Name: Army of Two
Genre: Cooperative Shooter
Platform: Playstation 3, Xbox 360 (reviewed on Playstation 3)
The second half of 2007 gave us the release of some of the most impressive and genre-changing games we’ve seen in such a concentrated period of time. Mario Galaxy changed the way we look at platformers, Uncharted: Drakes’s Fortune blew away other action-adventure titles, and Assassin’s Creed proved what “next-gen” could really mean. But there was no genre that experienced greater evolution from this mini-Renaissance than shooters. Portal, Call of Duty 4, and Bioshock all showed that there is much more to the current systems’ potential to make a completely new gaming experience than just better graphics and higher quality audio.
But there was supposed to be another entry in the Great ’07 Shooter Revolution. An entry from EA that was going to revolutionize cooperative gameplay forever. That game was Army of Two. Well, after a three-month delay for some additional polishing, Army of Two has finally hit the market in a stunning display of bravado, jingoism, and moderately entertaining gameplay. Like seriously, this game would excrete testosterone from a dongle if such a thing existed. And while it does bring to reality some of the promise and potential that has become almost expected from big-name shooters, it also has some problems that make it positively underwhelming.
In Army of Two you play as, well, one member of a two-man army: either brash, slick young Salem or old, scarred grizzled Rios. You and your partner must fight your way through a rather paltry number of missions in order to keep America and the world safe from terrorists. Along your way you earn US dollars, which you can use to purchase weapon and armor upgrades. Teammates can heal one another from critical wounds, become a walking tank behind bullet-proof riot shields, and fist-pound one another. Yeah. Playing with the A.I. teammate can be an often frustrating experience, as if you suffer a critical hit, your A.I. ally will alternate between healing you in the middle of a firefight and dragging your ass all over the screen looking for cover.
The biggest stand-out for Army of Two is the advent of the Aggro system. One member earns Aggro (shown by an on-screen meter and your character glowing) by shooting more, which causes enemies to concentrate fire on that person. Using either D-pad commands (single player) or simple vocalizations (mutliplayer), the second member of the team is able to flank and eliminate distracted enemies. Although it’s an interesting idea, I found that overall, Aggro left me wondering what could have been. When playing single-player missions, it’s too easy to take cover, blind fire and increase Aggro, and allow your teammate to lay waste down-range. With two players, there is a nice level of give-and-take that develops with the Aggro, but I don’t think the multi-player experience would have been any better or worse without it.
The gameplay and control elements all work well enough. Personally I am not the biggest fan in the world of shooters that don’t map a button to grenades, but the fact that I have to switch from firing my primary to frag some baddies doesn’t really bother me all that much. The GPS mapping system is helpful, as a simple click of the “Select” button brings up a 3-D map overlay on your screen with arrows pointing you in the direction of your objective. However, the mapping system does highlight one of the problems I had with this game, that being the areas of forced cooperative interaction. Say there’s a high ledge. Well, the only way up to it is to find the one place on the map that allows for a “Step Jump” where one player is boosted up by another. The player who is up top must then pull the other player up. Although other games have used similar systems in the past, Army of Two’s execution of it feels decidedly last-gen. Another feature of Army of Two is the slow motion “Back-to-Back” mode. When Salem and Rios become surrounded by enemies, they automatically stand back to back. In this mode, ammo is unlimited and no reloading is necessary as you spin around blasting away at waves of . Although it’s fun, this element feels really tacked-on, as players not only have no control over when to enter or exit “Back-to-Back”, they also become essentially invincible in this mode.
This back-to-back mode, forced co-op interaction, and the Aggro are the source of my strongest complaints about Army of Two. I felt forced to use the game’s gimmicks, instead of them becoming part of the larger gaming experience. There are certain heavily-armored enemies that can only be taken down from behind, requiring you and your partner to use the Aggro to your advantage. But the problem is not that you have to use the Aggro; its that Army of Two has no subtletly about telling you it’s time to do it. Your partner will continually shout, “Help me flank this guy, bra!” until you get this hint. Again, all of these elements have been used successfully by other games, but Army of Two beats you over the head with them.
The biggest plus that Army of Two has going for it is the multiplayer game modes. Although it is fun to blast with an A.I. partner, playing the game with two people is a completely different experience. Now, having reviewed this for the PS3, I can honestly say that there were some problems in trying to get games going. The night I bought it, a friend and I were trying to start a private game. I was able to send game invitations to him, but he wasn’t able to accept them. After about a half-hour of this, we gave up for the night. But I chalked that up to PSN, not EA, and vowed to try again. And I have to say, when I did finally get a game going with another player, it was like night and day. All of the awkwardness of the A.I. was gone, and the interaction between players was very smooth and intuitive. And playing split-screen is an even more enjoyable experience.
The biggest problem I had with Army of Two as a whole was the game’s seeming inability to ever raise the stakes. You start off in a training mission where your enemies are firing rubber bullets, but you are assured you will move onto the real thing once you enter actual combat. But there is no real difference between the training and the missions, save the backgrounds. Even in the middle of an intenese firefight, you never feel any more in jeopardy than in those first training models. All in all, Army of Two provides a fun gaming experience, and great co-op play. But it just doesn’t live up to its potential.