Let's get this clear right off the bat. BioShock Infinite has been ingrained in the public psyche for the last few weeks. This game is not BioShock Infinite.
Where BioShock was crafted for years, painstakingly disassembled, reassembled and revised in the hope that it will somehow transcend the usual video game tropes and become something greater; in contrast, Army of Two: Devil's Cartel has been created solely as another yearly franchise for a big corporation. It makes no effort to improve on its predecessors, it incorporates nothing new or noteworthy and contributes very little to the medium as a whole.
As soon as the game loads up, you're prompted to install a high-definition texture pack. If you have just spent the last 10 minutes installing the game to your hard-drive, along with any updates that may have been issued since the game’s release, then a third prompt to install content before you can throw yourself into the action is the last thing you want to see, and you'd struggle to think of another title that suffers from the same problems.
Thankfully, the texture pack isn't a mandatory installation, but considering the textures are pretty average in their ‘high-definition’ form, then it can only be assumed that the game looks like mud if you opt against it.
So after ten minutes of percentages and progress bars you're finally into the meat of the story... Only the story is bland and only there to facilitate the mindless action, and the lead characters are generic meathead grunts, wisecracking about each other’s wives, hurling expletives and doing their very best to make Marcus Fenix and Dom Santiago seem like the most well-rounded characters to ever grace a video game.
Unfortunately the combat is as shallow as its protagonists. The cover system strives so hard to mimic the impeccable Gears of War and Splinter Cell: Conviction cover systems, but it never feels quite as fluid as its peers. Sometimes you won't be in the 'sweet spot' for entering cover, so repeated button presses are often required before you're safely hidden from enemy fire; moving from cover-to-cover is clunky and laborious, the on-screen prompts are somewhat muted and don't provide adequate visual indication of whether your character is about to launch himself into safety, or simply run half-way to your targeted location before inexplicably stopping in no-man’s-land and leaving you open to enemy fire.
The AI is also an area that leaves much to be desired; enemies will randomly sprint from cover, openly inviting you to fill them with lead. The game fancies itself as a 'cover-based shooter', but large portions of the game can easily be navigated without even attempting to utilise cover thanks to the deathwish that each of your adversaries seems to possess. The occasions where you do find yourself in an awkward situation are made even more frustrating by Alpha and Bravo's complete lack of mobility; these elite assault-rifle wielding soldiers are unable to roll to avoid enemy fire, and this is completely unforgivable in a third-person action game of this nature.
One of the major offences committed by Devil’s Cartel is the tedious and formulaic nature of the missions. Tasks rarely stray far from ‘run here and shoot stuff, run there and shoot stuff’, and the locations that you do it in are drab and lifeless locales throughout a region that is supposed to be Mexico. Sure, you’ll still rescue hostages, escort VIPs and flank turrets, but it all feels simplified and is never as fun as previous installments. There are some highlights and half-decent set-pieces, like the moments where you and your partner breach a door in slow motion to take our hordes of enemies in supreme style, but these are lifted straight out of Splinter Cell: Conviction and are nowhere near enough to save what is, quite frankly, an incredibly mediocre experience.
Even a monotonous campaign can be somewhat fun if the mechanics are well-implemented and satisfying, but in Army of Two: Devil’s Cartel they're simply not. Call of Duty has its fair share of detractors, but it does what it sets out to do and it does it well. The process of aiming, snapping your reticule to an enemy and pulling the trigger in rapid succession while annihilating swarms of enemies made for an incredibly satisfying combat mechanic in Infinity Ward’s flagship franchise; Army of Two tries to incorporate some similar mechanics into its own combat system, but the integration is far from fluid and performing the simplest of actions becomes a chore. Pulling the left trigger to auto-aim on a nearby target only works some of the time, other times you're left hanging, so it never becomes a combat mechanic that you can rely on and you never get the sense of precision or general satisfaction that so many other games of this genre excel at creating.
While never a massive franchise, Army of Two was always a solid shooter that had its fair share of die-hard fans. Everything about Devil’s Cartel seems like a giant misstep for the series in every conceivable way, and it’s hard to recommend this game to anyone... If you're a die-hard Army of Two fan then you may find something to like about this installment, but even that's a stretch.
If you're simply looking for a solid third-person shooter or a fun cooperative experience, then Gears of War: Judgment is superior in every regard.