While the first two Army of Two games were renowned and ridiculed for their protagonists' dudebro antics, the developers at Visceral Montreal are taking a different tack in Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel. They wanted to "get beyond that frat boy stuff," producer Greg Rizzer told me at a recent Electronic Arts press event.
At the same time, the studio is still trying to make a game that's fun above all else, one that emphasizes the franchise's title through its co-op gameplay mechanics. The more serious tone fits the ripped-from-the-headlines story, which focuses on the devastating Mexican drug war. But Rizzer noted, "This is an action blockbuster," and the 15-minute sequence we played through together certainly evinced that aspect of The Devil's Cartel.
In a quick opening cutscene, my character was wounded by a shot to the head, so I began the segment crawling on the ground as my partner, played by Rizzer, led the charge to clear out the courtyard we were stuck in. I was able to take out more than a few foes with my sidearm while Rizzer held off the cartel's forces long enough to come over and revive me. At that point, we really got going, shooting up the place with our backs to each other in order to fill up our Overkill meters. You earn Overkill for pretty much everything you do, like killing an enemy or saving your partner's bacon.
Once the meter is full, you can engage Overkill mode, which gives you unlimited ammo for a short period and also makes you nearly invincible. It's the kind of old-school power-up you rarely see in a gritty, semi-realistic shooter, and I had a lot of fun standing in an open area and pumping both humans and helicopters full of lead. You also rack up points as you play, with higher scores providing more cash — the player characters, Alpha and Bravo, are still mercenaries — that can be used to purchase items like weapon upgrades.
Rizzer and I moved from the courtyard into a larger open area filled with crates and barrels and lined with pillars. The objects offered plenty of cover from the cartel fighters who poured into the place, and I was able to move quickly and easily from cover to cover with The Devil's Cartel's simple controls. Pretty soon, a helicopter showed up to fire machine guns at Rizzer and me, and chip away at the objects we were hiding behind. Here, EA DICE's Frostbite 2 engine proves a palpable visual and gameplay differentiator, as the chopper's high-caliber bullets quickly turned our cover into dust (and filled up our Overkill meters as we took damage).
But the big action sequence fizzled when it came to actually taking down the enemy bird: All we did was fire countless rounds from our assault rifles and grenade launchers to send it careening into a building. Perhaps this is part of Visceral Montreal's keep-it-simple philosophy — no use of environmental objects, whether scripted or unscripted; no assassination of the pilot with a sniper rifle; no laying of traps. We just ducked in and out of dwindling cover, using Overkill to stay in a spot and soak up machine gun rounds while firing back, until the chopper crashed.
"Games that have dealt with Latino culture weren't legit"
It's possible that The Devil's Cartel will stand out because of its story. Rizzer was loath to provide any details, and said the developers weren't trying to make any kind of statement by setting the game amid the drug cartels' raging conflict. But he said the studio is going to great lengths to ensure that its portrayal of Mexican characters doesn't fall into caricature. "Games that have dealt with Latino culture weren't legit," he told me, adding that the developers "have to earn" the respect of the players if they want to tell a meaningful tale.
There's no way to know yet whether Visceral Montreal can pull it off, and if they can't, the co-op focus of The Devil's Cartel will have to make up for that. The studio is hoping to "simplify the game" and bring in people who just want to enjoy a shoot-'em-up romp with a buddy, according to Rizzer.
"If it's fun, it's entertaining and shit blows up," he said, "sign me up!"