When I was a young kid I had one thing in mind when I played at being a soldier with my friends – loud guns, big explosions and generally being an over the top idiot. We’d leave the playground at school exhausted after throwing myself around, throwing pretend grenades about the place and getting killed in lots of very loud ways. It was great fun. With Army of Two: Devil’s Cartel we’ve got a game that works as a nice metaphor for those crazy 15 minute primary school wars that took place on a daily basis: loud, slightly excessive and not impressing those with something more real to play with.
This latest version of Army of Two hasn’t received a very warm welcome from several corners of the gaming world, and on the surface it’s easy to see why. The shooting action feels a little generic, the cover system is clumsy at times and once the main campaign is dealt with there’s not a great deal to keep you coming back for more. And yet despite this there’s something very pleasing about playing it: Army of Two takes us back to a time when games were designed for fun, not for profit.
In the main, Army of Two is a big game of chase. Your two main characters – Alpha and Beta – spend the whole game hunting down a bad guy who somehow manages to always stay a step ahead and escape at the last minute. Along the way a few other sub-plots crop up which, despite not being the most imaginative, are entertaining enough to keep you intrigued. There’s plenty of banter between the cast, with the two guys also keeping in contact with others over their headsets and throwing plenty of childish insults that, even though you know they’re quite cheesy and immature you can’t help but enjoy them. There are some fun comments about games too, such as one guy pointing out “red barrels always explode, have you never played a video game?”
Combat utilises a cover system, with destructible scenery which forces you to think about where you’re taking cover. Hide behind a car and you can guarantee the enemy will concentrate its fire on the vehicle and blow it up, knocking you for six in the process. Other objects hold up slightly better, but it’s rare to find something that will withstand prolonged enemy fire so keeping on the move is key. It can be tough though to accurately use the cover system, and it’s certainly not as slick as the likes of Uncharted or Ghost Recon in terms of dashing from cover to cover. It’s also incredibly easy to accidentally sprint to cover quite a distance away, leaving yourself open to getting shot at from other directions.
But it’s shooting at people yourself where the rewards lie, and being Army of Two there are extra rewards available for working as a team. Drawing fire for your partner to make the kills, flanking enemies, even taking enemies by surprise will earn you extra in-game currency. It’s a clever idea, but annoyingly it’s a clever idea that doesn’t work. While intentional acts go mostly rewarded (sneaking up on the bad guys is great fun) you also get credited for things you don’t actually do – how can I get a bonus for a surprise kill when the guy was sprinting at me at full speed swinging a machete at me? I guess he didn’t expect me to take the top of his head off, that’s the only explanation I can think of…
That said, however you kill people you start to fill up your Overkill meter. Both you and your partner have one of these meters, and activating a full one gives you temporary invincibility, unlimited ammo and as many grenades as you can chuck in the time given. Activating both characters’ meters at the same time gives you both an insane amount of firepower, shredding walls, sending enemies flying and generally causing explosive chaos in every direction. It’s impossible to resist the urge to sprint into the middle of a crowd of enemies, activate the Overkill and go nuts – and this is where the game is at its most enjoyable. It’s where the feeling of having done it all before subsides for a little moment and starts to feel exactly like what you imagined when you were lining up your playground friend before letting them have it with a barrage of imaginary gunfire.
But is that enough to make this a game you should rush out and buy? Possibly, but I’m not convinced. It’s quite a pretty game, especially when you enter a graveyard lit by candles and take a moment to look around and realise how impressive it all is, but again it won’t be winning any awards for that. If you’ve got a friend who will want to play through with you then it takes a step up in enjoyment (there’s even split screen play, something criminally missing from most games nowadays) and when you’re playing online there’s no obvious lag or other issues. Sadly if you’re playing an open game and someone tries to join you’ll be dropped back at the start of the level, so it pays to think ahead and arrange your games beforehand. Even without someone else your partner’s AI is pretty impressive, taking his fair share of kills and helping to draw fire from you when you’re in a bit of a tricky situation.
It’s a little awkward to sum up Army of Two: Devil’s Cartel. On one hand games like this are important, giving bursts of satisfaction rarely seen in more serious-faced shooters that we tend to see being released every 4 days. But for a game focused on co-op it seems odd that you can play much of the game forgetting you’ve even got a partner, and the scoring system for your amazing and utterly accidental teamwork becomes slightly farcical before too long. It’s an enjoyable game to play, but that’s mainly because of the numerous times you get to fire up your Overkill and go nuts by blowing up as much stuff as you can find in the space of 30 seconds or so. It nearly enough to forget about the fiddly cover system, and nearly enough to ignore the bizarre way online co-op is handled, but ultimately the fun from shooting stuff just about persuades you to play this through to the end. It probably won’t persuade you to go back and do it all again though, which when you think about the possibilities available to a 2 player co-op title is a huge shame.
Reviewed on PS3