Trashy action movies always seem to be celebrated with lashings of guilty-pleasure glee, but there's a tendency for videogame equivalents to get glared at as if they've done something wrong. We can't recall when this hypocrisy started, but we suspect that realistic modern shooters are partially to blame. It's almost as if all of the military specialists that publishers have paid to promote their games have convinced us that die-hard realism is a vital part of any good shooter. The Devil's Cartel is a reminder that it isn't.
The Army of Two series has always been best-known for a faintly tasteless obsession with American machismo. The second game in particular felt like a testosterone-fuelled dash towards diamond-plated weapons, with an (imperial) ton of holler and whoop along the way. Slaughter was topped-off with air guitar, and celebrations often involved butt slaps.
It wasn't nearly as irritating as the undiluted idiocy of the first Army of Two, but it did require you to disable a bit more of your conscious brain than we were strictly comfortable with, particularly given that we still needed to keep the bits required to operate the controller. That's not a problem that you face with the game's cultural equal, Steven Seagal movies.
Visceral has decided to tone down the fist-bump bromance, but Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel still feels like a wonderfully stupid game. Two men gun down loads of baddies in increasingly exciting ways while everything around them seems to explode. Take off that Newsnight hat for a moment, and it quickly becomes clear that that's all you really need.
Despite that, we're also promised a more mature story that focuses on the Mexican drug cartels. As we discovered early last year, it's a risky topic to approach. The Mexican Congress was outraged by the unveiling of Call of Juarez: The Cartel, and not without reason: cartel violence in modern-day Juarez was responsible for roughly 6,000 deaths in 2010. Had Techland managed to do anything intelligent annd worthwhile with the premise, things might have turned out better, but Call of Juarez was catastrophically rubbish, and thus didn't have a leg to stand on.
As Devil's Cartel begins you're hired by the mayor of La Puerta - a fictional town near the Mexican border - to clear out the local cartel gangsters. Things apparently spiral from there, turning this into a much more personal journey. Even with the promise of a mature tale, Visceral is treading on thin ice. "We're trying to be as authentic as possible with our voice acting and locations," assures the game's lead designer Julien Lamoureux. "We have to be careful, as we're walking on a thin line."
As we grin through a haze of exploded limbs in a nondescript orange-brown dusty location, we can't help but wonder how well that'll pan out. The only aspect of local flavour we've seen so far are the luchador-style masks our new protagonists wear. Co-op remains a central part of the game, with the hilariously-named Alpha and Bravo having plenty of time to pick their buddy back up should they find themselves filled with too many bullets. Aside from the point bonuses you get from successfully flanking and working together, the other co-op aspects are still unclear - but there isn't a high five or chest-bump in sight.
We don't have a huge amount of time to get a feel for exactly how the game controls, but comparisons to heavyweights like Gears of War 3 don't leave The Devil's Cartel looking too shabby. The characters move around quickly with a chunky sense of weight that's amplified by delightfully forceful close-range melee attacks. Cover-based shooters rely heavily on being able to interact with the environment freely, and snapping in and out of cover feels suitably tight. We play with a shotgun, a pistol and an assault rifle - all of which have a pleasingly meaty punch. It's always a good sign when you have fun with a pistol, and we're looking forward to messing around with the series' iconic buffed-up guns.