Gamescom 2012: Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel Hands-On Preview – It Takes Two, Baby
Written Thursday, August 23, 2012 By Dan WebbView author's profile
The Army of Two franchise is one that’s got its fans – due in no small part to the co-op – but it’s never really broken out of that “it’s pretty decent” category. It’s “okay”, we get that, but “okay” in this day and age, in terms of shooters especially, doesn’t really cut it. Enter Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel, a new developer and a new engine. Can Visceral Games and Frostbite 2 take the Army of Two franchise and thrust new life into it? Based on our first impressions of The Devil's Cartel, it sure looks that way, but we’re wondering whether the studio has done enough to make it a must-buy game next March.
Salem and Rios are out then, as Visceral looks to make the game a little more mature. As is the whole in-your-face, over-the-top, testosterone-fuelled, fist-bumping and man hugging. It’s all very serious now. You’re still playing as a duo of T.W.O. (Tactical Worldwide Operations) operatives though, but this time Alpha and Bravo step into the limelight. The Devil’s Cartel sees the team heading into the criminal underground of Mexico amidst a brutal drug war to… guess what? Yes, you’ll be taking down cartels. The clue’s in the name, right?
Our hands-on with Devil's Cartel at Gamescom was an extended version of the gameplay sequence seen during EA's press conference. Our objective was to storm through a drug lab and clear the rooftop of hostiles. The gritty drug lab interior is littered with metal walkways, graffiti-laden walls and plenty of obvious waist high cover. It’s all a little brown and orange as far as the colour palette goes, but the attention to detail in the dilapidated drug lab nearly does enough to make you forget how drab an environment it really is, but I guess that’s the point, right? Drug labs are hardly glittering and extravagant wonderlands.
It’s a fairly standard third-person shooter experience as we romp through the drug lab, if we’re being honest. It’s full of every third-person and shooter cliché you can think of, and it doesn’t really do a lot to separate itself from the competition. You’ll be bouncing from cover to cover – the cover mechanic is actually much more refined now though – taking down foes, before being split up from your partner and then performing a slow-mo breach as you break from the drug lab onto the rooftop. If there’s a cliché they’ve missed, we can’t name it. It’s all rather solid, but hardly revolutionary.
Seeing as The Devil’s Cartel is using Frostbite 2, you should expect the usual traits that come with the engine. That means cutting edge visuals and plenty of destructible environments then. While the large-scale destruction is plain to see and won’t really change the game all too much, except for maybe making it a little more Michael Bay-esque, what it means for the micro-gameplay is a lot more critical and noteworthy. The micro-destruction on the cover – for you and your foes – means that you have to be more mobile and tactical as you fight your way through wave after wave of underworld scum.
New to the franchise is the game’s ‘Overkill’ mode, which is essentially an extra boost of power for a short period of time, allowing you to become more of a killing machine. You accrue points by nailing the crap out of any foes, which in turn, fills the Overkill meter at the top of the screen. It actually becomes quite a tactical tool after you get to grips with it with your co-op partner, as if you activate it, your ally gets it too. Activate both your full bars simultaneously and you’ll become an unstoppable force as not only do you become more powerful, but it activates a brief moment of slo-mo to make you both even more unrelenting. The mid-level boss in our hands-on didn’t really stand much of a chance.
The Overkill mode, incidentally, doesn’t replace the franchise’s ‘Aggro’ mode, where you can draw fire away from your co-op partner by being more aggressive than them. At this point though, the meter is no longer visible, so you have to take cues from the on-screen action instead – this may change though by the time the game releases.
The rooftop sequence saw my co-op partner and I split up from one another: one on foot; and the other on the gun in the chopper. It’s the gunner’s job to rain down destruction on the slew of bad guys that seep out of every nook and cranny on the roof, while the co-op partner on-foot – in this instance, me – has to battle the stragglers and then take down the RPG firing rockets at the chopper. A knife to the face just about did that.
The sequence ends with a bang as the chopper our co-op partner was gunner on crashes onto the roof of an opposing building and we rush over to grab our ally before he falls to his death. Although you have control of your character at this point, it’s a cinematic sequence that feels too on-rails to be a genuinely enthralling set-piece. It’s a case of: run to a checkpoint and cue a cutscene that saves your co-op partner. Sure, you both shoot down a chopper pilot moments after, but the whole sequence feels more like a cutscene than a gameplay set-piece.
In addition to the obvious upgrades that come courtesy of Frostbite 2 and the Overkill system, according to Visceral, players should expect the usual weapon creation system, as well as now being able to customise your character. The face mask customisation actually sounds rather neat.
Visceral and EA are actually calling Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel a “reset,” when we’d be more inclined to call it an upgrade… albeit a significant one at that. The destructible environments and visual prowess of the Frostbite 2 engine shine through, and it’s complemented with a much more palatable duo personality-wise and a little bit more chaos to boot. With both online co-op, local split-screen and the usual gubbins that come with an Army of Two game, The Devil’s Cartel is likely to appeal to fans of the franchise, while its new additions and shiny new exterior may open it up to a much pickier audience (i.e: myself and thousands of others). Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel needs to demonstrate a little more originality and new ideas before we’re entirely convinced.
Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is scheduled for a March 2013 release.