with a solid idea behind them – the need to cooperate with your teammate – but repetitive gameplay and the fact that the main characters were tiresome frat boy types stopped them from being regarded as truly must-have titles. Perhaps that’s why EA has decided to reintroduce the series with The Devil’s Cartel, a reboot that stars new, less bro-like mercenaries and has a slightly more serious, gritty feel to it. But only slightly.

We recently got the chance to play through a level in tandem with a rep from the development team (Visceral Montreal), and were pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it was. While the original characters may have been sidelined (they’re now running the private military company that the two main characters, Alpha and Bravo, work for), there’s still a welcome air of The Expendables-esque tongue-in-cheek mayhem to the whole thing, and it’s not quite as po-faced as the likes of Call of Duty.

There’s a plot that has something to do with a vicious Mexican drug cartel, but from the level we played it’s clear that story here comes second to teaming up with a buddy (split-screen co-op is an option if you’re not playing online) and blowing the hell out of anything that moves – with the teaming up part essential to success. It’s not just about giving medical aid to your partner if they get downed, either (although that is in the game).

Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is a third-person cover shooter: when cover is available, you tap a button to lock yourself into it (you can also scoot quickly to another piece of cover by targeting it with your gunsight and hitting the lock button). Enemies do the same, so in order to defeat them more effectively you need to work with your partner: one of you can suppress your foes – or attract the majority of enemy firepower – while the other skirts round and flanks them.

Pulling off co-op moves like this gains you points which fill up a meter. When it’s full, you can engage “Overkill” mode, in which you become pretty much invulnerable for a short time and can’t run out of ammo. When you and your buddy enter Overkill at the same time, you can unleash an incredible amount of destruction upon the enemy, with time slowing down and your bullets shredding through cover, exposing the troops behind it.

Yep: The Devil’s Cartel, like Battlefield 3 and Medal of Honor: Warfighter, is built on DICE’s Frostbite 2 engine and that means that pretty much everything is destructible. “Soft” cover like wooden crates can be splintered to nothing in seconds, but even harder cover like masonry can be trashed in Overkill mode, and breaks down in a suitably convincing fashion.

The level we played also featured slo-mo door breaching as seen in the Modern Warfare games (and more recently Medal of Honor: Warfighter), with both players busting through together and taking out the inhabitants in a hail of shotgun blasts that tore off limbs in distinctly OTT fashion. It also split the players up for a short time, with each going on a separate path before teaming up again.

While Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel doesn’t change the whole formula entirely, this 15-minute demo did enough to convince us that the game is developing in the right way. It feels good to play, the visuals are strong and the Frostbite 2 engine is superb, and the idea of a few hours of mindless buddy movie fun are undeniably appealing. Look out for a review closer to the game’s March 2013 release date.

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