Action movies tend to be frowned upon these days. You know the ones, where the main character is a ruthless, good-looking killer who can seemingly get himself out of any deadly situation, defeat hundreds of bad guys and still make it back in time for dinner with that hot girl from the start of the film. Most of them offer no interesting plot, two-dimensional characters and just enough loud noises to make sure you don't fall asleep halfway through. But sometimes, simple yet exciting action movies that don't demand too much from you are what's needed to unwind after a long day. The videogame equivalent of that action movie guilty pleasure? There are a few, but Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel seems to fit the bill more than most.
For those unfamiliar with Army of Two games, they're third-person shooters founded on the idea of two player co-op. Sitting next to your buddy, kicking back and just unleashing all-out war on the screen. Who you're shooting and why is secondary to laughing, joking and just generally having a good time. The first two titles in the franchise featured the explosions and loud noises you'd expect, but they lacked a certain amount of polish. This is Visceral Games' first time handling an Army of Two title, and they know what the aim is.
"We wanted this to be one of those games where you play it, and then you know you have friends coming over and you can say, 'Hey, let's fire this up!'" Visceral producer Greg Rizzer tells us during a preview event. "Then load up the split screen and play on the couch. I think that will be one of the reasons why people would want to hold onto this game, in case friends wanted to come over and play."
There aren't many games that add as much enjoyment to playing cooperatively with your partner like this. Big set pieces are met with whoops of excitement as you both trudge along through the levels, scores of bad guys are left in your wake and there's even a slight tactical element as you warn your companion to watch out for the sniper on the rooftop.
Rizzer certainly agrees with the assumption that The Devil's Cartel is about having fun and leaving realism to other titles. "Yep, there's no doubt," he says. "And I absolutely don't think there's anything wrong with that at all. When we were first coming out with the game, and trying to figure out positioning the game amongst all these other shooters and everything like that everyone said, 'You guys again! What are you doing?' And we were saying, 'No, we're different! We're really fun, honest!'"
The level we played involved shooting our way through a cemetery, shooting our way out of a corner after being confronted with two cars of enemies and defending a tower by, shock horror, shooting some more. It's unashamedly shallow and proud of it. To be honest we have no idea who we're firing at or why we're even doing it, and we don't care. This game has been designed to be easy-going and playable when you've got a spare hour with a friend.
"I think one of the things right now is that everything in this market, it's all realistic," Rizzer adds. "It's got to be so realistic and I just want fun. I just want to be able to pick up something to play with my friend. There are more shells hitting the ground in this game, and more stuff blowing up than I've seen in a long time. And you know you sacrifice some things for that, but at the end of the day it's the people that pick it up to play, the response they give is that it's cool and unique."
The cover system in The Devil's Cartel works well, allowing players to hide from gunfire with a simple press of a button. A blue light appears over other pieces of cover when looking around, so another tap of a button will take you there instead. It's a nice way of stringing the action together and keeping you sheltered from bullets in the process.
Beware though, as whatever you're hiding behind probably won't stay there for long. The Devil's Cartel uses the Frostbite 2 engine found in Battlefield 3, so expect to see plenty of those explosive environments. "And it's fun too because that's for both player and the enemies," says Rizzer, excitedly. "Like if I decided to camp out and try to hide behind something, the AI will shoot that cover and do a really good job of doing that, or throw a grenade and make you move. To me that is what's really exciting about having destructible environments."
The Devil's Cartel will probably receive a lot of criticism for being what it's not. It's not a thought provoking title that will have you scratching your head in search of answers. It's not something that brings anything unique to the table that you haven't seen before. But what it does do is leave you with a feeling of satisfaction after you've blasted your way through a level with your partner. That might not be enough for some people but the action movie fans out there will definitely appreciate it.