At EA's spring spotlight event for members of the press in New York City, two different co-op, multiplayer demos were handy. The first was the highly anticipated Fuse from Insomniac Games. Many were eager to give that title a go, given the pedigree of its makers, plus the curiosity factor—of playing the current iteration of a game that had resulted from a previously hinted at concept, which would ultimately be scrapped and heavily revised.
But then you have The Devil's Cartel, the third installment of the Army of Two franchise, and one that's not nearly as exciting as the aforementioned game, at least on paper. Clearly the series has its fans, why else would there be a third upcoming installment? But it's hardly the game that has lit the world on fire. I personally have no friends or colleagues who considers themselves a fan. There's just something about it that's a major turn off to many.
There's this belief that Army of Two is the most flagrant, ultra generic, dude bro third person shooter to come down the pipeline. Which is why I love it so much, despite not being a fan of the genre. Because we all like what we like, but we sometimes like what we don't like. Often we are attracted to the polar opposite for whatever reason, perhaps to validate or our tastes, or something like that.
I can’t explain it, but a game in which two ultra-roided out, dude bros who have each others' backs, through thick and thin, like REAL MEN simply appealed to my sensibilities, even though excessive machismo is a turn off for myself. It's also why I wasn't exactly looking forward to The Devil's Cartel, due to all the changes.
Salem and Rios, stars of the first two games, have been pushed aside for a brand new pair of T.W.O. operatives named Alpha and Bravo. The milquetoast names are apparently on purpose, as to allow the player to better project themselves into the proceedings. Considering that I had zero problems pretending (or should I say fantasizing) to be Salem or Rios, such news was a huge bummer. And, alas, they are fairly forgettable. Mission accomplished EA.
The session began with me choosing what weapons I wanted for the mission ahead. Because it's a press demo, I was given plenty of money to blow, and thusly blew it on the weapons that looked the coolest, and was also able to augment it with accoutrements to further enhance their firepower. Though, in all honestly, I was mostly concerned about how cool it looked, and therefore how cool I looked. Bravo needed all the help he could get.
Thankfully there was a cool selection of masks to choose from. I went with the panda face.
And thus the mission began. Myself and Alpha (manned by an EA PR rep) found ourselves at a Mexican graveyard, one overrun by the drug cartel. Escorting us was the requisite hard boiled and smart mouthed lady friend. And yes, there was "witty" banter among Alpha and Bravo, a.k.a. not so funny put downs—the kind that men say to each other, to compensate for the fact that neither are truly in touch with their own feelings towards the other. But it was kept to a minimum, thank goodness; the focus is on maintaining actual contact with the other player, as to strategize, so in-game speak would just get in the way.
The mission involved sneaking up on the bad guys, getting off a lucky shot, and then plowing through waves and waves of enemies. On a purely visually level, The Devil's Cartel is okay I guess. Nothing special, but nothing terrible. Granted, it was a nighttime level, so it was really hard to say. But there was one thing that stuck out; the aforementioned woman’s bottom half.
Not that I stare at female characters' rear ends all the time, but it was impossible not to notice her butt sticking out in a weird fashion, due to her bizarre bow-leggedism. Which naturally affected how she moved. Again, hard to miss, yet the PR person after the fact had no idea what I was talking about when pointing it out. Moving on, there's not much to say about the audio either. It simply works, which I guess is all that matters.
Controls are a somewhat different issue. The set-up is exactly as it is in other games, which is cool. But I had an absolutely impossible time taking cover. When you're close to something that allows you to take cover, a big blue arrow appears, so you're supposed to hit the appropriate button and get into position. It worked literally 1 out of 30 times for me. Needless to say, it was frustrating, since it resulted in me in running around getting shot way more than I wanted to.
In the game's defense, it is still a work in progress, plus I had been booted off one demo station already, due to a dev machine overheating, so perhaps this was another bug of the same kind?
The set pieces were also nothing groundbreaking, but they worked for me. After picking off drug dealers that were cowering behind tombstones, there was a part in which my partner and myself had to navigate some underground caverns. It wasn't well lit (on purpose), and only my partner had a firearm with a flashlight attached, but which had a not so great range. So it was mostly the semi-blind leading the practically blind, with bad guys at every corner once again. It was a fun little segment.
Once topside, we had a boss to deal with. Compared to the henchmen, this guy was a total synch. As my partner played distraction, I simply snuck up behind and shot him from the rear. Then again, it's not as if the regular characters exhibited the greatest of AI either; they mostly just overwhelm you.
And that was it? I guess. Again, to recap: it looks okay, save the girl, sounds okay, I think, the controls were standard fare, except for the ducking that didn't work for me, the level layout was decent, and the enemy plus bosses were passable. The end result is a totally competent, co-operative third person shooter that, frankly, was devoid of any real personality.
Which I guess was the point? Again, lots of people were turned off by the personality, the over the top testosterone, along with the resulting silliness, of the first two games.
I guess this is supposed to make people take Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel seriously, and I suppose it will. If they even notice it. Because with its personality stripped away, the game will have a very tough uphill battle, standing out amongst all the other third person shooters that actually bring something new to the table.