When it comes to shotguns in video games, I tend to be pretty imprecise. I'm jittery. I'm inaccurate. I find it hard to track the enemy between shots. So it came as no surprise that my frantic, scattershot blasting in Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel eventually hit one enemy squarely in the feet. To my surprise, however, the unlucky mook's feet exploded as if the game had set an OXO cube of C4 in a blood sausage.
No other action represents Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel as succinctly as this: it plays to the tune of co-op cover shooter and its enemies gratuitously pop open like the scene in Robocop where poor Murphy is being executed by Boddicker's gang.
Moments later, I spotted a foot on a car bonnet. Which I then threw a grenade at, causing the car to explode and shred two other henchmen into mist. Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel, people.
Before playing this game I was led to believe that The Devil's Cartel, now being made in EA's whizzy Frostbite 2.0 engine, was opting for a more serious tone. "In the previous Army of Two games there was this kind of buddy-buddy kind of thing and we realised that some people didn't particularly like that," says producer Greg Rizzer. "It was maybe a little bit too frat boy-esque with the air guitar and stuff, but it has its undeniable charms. It's really interesting to look back at the other two which were actually commercial successes for EA even though the Metacritic was average."
I am immediately struck with the sense that EA is trying to dress up its Frostbite 2.0 powered shooter to appeal to series critics, but this doesn't quite work. A less comical tone is promised in one hand, but it's quite hard to substantiate that when you and your co-op partner are dressing up Alpha and Bravo with comedy masks (we settled with purple and white dots and a panda face, in the end). Heck, the demo's opening cutscene features old duo Salem and Rios doing one of their infamous fist bumps - surely a knowing nod to the series' legacy?
Serious? Down to Earth? If you ask me this game is utterly ridiculous, and I do not intend that to be seen as derogatory. Case in point: Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel's pièce de résistance is its Overkill mode, a super meter that ups your damage and causes enemies to pop open like gory Crash Test Dummies. And if both players go into Overkill the screen slows down and everything explodes to a backing chorus of more explosions. It's enormously stupid, but I found it hilarious.
This is likely to be a point of contention. An important question, then: do you find enemies doing comical (and slightly buggy) spins and pirouettes amusing when they've been shot? Because that is very much the kind of game you'll be getting, though I imagine some of the game's rougher edges will be smoothed out before it's released in March 2013.
You shoot a lot of people, you take a lot of cover, and the levels are absolutely riddled with explosive red barrels. A cutscene at the end of the demo attempts to infuse a bit of drama about whether or not you should waste time rescuing people, but do not be fooled: Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel is a game about explosions where everything explodes. "Undeniably we do some of the best explosions," says Rizzer. "It's fire, and it's blowing shit up. We're really, really good at that stuff."
Actually, I'll tell you what I want: I want this game to be the spiritual sequel to 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. EA wants us to believe Alpha and Bravo are characters with depth and nuance, but I don't want that, and most importantly I don't think that idea shows off the game at its best - I want blank ciphers with masks and a fondness for mental shotgun rushes and kicking things down.
I sincerely doubt Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel is going to redefine, innovate or challenge convention in any way. It is as gratuitous and gory as you would expect, and it's packed full of more game design tropes than it is bullets. But I reckon it might be a dirty great fry-up of a video game, the kind of thing you mince through on a Saturday morning after a heavy one the night before. Let's just hope it doesn't try and take itself too seriously.
Coverage for Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel obtained from a press event held in San Francisco event. Flights and accommodation were paid for by the publisher.