Over the shoulder cover shooters have become, I think, my least favourite kind of shooter. They’re a hopelessly derivative bunch with nary an original thought in sight. Even Spec Ops: The Line, which was admittedly the only one of its kind to hold my attention in the last couple of years, had its own share of ingrained, mechanical problems plaguing it. But those were easy to gloss over, thanks solely to a handful of confronting Joseph Conrad allusions that held that otherwise shambolic affair together like glue.
I remember distinctly playing the first Army of Two title. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but the roughhousing on show from Salem and Rios, a pair of gruff operative dude-bros, was mildly endearing when it wasn’t being overtly juvenile. Driven by co-operative strategies, Army of Two provided gamers with an excellent reason to play together. I never did tuck into the sequel, 40th Day, but I’m not glad to discover that The Devil’s Cartel takes two steps backward from the original. It takes a steamer on the parts of Army of Two that were actually fun all the while stripping Salem and Rios from the leading role, replacing them with two nameless nothings that, in fifty chapters, failed to make me feel anything other than loathing.
Couple that with many exasperated sighs and you have my experience with The Devil’s Cartel in a nutshell. It went from being a rich man’s Boondock Saints to being, a poor man’s Boondock Saints II. Which is to say is that it has gone from kind of bad to downright bang-me-in-the-ear putrid.
While the first real misstep was placing you in the boots of new kids on the block Alpha and Bravo, the writing in The Devil’s Cartel is just bottom of the barrel stuff. The tongue-in-cheek gags might have played back in the first game, but on this occasion they only served to remind me how bad things were. My attention level had waned by the end so it is tough to know who said what exactly, but there is a joke lobbed up to one of them that suggested that they were in danger of growing a personality. This was met with a roll of the eyes and a mutter of “yeah, not likely” under my breath.
The plot is predictable. Unless you like fishing a lot, you’re not going to relate to the characters and the only lasting good memories you might have of Army of Two, and of Salem and Rios, are uprooted, trashed and smeared throughout The Devil’s Cartel like a shit stain on a toilet stall wall.
In what felt like the campaign that just wouldn’t end, I couldn’t help but notice that The Devil’s Cartel stripped back a lot of the neat co-op possibilities that made the first Army of Two so great. Gone are the back-to-back shootouts, as they’re replaced with more commonplace trends like divided paths and simpler things, like you’d see in a game such as Gears of War, only minus the strategy.
Playing with a friend is obviously the better option, though outside of helping each other up ledges the partnership is kind of moot. If anything, I’d recommend it solely for the conversation; trudging through sunny Mexico alone is a tiresome endeavour. Fortunately, going it alone is mostly pain-free thanks to Bravo being an unwavering brick shithouse … except for the final boss, right when you need him most.
You know you’re in poor shape when the cover system in your cover shooter is a mess. Transitioning is an imprecise catastrophe, as attaching yourself to another conveniently placed stack of crates is nigh on impossible. Should you manage to stick to cover on your first go, all that is left is the unimaginative pop ‘n’ shoot gameplay. Most games have a gimmick holding it all together, on this occasion it is Overkill, the Army of Two equivalent of Doom’s ‘Berserk’. It can be triggered alone or in unison with Bravo to heighten reaction time, turning you into a Sherman tank capable of smashing the cartel to a pulp. I did enjoy these short-lived flashes of white rage, they were great for taking out my frustrations with The Devil’s Cartel.
As if the developers hadn’t done enough, the bugs present in Army of Two only added to my woes. Getting stuck in fences and other pieces of the environment was Bravo’s forte, and standing around like a non-responsive, idiotic stunned mullet must have been his hobby. Both of these shortcomings forced restarted checkpoints; if I were a weaker man, I would have thrown in the towel long before the credits rolled.
There is not a lot you can do with Mexico, it’s a dustbowl. I will give some credit to Visceral Montreal for trying to liven things up by setting part of The Devil’s Cartel during Day of the Dead, perhaps in an ironic attempt to have culture bleed into to an otherwise lifeless campaign. But it also sets it apart from all of the other drab, sand-blanketed vistas, with sugar skulls and marigolds adding a little colour to the palette. Unfortunately, generic is the only word I can muster to describe the leading men, they’re the absolute archetypal hired guns.
Emily Rios of Breaking Bad fronts up as Fiona, a girl rescued by Alpha and Bravo in the game’s epilogue who later returns as the Michelle Rodriguez tough girl clone. Her bloodlust sees her pursuing Bautista, The Devil’s Cartel’s antagonist, portrayed in both likeness and voice by Sons of Anarchy’s Benito Martinez. As a megalomanic, despicable cartel head he is the highlight of the cast, with his venomous delivery near the endgame providing a fleeting illusion of serviceable dialogue.
- Reviewed On
- Xbox 360