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Army of 1.5: The Devil's Complications

Alpha and Bravo, the new protagonists. Guess which one is which, because chances are you won't remember!

Army of Two is a series often criticized and praised for its core ideas. A focus on co-op seemed worthwhile, but the overt “dude-bro” styling to the characters and storyline, combined with some questionable design decisions, has plagued the series' aspirations to become a hit AAA shooter. These are my first impressions of the Army of Two: Devil's Cartel demo (PS3 version).


Handy trailer of the game, for those of you curious to see it in action.

There was an extreme lack of polish from what I experienced in the short burst of gameplay. That's not to say the demo doesn't have its high points, but it is far from a best seller if this is what the current build of the game plays like.

Aiming feels loosely handled. Snap-to aiming with aim-assist works at taking out most basic enemies but trying to aim manually is far less practical. The aiming can be gotten used to, but it's not what I'd call practical or fluid. This is made evidently clear with the mini-boss that appears in the middle of the demo. His body is the definition of a bullet sponge while his head can only take a few hits. This is lazy enemy design at best as he's the only enemy besides the regular thugs that you fight for the entire demo. They also have it play out that your Overkill meter reaches maximum capacity when you reach the mini-boss, in what is best described as a passive aggressive attempt at giving a tutorial. I can't entirely blame them for not being enthusiastic, considering it's just another “rage mode” ability, giving you unlimited ammo and buffed up health for a brief time.

The game's cover mechanic is an awkward hybrid of Mass Effect 3 and Spec Ops: The Line's cover systems. When you can find cover, swapping between a specific points indicated on screen can be seamless, but the second you aren't on the linear path the developers intended, you immediately are in the crosshairs of every enemy.

The implementation of co-op specific moments also feels basic at best, with most of them being so specific that you know that it's merely an overly detailed transition to the next part of a level. There are no vantage points for you to boost your ally up to so they can snipe while you flank. There are no alternative routes to taking out enemies. It's merely hoist your buddy up, get pulled up by him, walk down a hall, shoot random Cartel thugs, rinse and repeat, with graphically different but functionally the same additional co-op points. Door breaching in particular feels more or less like a loading screen or a “wait for your buddy to catch up” point. These types of waits were annoying back in Resistance 3 and Dead Space 3 and they aren’tt any better here.

Levels feel static at first, but Visceral Montreal tried making them feel dynamic when the fighting finally starts. Bullets chew up geometry and send dust flying, setting a great atmosphere and actually giving both yourself and enemies cover from field of vision as a result. The destructibility is a highlight, but it feels underutilized considering the sheer amount of explosions that happen when things aren't flowing organically.

There's also a cupholder on the other side of it, in case you get thirsty.

Another highlight is the ability to customize your weapons. I started with a high fire rate, medium accuracy assault rifle, and with the cash given to you by default in the demo, I turned it into a monstrous beast with a ridiculously high rate of fire, insane accuracy, and 100 shot clip size. This cost a significant amount of in-game cash (Experience Points), but it pays off. You can stick sights and a laser sight on a shotgun, you can make an assault rifle that can hit an enemy from as far away as would normally take a sniper rifle, and I imagine you could make a sniper rifle be effective as a semi-automatic mid-range weapon. You can test fire any weapon without a loading screen, allowing you to experience how the gun behaves as you modify it, letting you find that perfect sweet spot in your arsenal.

It's clear some features have not been implemented as of yet, such as the pistols cannot be customized beyond skins. Likewise, they don't seem to be open for use outside of the test firing range -- even though you are told in the controls section that holding in the weapon swap button should switch you to pistol, and just before the demo starts, a cutscene is shown with you and your partner wielding only pistols.

The AI is lacking. Most enemies just follow preplanned routes, to the point of vaulting cover head first at you even if you're gunning them down. While their appearances are randomized, they carry the same weapons, most of which are useless in comparison to your own guns. While the Aggro mechanic from the past two entries is still present The AI’s response to it was not notable. It doesn't help that the Aggro meter is now permanently removed from the HUD. There were even points the AI wouldn’t respond at all. Instead, they would freeze up or spin in a circle like a confused duckling.

Explosion! Prepare for screen blurriness! SO REALISTIC YOU CAN TASTE THE DIRT! TASTE IT!

On the opposite side of the spectrum, your AI partner is a little too good. He often steals kills from you in an attempt to get the co-op bonuses for XP (at least I hope that's what he's trying to do). Normally I welcome a little help in single player so long as it doesn't get in the way, but Bravo feels like he's trying to show you up. Commanding him is little more than either telling him to go nuts or hide beside you, maybe throw a grenade if convenient, at which he's horrible. I once had one of his grenades bounce back and nearly blow me up instead of the drug cartel mercenaries and thugs we were fighting. There is the upside that, at a branching part in the demo, you two take on different roles and a vague sense of player agency and control is in play, but then it ends in what could be, in theory, called the climax of the demo.

The worst part of it cannot be described as anything other than a complete oversight - the damage indication. I get that developers want to decrease HUDs to as little as possible, but this:

I keep having this weird dream where a fiesta goes wrong and somehow I end up with an assault rifle.

This is not how you do it. You do not make a player's vision blurry, especially not when other in-game actions make the screen blurry…or when scripted events make it blurry…or when it gets red and blurry and white merely because an explosion was nearby…or because you pressed a button…or because you're breathing…you get what I'm saying? Because it makes the screen white and blurry after a few hits you have absolutely no indication how many more you can take before you're down. Likewise, the screen prompt of where damage is coming from is vague and sometimes doesn't even pop up on time.

Since enemies have a habit of spawning in areas and not realizing they should fire their guns until two minutes after you shoot one of their buddies, you might start regenerating then get shot from behind by someone who literally was not there the moment you looked. Combat awareness is one thing, but people aren’t psychic. Enemies may go down like cardboard boxes, but it seems like a trite attempt at balancing a vague sense of health. Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel is not a serious shooter; a health bar wouldn't be any more immersion breaking than the Overkill bar that annoyingly pops up whenever you aim.

This distinct feeling of disconnect between the game's element is present even in the control prompts and loading screens. Pressing Select PS3 brought up the controls easily, which I appreciated, but I almost wanted to facepalm the second I read on a loading screen "You can activate TWO Vision by pressing the TWO Vision button". No actual button is named. If you don't look it up in the Options menu (For PS3 users: hit Select in the middle of a cutscene or Start while in the middle of play), you're on your own guessing what it is. It's a sad day when you have to complain about sloppy loading screens.

I can't even think of a tagline for this.

Based on the demo, I wish I could look forward to Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel. I'd very much like to see someone deal with the topic of the horror of the Mexican Drug Cartel wars with more respect than Call of Jaurez: The Cartel did (i.e. not lie and spread false ideas about the conflict). It's a war with seemingly no end that's claimed so many lives but I don't think we're going to see anything that understands the severity of the conflict coming out of Army of Two. If everything I've seen is any indication, Army of Two is a middle of the run shooter with some decent if not really inventive ideas that just can't figure out how to make itself stand out beyond weapon customization. I'd love to see the game get the polish and innovation it deserves, as there were a few moments that really did feel fun and distinct, but they were drowned out by the serious lack of polishing that a game of this caliber needs. This is merely a review for the demo, but with the game simply waiting to release and the dev team fired, I'd say it's fair to assume this demo is as close to the final game as we can get until the full package comes out March 26, 2013 for PS3 and Xbox 360.

If you really are that desperate for a third person shooter set in modern conflict, and weren't turned off by the gripes I mentioned here, I'd advise either picking up one of the earlier Army of Two games or Spec Ops: The Line, as both options feature co-op modes and content filled single player campaigns, while costing significantly less. And, well, if you really do like the demo, then go ahead and pre-order. Just keep in mind that this isn't going to be perfect.

"I shall gut you like a Cornish Game Hen!" -- bonus points if you get that reference

Cheers!

Written by: Paradigm the Fallen

Edited by: Arnulfo Hermes

One isn't the loneliest number. One with an arrogant AI partner is the loneliest number.

Trivia: Oddly, you can't throw grenades when testing out on the firing range in the demo.

P.S. With customizable weaponry experience and destructive tendencies, wouldn't it make sense to have the next Red Faction game be made by Visceral? I mean even the narrative would be better, and that's saying something!

P.S.P.S. Wouldn't it be a neat narrative twist if that rogue chopper blade flying at you actually kills one or both of the protagonists, leaving Salem and/or Rios to take up the lost men's jobs and trying to end the fight. It would actually be something unexpected from such a generic feeling action game.

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