Army of Two is a good reason why I've been paying more attention to EA lately. In the past year or two they've been putting out a lot of surprisingly creative titles, from the 1st-person action adventure Mirror's Edge to the horrific 3rd person hit, Dead Space. And then there's Army of Two, another game coming out of left-field from EA, and they don't seem to be showing any sign of stopping their new direction. Which is good.
Co-op has become a very common feature in third person shooters. And with good reason. Flanking enemies with a buddy, or taking up a distant sniping position as you cover comrade(s)'s advance from cover to cover is simply exhilarating. Somehow, co-op in third person games always feels more involved than co-op in first person games.
Army of Two clears up a bit of the fog surrounding reasons why this is so by introducing a few handy elements of teamwork, such as giving your partner a leg up, going back to back, or dragging him/her to safety when they're downed. This game makes it clear from the get go that for a variety of reasons, this is in no way an experience where you two can just go your separate ways, meeting only to open a door that for some reason requires two buttons pressed near simultaneously to open. I played through the game with my sister on the lowest difficulty, Recruit, and found that in the latter half of the game, this supposedly easiest difficulty felt more like medium-hard. Several times I found myself realizing that a certain situation would be so much easier if tackled as a tightly coordinated team. What I'm getting at is, this is a game that demands teamwork, even on the lowest difficulty. Not just in getting past doors and obstacles, but in regular combat as well. United We Stand, Divided We Fall.
The most outstanding method the game uses to encourage partner communication is the Aggro system, represented by a red and black meter. Whenever you fire a weapon or take someone out, the meter tips towards your side of the screen. The more Aggro you have, the more attention you'll suck up. On the bad side, this means that you will have pretty much every person in range gunning for you, but this also means they won't be paying attention to your partner, who has become all but invisible. The main benefit to this as that it allows for some pretty flawless flanking maneuvers, for those enemies who have a near impenetrable front defense, but a squishy backside. When the Aggro scale tips completely towards one end or the the other, you have the option of going into an adrenaline mode that gives you infinite ammo and all the aggro, and makes your partner completely invisible, for 10-15 seconds. you can also affect your aggro meter drastically by feigning death, an option that becomes available when you are about to die (though it only works once in a while). Understandably, doing this instantly maxes out your partner's aggro, and makes you invisible.
Other teamwork options encourage coordinated or co-op attacks. For example, when you are downed, your partner doesn't have to heal you on the spot. He can grab you and haul you to somewhere safer. In the meantime, you can cover both of you by picking off pursuing adversaries before they can KO your buddy. It's a great mechanic, and works well. And then there's back to back shooting, where you land in an area and find yourself surrounded, and have to take out people as they rush in from all sides. Moving on, there's also co-op sniping, which helps you two take out two people at once from afar, and two man parachuting, where one man steers, and the other snipes.
Overall, the co-op was done pretty well, and I was impressed. The actual shooting gameplay is also solid, though it's a bit clumsy at close range. (I've missed with a shotgun at point blank range more times than I can count). Another small peeve I have with the controls is the fact that melee attacks are mapped to the same button as gun attacks. The game automatically allows you physically attack enemies when you are right next them, but it's sometimes too slow to recognize that I should pistol whipping my target, not shooting him in the face.
Army of Two also has way too much loading and/or fancy menu effects going on. Maybe this is just a matter of opinion, but I felt like it was a serious chore to have to wait 2-3 seconds after each menu choice I made, before I'd see results. It was even worse in the weapon menu, where you had a wait several seconds every time you wanted to see a selection of weapons. The game also apparently doesn't cache the map you're playing on, because if you die you get to wait about 20 seconds while the game loads all over again. And if you happened to die right after a cutscene, you have to watch it over again. Checkpoint frequency was never a huge issue, though, so this only became a glaring nuisance once or twice.
Speaking of weapons, Army of Two has quite a few of them. Rios and Salem (the two playable characters) have a large arsenal of gear and guns available to them, albeit for a price. You'll always carry four weapon types: A primary weapon (usually an assault rifle or shotgun), a sidearm (a pistol or submachine gun), a sniper rifle/special weapon (special as in rocket launchers), and grenades. For most of the guns there's a decently large amount of room for customization for each weapon. There's options to change the stock, barrel, add a silencer or different cartridge..and of course the mandatory "pimped" paint job. I'll let you think about what that might mean.
It feels a little weird having waited this long to talk about the characters and story, but that's probably because the co-op is more important than they are. The game follows the two mercenaries Rios and Salem, who are good partners and tight buddies. They work alongside Alice Murray in a PMC, taking on various jobs and hits for money. However, they are betrayed by the higher ups in the company, and you play them as they unravel the question of who framed them, and why. Neither the plot nor characters were very interesting to me, though, and seem to serve solely as a way to move the game forward.
The graphics in Army of Two are pretty good, though a lot of objects have a strangely bright shine to them. The music is largely forgettable, and the amount of swearing going on kind of bars you from getting into the experience sometimes.
Overall, Army of Two is an interesting endeavor. The gameplay was done pretty well, but the presentation could of used some ironing out. 7/10