Back in 2008, Electronic Arts did something unprecedented: they released three new franchises in quick succession. One of those was Army of Two, the third-person shooter built around a two-player co-op experience. Despite a lukewarm critical reception, Electronic Arts thought it successful enough to warrant a sequel, Army of Two: The 40th Day. Again, reception was mixed and the series failed to set software charts on fire. Still, it seems that this is a franchise EA is not ready to give up on.
Around the time of Gamescom 2012, EA announced a third entry into the Army of Two series, subtitled Devil’s Cartel. The game will see a shift in developers with Visceral Games taking up the reigns. That alone is reason to give the series another look considering Visceral’s work with titles like Dead Space and the diabolically twisted Dante’s Inferno.
In addition to a new development team, the series is switching engines. Both of the previous titles were built using Unreal Engine 3, but Devil’s Cartel will make use of EA’s current go-to engine, Frostbite 2. With Frostbite 2 already powering games like Battlefield 3 and the more recent Medal of Honor: Warfighter, it’ll be interesting to see what new life Visceral can breathe into this franchise.
Series protagonists Salem and Rios are out, but Visceral has confirmed that the two of them will be making an appearance. They will not, however, be playable this time around. Rios is now in charge of paramilitary group T.W.O (Tactical Worldwide Operations) and the organisation seems to have grown considerably since the previous games. As for Salem, he’s yet to make an appearance in any of the trailers, leaving Rios all on his own and the situation ripe for speculation.
Players take on the role of a new pair of T.W.O operatives known only as Alpha and Bravo. Together the pair takes part in a drug sweep operation alongside other T.W.O fireteams. Set in the fictional Mexican city of La Puerta, Alpha and Bravo soon become embroiled in a rapidly deteriorating fight against a deadly drug cartel known as La Guadaña (“The Scythe”). The cartel is led by a man called Esteban Bautista who, together with his La Guadaña cartel and a mercenary army, has taken control of La Puerta and terrorised the city’s population.
Despite Alpha and Bravo being given generic, cypher handles, Visceral has fleshed out the pair and given them proper characters. This is probably a relief to many Army of Two fans as one of the best parts of the first two games was the characters of Salem and Rios. Light-hearted banter between the two gave previous games some oft needed comic relief, but things seem to be a little more serious in Visceral’s take. And why shouldn’t it be? Visceral is a highly capable development team and it’s comforting to know that they’re making the series their own rather than just handling “another sequel” as it were. Being able to develop their own lead characters grants them further artistic license with an already established intellectual property.
Insofar as the two new faces are concerned, Alpha is an ex-military type who likes to play by the rules and have plans in place prior to enemy engagements. Bravo, on the other hand, is more of an ad hoc kind of guy who isn’t afraid to get stuck in on a reactive basis rather than a meditated one. It’s probably a bit of a clichéd character pairing in terms of action narrative, but hopefully Visceral will be able to take this overly familiar trope and make it interesting again. We already know that the team has a solid ability to take familiarity and turn it into something unique so here’s hoping this creative flair hasn’t left them since Dante’s Inferno.
Once again the game’s primary focus will be on a seamless, two-player co-op campaign. Visceral is promising that level design is such that it’ll force partners to approach each encounter as a team, rather than running in and doing your own thing. With an emphasis on level design built to promote teamwork, it seems a little strange that Visceral has added a new mechanic called “Overkill”. This resource-based power-up ability will allow you to break away from a tactical mindset in favour of some good old fashioned wanton destruction. Thanks to Frostbite 2, destructible terrain and cover will play a big part in Devil’s Cartel. Once you’ve activated Overkill, you’ll be granted temporary invincibility and a massive boost to weapon damage. This will allow you to run and gun through particularly tricky encounters while demolishing the environment and shooting the limbs off your enemies.
The series’ “Aggro System” will make a return in Devil’s Cartel. For those who missed the first two games, this system allows for one player to pester the enemy and attract their gunfire so that the second player can move from cover to set up a flanking manoeuvre. This system and the new “Overkill” perk will likely allow for some interesting bursts of teamwork; although from the sounds of it, once Overkill is activated, there’ll be little more required than aiming at the enemy and pulling the trigger as fast as possible.
Visceral is really emphasising the destructible environments and the new Overkill skill, but they’re going to need to bring more to the title if they hope to tap into a new audience and expand the IP’s reach. When it comes to two-player cooperative experiences, there are few titles that can match the purity found in the Army of Two franchise. For those of the hermit persuasion, Frostbite 2 is allowing Visceral to improve the AI partner – not that much improvement is needed from the previous games. I recall playing The 40th Day on my own and experiencing very few problems with the co-op AI, but that’s not how the game is meant to be played.
There’s quite a bit riding on this third instalment. I think that the series is in some highly capable hands with Visceral Games. They’re going to need to hit this one out of the park, otherwise this might be a series that lives and dies with this current console generation.