Army of Two tells the story of military hard men Tyson Rios and Elliot Salem who are thrust into hot spots across the globe as a two man team. After completing a mission in Somalia they are recruited into the SSC, a PMC (Private Military Corporation) which sends the duo into the thick of it throughout the rest of the campaign. The action comes thick and fast, but behind the raging scenes, a plot develops which raises questions as to the motives of their superiors. The story is very topical and current as you’ll be going to places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and taking out Al Quada members in the process. In typical Hollywood fashion, the duo are caught up in a situation where not only grit and brute force are the order of survival but some quick thinking too. This is Army of Two, a co-op shooting extravaganza from Electronic Arts.
Army of Two is a third person shooter, and from the offset you are given various gameplay options such as the single player campaign, versus mode for online, and of course the co-op play in split-screen and online. Choosing the single player for offline, presents the option to select either Rios or Salem as your chosen combatant throughout the story. As far as I could tell there is no noticeable difference between the two characters other than the various remarks they make. Rios is a conspiracy theorist and general boy scout, whereas a Salem is more of a money motivated get the job done by any means necessary kind of guy. They are both very different personalities, despite working towards the same goals. Ultimately, their relationship develops as you play, and you can immediately tell that rather than go for the usual hate that we’ve seen in countless other games, the script writers have given them a love/ hate style friendship. This works really well and makes the team work element seem more believable as they are constantly having to work together as a tight unit, where there’s no place for petty indifferences and minor squabbles.
The gameplay is pretty straight forward in that you navigate the levels (of which there are 6) and reach various objective points on the way. Each level is broken down into stages and allows players to seek out optional objectives and items – which is converted into cash, more about cash in a moment. There are some new gameplay mechanics which offer a fairly fresh take on co-op based gameplay with an AI partner, and this includes the game’s Aggro system. Aggro I assume is short for aggravation and means that the player who is killing or shooting the most aggressively becomes the primary target for the enemy. This means that the second player will then be ignored for the most part, allowing him to sneak behind the enemy for some flanking maneuver kills. What makes the system work very well is the fact that you are able to determine when your AI team mate uses the Aggro system. The game offers some simple commands such as hold, advance and regroup with the addition of being able to order your team mate to be in Aggro or Passive mode. It’s a very simple system to get to grips with and should allow you to experiment a little when tackling the various standoffs you’ll get into. If you are a more aggressive player, then you will also be rewarded, as you’ll be able to enter a bullet time mode (overkill) for a few seconds if you can keep your Aggro meter up, which helps greatly for taking out difficult, well dug in foes.
Some other additions to the basic shooting gameplay is the option to use a shield ( a car door or a specific riot shield left lying about). In single player with partner AI, you control the movement, whilst your partner shoots anyone that blocks your path. The idea here is pretty good, albeit a little flawed as enemies will often run past you due to the fact that your partner AI’s aim is pretty poor and usually won’t target the closest threat. There are some more co-op moments throughout the game, but these felt a little staged, such as being able to step lift your teammate to reach higher ground, or the synchronized sniping moments and the cool back to back shooting mode. Sadly you cannot initiate these at any time, but they are worthy additions all the same; the back to back being the most notable. Back to back basically puts the two characters, back to back and then slows the game into a bullet time mode. Here you don’t need to reload and can simply shoot anyone that comes into view in glorious slow motion. There are some more unusual co-op actions as well such as being able to swap primary weapons with your partner as well as showing disgust at their actions (by punching or head-butting them) to being a bit goofy and doing high fives or playing air guitar.
The enemies in particular are quite a tough bunch, especially later on as they are all armed with body armor and powerful weaponry. Of course getting a headshot is going to take them down more effectively, but in the thick of battle, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. The enemy AI whilst a little broken in places, for the most part generally performs to a high (and sometimes frustrating) standard. They’ll seek cover behind objects, blindfire and generally time their attacks to stop you getting an easy bead on them. What is more, they tend to move around a lot, often getting behind you, if you aren’t keeping your eyes peeled. This leads to big problems and means you’ll end up getting shot to pieces far quicker. In fact, that was one of my gripes with the game, despite the seeming amount of body armor the duo are wearing, they tend to be incapacitated as easily as the enemies; it’s either that, or the weaponry of your foes is maybe a little too powerful, with their accuracy being somewhat unrealistically high. This can and will create some frustrating moments, but luckily as long as both of you aren’t incapacitated at the same time, you’ll be able to heal your downed but not out team mate. This is quite a neat feature as you can drag him into cover and then heal him within a few seconds. Your downed team mate is still able to shoot during this moment and means the action never lets up for either of you.
Looking at the game’s weapons and you’ll find that there’s a decent amount to choose from. During mission checkpoints, you’ll be prompted to enter a mid mission shop mode, where you are able to upgrade current weapons or purchase some new ones, including purchasing new masks. There’s quite a number of options here such as being able to add silencers, improve the barrel to adding forearm grips, bigger clips and attachments. The most unusual is being able to pimp out each weapon for a more personal touch so that you end up with a glowing gun made out of gold. All these extras cost money, and early on you’ll have limited funds to mess around with, but as you complete primary, secondary and some hidden tasks you’ll start racking up the dollars. You won’t be able to equip you AI teammate, but he seemed to upgrade his weapons automatically and in accordance to the upgrades you make yourself.
Army of Two looks pretty reasonable as the duo traverse the globe. Each level has its own theme which range from war torn third world city streets to a village in China and even a level on-board an aircraft carrier. The game’s conclusion sees you in Miami of all places, but I won’t spoil it for you. The character models are good and animate to a high standard, although as usual the enemies are slightly less impressive, with a number of repeated models used. For the most part, the game runs silky smooth and there’s very little to be negative about, other than the odd issues of clipping and a distinct lack of accuracy during close quarters. In fact, you can use a melee attack move, which changes depending on your Aggro level, however you need to be in the correct position to pull this off and at times this seems more awkward than it should be.
Army of Two offers some cut scenes in between missions to fill out the story element. These are well produced and are a welcome distraction from the shooting action.
The audio is also pretty good, with some decent voice performances all round. There’s a lot of in game banter and surprisingly it didn’t become tiresome or repetitive. What’s more if you want to add your own audio to proceedings then if you plug in the headset you can dish out some voice commands rather than having to use the d-pad. This worked very well and surprised me how easily the game recognized the commands I was issuing. I like this kind of feature, as it really does put you into the game a little more. On a downside, you can’t hear the chatter via the headset, but I guess you can’t have everything.
As far as music and sound effects, I found them to be standard fare with nothing really standing out – especially in the music department.
The single player game can be completed fairly quickly for a competent gamer (in around 6-8 hours) on the medium difficulty. Once the game is beaten you unlock primary weapons and a Professional difficulty to mess around with. On subsequent plays, you’ll be able to use the upgraded weapons from your first play, but I recommend a little constraint here if you are to get the most challenge out the single player experience. The inclusion of split-screen co-op is a nice addition to the package, but the real meat is the Online co-op which offers a pretty decent playing experience for 2 players. The level design and the Aggro system in particular lend themselves very well to co-op type play which will provide enough diversity for gamers replaying levels again and again. The added versus modes for 2v2 play is also a welcome addition to the package but I think the game’s main emphasis is on co-op play through the single player story.
I wasn’t sure about Army of Two, especially after the rather weird intro training mission and some obtuse enemy AI which seemed to make my blood boil during some parts of the single player experience. I found the early levels to be a little bland, and although still fun in places, didn’t really show the true potential of the game. In fact at one point I was ready to write the game off. However, the latter portion of the story begins to really heat up, and in combination with some rather excellent levels, I was back on track and loving every minute of it. There’s some really neat ideas here which allow for some free form approaches to various gunfights and I commend the developers for trying something new here. Army of Two isn’t a flawless game by any means, but it’s a great start for a new IP and I hope with some further tweaking, the developers can make a decent franchise out of it. I recommend this game to fans of shooters, as it has enough charm to make it stand out from the madding crowd. It’s predominately very fun to play and once you “get” the commands and Aggro system down, you’ll generally have a lot of fun, with the cliche story, the characters and the gameplay.