March 12, 2008
Well I’m sure EA need no introduction as they are equally loved and hated for their annual updates to a number of sports franchises, so it comes as something of a shock to see them releasing a genuinely unique game onto the market. Rather then being a rehash of something they’ve done before EA have decided to try something new and if they have been overly influenced by Gears of War then it’s really not that bad of an act to follow. Army of Two is their assault on the co-op genre, though it’s easy to see that EA still have one eye on the sequel horizon. Well, you can’t expect them to change overnight.
The game follows the story of two soldiers, Salem and Rios, as they progress from a stint in the rangers to joining a lucrative private military contractor. As they carry out a routine mission in Somalia they are tasked to team up with one such contractor in a bid to bring down a rebel leader, their success draws the eye of Security and Strategy Corporation (SSC) CEO Ernest Stockwell and they are lured to the private sector by promises of wealth and freedom. From there on out it becomes a game of political intrigue as our two anti-heroes find themselves battered and betrayed from one war zone to the next. The game uses a number of present day political hotspots as locations for the various missions that you find yourself sent upon; Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, North Korea and China are all destinations that you’ll find yourself jetting off to. The story is pretty generic but the repartee between the two leads keeps things moving along nicely and you do genuinely care about what happens to them. It doesn’t hurt matters that one of your main foes is a crazed war veteran who likes to kill enemies by putting his thumbs in their eyes. Nice touch.
Obviously the brotherly bond that you feel between you and your partner is fuelled by the co-operative aspect of the game design. At its heart the game is all about you and a friend standing side by side to take on your foes, using tactics and unique skills to push forward. Both of the characters function in the same way and you can kit your chosen mercenary out in a selection of weapons and armour depending on the cash you have available. The controls act much along the lines of Gears of War with a similar third person perspective and cover playing a similarly large part in proceedings. You can run, jump and crouch your way around the scenery and slide into cover at the touch of a button. Anything you can interact with is covered by one button too. It’s an easy game to pick up and play for anyone that has played a FPS before, with a few subtle differences due to the inherent co-op nature of the game.
The co-op element on show is fairly well done while at the same time not being quite as much as I would have hoped for. Most of the action hinges on the aggro meter, which displays which of you is currently attracting the enemies attention. Basically the more enemies you fire upon and kill then the more aggro you will attract, leaving your partner free to run around the battlefield unhindered in order to take out well armoured foes or gun emplacements. If you take some damage you can also feign death and cause all the aggro to be thrown onto your team mates shoulders, then spring back to life and take the enemy by surprise. It’s a well implemented system and means you really do have to work together in order to advance. Should you attract enough aggro then you can enter a heightened state of destructiveness called Overkill. If you’ve brought the aggro on yourself then you’ll become unstoppable, doing twice as much damage and having unlimited bullets whereas if your partner has caught all of the flack you’ll be all but invisible and free to run around taking names. The only flaw in this system comes from the fact that entering Overkill requires pressing the A button, the selfsame button that feigns death. Taking a lot of aggro will also entail some damage as a matter of course so why allocate the same button to moves that do entirely different things? Pressing the A button to go on a killing spree only to find your player falling to the ground faking it and then losing his built up aggro is pretty frustrating.
Other co-op moves tend to be a bit less useful and a lot more scripted. Parachuting into your objective while one of you steers and the other snipes is fun while it lasts, but all too brief. Similarly the back to back scenes and step jump moves are far enough apart to break things up but never entirely useful or required. The two moves available at all times are co-op snipe and swapping weapons, but they are more scripted than being able to select them would suggest, as nine times out of ten your partner will just say no unless you are at a certain point of the game. A nice touch is the ability to give your partner a slap on the back or whack around the head (mood depending) as a sign of congratulations, but again it’s a nice superficial feature that serves no real purpose. It’s also noticeable that a lot of the features displayed pre-launch like trading ammo, driving a variety of vehicles (you must remember that excellent looking fork lift truck) and so on never made the final cut, which is a shame to say the least.
You can play the game with a friend either via the wonders of split-screen or over Xbox Live. Though the latter can occasionally suffer from some lag issues or one of you dropping out altogether. It didn’t happen a lot in my own experience but I know others have suffered far more grievously. If you don’t have a real life buddy then you can rely on your A.I. partner to have your back instead. You can control your virtual team mate via a fairly simple d-pad system, ordering him to advance, follow or hold depending on the situation. Each of these modes also allows you to choose between passive or aggressive styles, so if you want you partner to take the heat and cause a distraction then it’s within your power to do so. Likewise you can have him hold back while you rush in guns blazing. It’s a pretty easy system and your team mate is a pretty reliable ally. The one snag comes in the healing system. If one of you takes too much flack you won’t be killed instantly instead you’ll drop to the floor and cry out for help, your pal them has a certain amount of time to drag you to safety and heal you or else you’ll pop your clogs. While you are sat there you can provide cover fire for your colleague as they try to patch you up. If you have a friend helping out its not that much of a problem as they can drag you to a safe spot and cure what ails you, sadly the A.I has a few more problems. For a start they seem to take a convoluted path to reach you, often stopping entirely to try and kill a few foes – HELLO, I’M DYING HERE WOULD SOME ASSISTANCE BE AMISS? Then once they finally arrive they have a habit of dragging you past enemies rather than away from them or dragging you ineffectually in circles until you are shot to death. Should they miraculously get you into cover then you have to contend with the fact that if they are hit, even once, while they are healing you the meter will reset and you run the risk of them wandering off again. It’s not a major issue if you are careful and keep the A.I. close by, but can get annoying in the more cramped areas where cover is less forthcoming.
Successfully completing the games' many objectives and sub-objectives will net you hard cash, you are a gun for hire after all, which can then be spent on better weapons and armour. Better armour automatically becomes available as you progress and the alternative faceplates, while fun, are purely decorative and offer no bonuses of any kind. Therefore you hard earned dollars are better spent on the large number of weapons available for your viewing pleasure, all of which have their own strengths and weaknesses. For the right amount of money you can take a stinger missile launcher into combat or tote about an under slung shotgun. The most fun option being the ability to upgrade your weapons and even pimp them out with bling. Though its not entirely for decorative purposes alone as the right combo of upgrades can make a weapon draw more aggro out of your enemies, a handy tool when you want to create a stir.
Offline the graphics are nice to look at but not exactly world beating, watching guns disappear into walls is never a sign of quality but the overall feel of the game is nicely gritty and has a number of standout moments. Online things get a bit more hazy as lag and some frame rate issues creep in, which maybe points to the decision to region lock the game. Greater kudos can be awarded to the voice acting on offer which is never less than excellent, if nothing else a good deal of time has been spent on a quality script and a decent amount of talent. The two leads in particular have some great banter and it’s worth listening in when you can take a moment from the fighting. The single player game offers a fairly decent challenge but will probably only last about six hours at most for a single play through. You can lengthen this time by playing again with a friend or testing out the hardest difficulty (which unlocks when you complete the game for the first time) but there will be nothing new on offer that you haven’t seen before. That being said the script keeps things crackling along and the game has a lot of energy and pace – you never feel like you can relax as the next fire-fight is always just around the corner, so it certainly warrants repeat viewings. Most of the gripes that I’ve had are to do with moments of dodgy A.I. or areas of minor annoyance, as the overall experience leaves you wanting more which we’ll probably get with the obvious EA sequel.
If you’ve had enough with fighting through the campaign mode then you can take things online, but sadly this is where the game loses a lot of points. Not that the online mode isn’t fun, as you team up with other online mercenaries to fight over cash rewards for fun and profit. Three main modes are on offer: Warzone, Extraction and Bounties, all of which see two rival teams trying to grab the most cash to emerge victorious after the time is up. Extraction requires you to escort VIP’s to safety for rewards, Bounties requires you to eliminate designated targets for cash and Warzone offers a variety of mixed objectives. Each mission also offers up a number of secondary intelligence targets that can be grabbed for a bonus, plus you’ll also get money for taking out a member of the rival team. Things are spiced up further by the fact NPC combatants can be found around the battlefield and they are happy to take potshots at anyone who strays too close. EA have obviously tried to keep things interesting and make the game as co-op orientated as possible, going so far as allowing players to invite who they wish even for Ranked games. The main problem is the fact that EA has region locked the game so you can’t play co-op or online with anyone outside of your own region. I’m sure they had their reasons but this means that the 360 stronghold of the U.S. is off limits to the rest of the world, so finding an online game or even playing with people on our friends list has become more of a chore. The fact that finding even a Quick match can take ten minutes is more annoying, plus once you get into a game the servers have a frequent habit of crashing or providing crippling lag which soon ruins the whole experience. The worst aspect is the fact that players have a habit of quitting early if they aren’t faring well, meaning the entire game is null and void for everyone who was playing – not the best way to spend nearly twenty minutes.
The achievements are mainly offline which will cheer a lot of people immensely, and at least half of them can be acquired in a single play through of the game. You’ll have to go back and get a few of the weapons based and kill achievements more than likely, but the game is fun enough that it doesn’t become a chore. The one strange decision is the fact that there is no co-op achievement for playing with a friend but there is one for playing with the A.I.; for a game designed around playing with a comrade it seems a bit of an odd choice. Online you’ll have few problems boosting for what you need as you can invite all of the players required, though the problems present at the moment certainly won’t make things easy. The Retirement Savings Plan achievement will also take a lot of dedication to get seeing as players are reporting about $10 million per game if they are doing well, so maybe that should be left for completionists only. Overall there’s a good mix of fun achievements on offer that you can get at your leisure cleverly mixing up collection, kills and co-op objectives for a nice diverse list.
Realistic sound effects and great voice acting back up a good overall package, the characters are full of personality and I can even forgive the odd cliché that crops up as merely being tongue in cheek.
Solid but not spectacular, and dropping down a notch online when some issues kick in. The characters are fluid and good to look at while the levels are the same old, same old. Stand out moments like zipping around a flooded Miami or parachuting onto an aircraft carrier do catch the eye though.
Fun while it lasts, which sadly isn’t that long. Play with a friend and the game takes on a whole new aspect but the pretty broken online aspect of the game spoils things.
A good co-op experience that is just a bit too short to satisfy, plus missing a few features that would have made the game stand out. I’m becoming a broken record but, again, the online needs a bit of an overhaul.
Mainly offline and even those that aren’t are attainable rather than annoying. The list has a good mix of things to aim for and never feels unfair, it also make multiple playthroughs a pleasure rather than a chore as there is always something else that needs ticking off. It’s also nice to see achievements that are dependent on your playing style, as choosing certain aggro or weapon sets can impact what you unlock next.
A great single player and co-op experience, made a lot better with a buddy but not spoiled by a fairly smart A.I chum either. The game isn’t overly long but you’ll certainly want to playthrough it again even if it’s just for the achievements. Online the game is spoiled by a lack of access to all available players and some poor matchmaking and lag. A game to be enjoyed rather than played strictly for points and certainly worth a punt.