Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel (Xbox360)

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Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is an action-packed journey through the city of Mexico which finds itself at the mercy of a lethal drug cartel. It’s a co-operative shooter that features lots of explosive gunplay and a few witty quips, but ultimately the cover system and a fairly slow-paced story will leave you feeling a little disappointed when the credits roll at the end of the game.

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The Devil’s Cartel introduces us to two new Private Military Contractors working for Tactical Worldwide Operatives (T.W.O.), Alpha and Bravo, who set out on a mission into Mexico to rescue a specific girl. The mission doesn’t go according to plan, however, setting into motion a chain of events that you’ll only fully understand as the game nears its end. Five years have passed, and Alpha and Bravo are once again sent into Mexico on a mission, this time to protect a political figure from a powerful drug lord who will stop at nothing to eliminate anyone who stands in his way.

The story is fairly slow-paced at first, but definitely gains momentum towards the middle half of the game as different twists to the plot emerge and leave you more engaged. Playing co-operatively (either on Xbox LIVE or using the splitscreen option) makes the game more enjoyable, as you can strategically plan ways to advance and overcome the enemies in your path. That’s not to say that the AI partner isn’t any good, he does a decent job of following your lead and carrying out your instructions to suppress, advance or flank.

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You’ll be led through different environments in the game, and this means a variety in gameplay as you fight your way through a cemetery lit by candles as residents celebrate the Day of the Dead, the winding streets of Mexico, a lavish palace and a shanty town, and even a secret drug lab. Some of the confined spaces meant close quarters melee was the best option, or a quiet take down meant less attention, and other times using the vast choice of weapons to take out the goons was more effective, or tossing a grenade to flush out enemies tucked away behind cover was called for.

The new Overkill meter once filled allows you to unleash true mayhem, for a short time you are invincible and can truly rampage through the city. It certainly was very satisfying to storm your enemies and witness the true power of the Frostbite 2 engine in action as cars exploded, building pillars were destroyed, cover was blown to smithereens, and general destruction was caused. Time it strategically and you can initiate Double Overkill with your partner to cause even more damage.

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The shooter component of The Devil’s Cartel was solid, with plenty of enemies to face in the city and a small arsenal of weaponry to do so with. Generally the game was very fast-paced, but there were times when the pace would change, for example during the sniper missions when you have to provide protection from higher ground, or working your way slowly across a bridge behind the protection of a riot shield. There were other times when you would have to take a different route to your partner, with him covering you while you stuck to the streets below, delivering a true sense of isolation and showing you just how much you have come to rely on him being there to back you up and keep tabs on flanking enemies.

It’s a pity then that the cover system proved to be frustrating at times. Players will need to press a button to send Alpha into cover, but that very same button when held also causes Alpha to vault over cover. Needless to say sometimes Alpha would simply not obey instructions and slide into cover, but rather jump over said cover straight into the firing line of the enemy. Other times the cover system would work brilliantly, and Alpha would be able to move from cover to adjacent cover seamlessly and with real panache. It was at times like this that you’d find yourself marvelling at just how stealthy and cunning you could be, only to then be confronted by the cover system vaulting you head-on into an enemy and before you know it you’re lying on the ground, bleeding out.

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Your partner will have a set amount of time to revive you in, but luckily you’ll be able to crawl behind cover (if there is any) and still use your pistol to take out any enemies who are looking to take advantage of your unfortunate situation. It’s a system that works well, but does nothing to quell the anger bubbling up at being taken out because the cover system didn’t quite work the way it should.

Either way ducking your head behind a crate or a vehicle is not necessarily the wisest option in The Devil’s Cartel. Bullets tear through crates, red barrels ignite and detonate, and vehicle’s petrol-filled engines explode, leaving you with shaky health reserves and diving for new protection behind a brick wall this time around. It’s here where the game truly shines. Explosions abound, gunfire echoes through the streets, and its sheer bliss taking down the waves of machete wielding, helmet toting, grenade popping angry enemies who will stop at nothing to send you home in a body bag. It may be over-the-top, it may be completely unbelievable, it may even be slightly ridiculous, but even so one thing that it is, is awesomely fun.

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It’s at times like these that you’ll find yourself forgetting the cover system that sometimes irks you, or the story that seems a little weak, you’ll even forget that a few of the characters are entirely forgettable, for it’s now when the story will start to intrigue you and you’ll become engrossed in the explosive gunplay and tactical gameplay. It’s disappointing that Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel didn’t start with this kind of pace, but if you see it through you’ll finish the game on a high note and before long begin tucking into the customisation options – after all a T.W.O. contractor deserves to be kitted out right with an awesome mask, cool tattoos, and excellent gear, don’t you agree?