Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is heading your way in March. VG247’s Dave Cook goes hands on with the Frostbite 2 bromantic comedy and chats with Visceral about its reboot.
Army of Two series
The first game launched March 4th in the States. It holds a Metacritic rating of 72 on Xbox 360 and 74 on PS3.
Co-op has always been a big series focus, and heroes Salem and Rios have re-defined the term ‘bromance’ for many gamers.
Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is a series reboot developed by Visceral Games, due for a PS3 & Xbox 360 launch March 29th 2013.
It is the first time that Visceral and the Army of Two series hae used DICE’s Frostbite 2 engine.
Like a salvo of searing hot buckshot into the face of some guy we think is from Mexico, EA lifted the lid off its Army of Two reboot at the publisher’s pre-gamescom conference a few months ago.
The crowd went mental for it, and that’s strange because we guarantee that many of the people in that room gave the previous game five or six out of ten at review. Why then were people whooping and hollering like drunks at football match?
We were there. The pounding sound of unrelenting gun fire tortured our ears as Frostbite 2 particle effects made it impossible for our eyes to focus. Two soldiers named Alpha and Bravo shouted things the distortion made it hard to decipher, a chopper arrived and blew more things up. An onlooker next to us started crying.
It was surreal. Did anyone ask for this game? Was there any call to keep this franchise alive? Well clearly someone feels it deserves to exist, and you know what? That’s OK.
It’s OK to indulge in some guilty pleasure violence and gunplay now and then. Not every gaming experience needs to test the mind, push artistic boundaries or ask far-reaching questions about the human psyche. Sometimes we want a break from deep thought.
This is just two men with big arms, massive guns and an army of goons to vaporise. It’s the Rambo 4 of shooters. Don’t ask questions, don’t try understand the words coming out of anyone’s mouth, just look at all the pretty slaughter and destruction on screen. You’ll be fine.
South of the border
Fast forward to our first hands-on session with the game, and the same criticisms remain. The plot sees a four man group of masked mercs running an operation in Mexico.
It’s not long before the group is ambushed and two of their squad is assassinated, leaving Alpha and Bravo stranded in a sea of faceless bad guys.Their only option is to talk it over with their attackers rationally, discuss terms and conditions for their escape and reach a treaty agreement.
No of course not, their only option is clearly to shoot first, ask questions later, and man does it kick off with an almighty bang. In terms of handling, it’s a solid cover shooter that falls in line with the cream of the Gears of War pack. Nothing revolutionary, but it’s a format many devs screw up.
”Picture this: you take Frostbite 2′s environmental destruction, apply it to the human anatomy and up the gore factor. The resulting bloodshed is absolutely insane, and it gave us flashbacks of Soldier of Fortune 2′s infamous body melting bullet effects from 2002.”
The game’s ‘hook’ is Overkill Mode and you already know how it works without us having to explain it. Take a guess at what it involves, and chances are you’ll be correct. We’ll give you a second to think about it.
Ready? OK, so Overkill Mode basically fills up as you score kills. Activate it and both players become invincible for a short while and infinite ammo. It’s not inspiring in the slightest, but it comes with a hidden ace up its sleeve in Frostbite 2.
Once in Overkill Mode, your bullet create more destruction, and we’re not just talking about blowing up the environment here – although the sight of granite pillars, walls and vehicle shattering and distorting on impact is perfect for action junkies.
But picture this: you take Frostbite 2’s environmental destruction, apply it to the human anatomy and up the gore factor. The resulting bloodshed is absolutely insane, and it gave us flashbacks of Soldier of Fortune 2’s infamous body melting bullet effects from 2002.
Limbs sever with ease, heads burst like ripe tomatoes, enemies are torn in half and once Overkill subsides, the ground is littered with blood spray and still-hot body parts. The 18+ PEGI rating is certainly justified, make no mistake.
It’s senseless, stupid but again, it’s geared towards the Arnold Schwarzenegger generation. However there is a slight degree of depth in the game’s chaining mechanic, that doles out additional Overkill for targeting the same enemy, stealth killing enemies and other criteria.
We simply had to ask Visceral Games where the inspiration behind the series reboot came from, and if there’s any hidden depth we’re missing. Enter Visceral Games lead designer Julien Lamoureux.
Down Mexico way
Lamoureux explained, “With this game, when we started on it, we decided to switch to the new Frostbite 2 engine, which is way more powerful. So while we were doing that we were like, ‘OK, let’s take a step back and think about what Army of Two is all about.”
“For us it was kind of a no-brainer to think about co-op,” Lamoureux continued, “because yes previously, there was Salem and Rios, the masks, the big guns, customised weapons, and all of that. But at the end of the day we’re all about a solid co-op experience.”
“Army of Two without co-op would be like taking away Mario’s ability to jump. The game simply had to have it, and while the small section we played didn’t showcase the feature to any great degree, it’s already clear that the game will be a riot with a second person.”
“This is what we wanted to deliver right from the get-go”, he added, “Any decision we make we check back like, ‘is that co-op?’ or ‘how does this reinforce co-op?’ So the first obvious thing that we did was to make the single player campaign playable with a partner AI, in online co-op, or on split-screen.”
Army of Two without co-op would be like taking away Mario’s ability to jump. The game simply had to have it, and while the small section we played didn’t showcase the feature to any great degree, it’s already clear that the game will be a riot with a second person.
“We wanted to make sure all progression was persistent across all modes,” Lamoureux stressed, “You can start the campaign in single-player, hop over to split-screen with your buddy, play online, and then go back to solo play. You will never lose your character’s progression, and it’s also drop-in, drop-out, which is pretty cool.”
“That was fine,” Lamoureux said, “but then we also looked at what else it meant to be a co-op game, so the other thing was to think of a feature that didn’t just enforce co-op, but also reward it. So this is where the Overkill Mode started.”
“We went into the game and quantified all of the co-op actions,”Lamoureux explained, “and all actions for that matter. So for instance, if you just kill someone you’re going to get some points. But if you really work together and shoot at the same guy, you’re going to get more points.”
“But if you work even more together,” he added, “here one guy is taking all the aggro by shooting at enemies while the other one walks around to flank them, then you’re going to make even more points.”
What’s interesting is that the game doesn’t have an aggro meter, and this is something that actually works in its favour. You have to think on the hoof when running and gunning, simply using your wits to know when flanking and combo opportunities are possible.
That’s where I fell in love
As we said earlier, Frostbite 2 is the big draw here, because not only does it give rise to The Devil’s Cartel’s show-stopping spectacle, but it’s the first time Visceral has used it in a game. We asked Lemoureux if the engine was challenging to use, and how it bolsters the experience.
“Whenever you decide to trigger Overkill, you’re practically invincible, you do way more damage, your bullets become like mini explosions, you don’t have to reload, and you get infinite ammo. We take the Frostbite 2 engine here, and its shining. You can destroy anything from the little props, cover and even the enemies. Like, the destruction is just crazy and all over the place.”
That’s all well and good for lifeless, inanimate objects, but what about the Frostbite 2 melts human foes? We ask Lamoureux if the threat of censorship is a concern for Visceral.
”“It was a no-brainer to switch to Frostbite 2. It’s a really powerful tech. Overkill wouldn’t be the same without it, so yeah it’s great.”
“Not so much to be fair,” he replied, “because we felt it was a natural thing – having all the destruction in the world – such as destroying cover or a piece of geometry, but you also want to do that to NPCs. It just makes sense.”
“In Army of Two: The 40th Day there was a really brutal scene with a sniper,” Lamoureux recalled, “so we just felt that this was a natural thing to keep based on feedback. With Overkill and the destruction from Frostbite 2 it feels like an action blockbuster, and we though we should go there.”
“It was a no-brainer to switch to Frostbite 2,” he continued, “it’s a really powerful tech. Overkill wouldn’t be the same without it, so yeah it’s great.
As a final point we asked Lamoureux who the Devil’s Cartel are, but he kept his cards close to his chest, “We can’t talk too much about the story, but what I can tell you is you play Alpha and Bravo who are on a mission to escort a politician in Mexico.”
“Pretty soon everything goes sour – this is where the game starts – and the more you play, one of the Cartel leaders Batista appears. That’s the guy you saw in the demo.”
Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel launches across Europe March 29th on PS3 and Xbox 360.