Video Game Rentals Delivered

Army of Two

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-03-13 05:57:54

Army of Two - Rank B

Developer: EA Montreal
Publisher: EA Games
Date: 3/6/08

Also available for PlayStation 3

Disclaimer: Do not play this game alone. It was designed specifically for cooperative play, and this review assumes that you have at least one friend. Playing by yourself and allowing the A.I. to control your partner is virtually worthless, and would drop the grade of the game down to Rank D.

So yeah, critics are ripping into the experience of playing Army of Two solo, but this is like masturbating and then complaining that sex is overrated. Army of Two isn't the greatest lover in the world, but it does provide some amount of satisfaction in the sack. It's a comfortably familiar third-person shooter that emphasizes teamwork with your partner.

The primary hook is the concept of "aggro", which was cleanly swiped from the multi-player role playing game genre. If you've played squad based military shooters like Brothers in Arms or Full Spectrum Warrior, this mechanic allows those fire and assault teams to be condensed down to two soldiers. The player firing the loudest, biggest, flashiest gun will build aggro, drawing the attention of enemy troops. As the aggro grows, the other player will become increasingly invisible to the enemy, allowing him to maneuver freely. If that player opens fire, he will then steal the aggro, freeing up his partner. It's a fun and simple over-exaggeration of the fundamental tactic of suppressing and flanking.

You also work with your partner to reach elevated areas (boosting/pulling each other up), use car doors or riot shields as mobile cover (one guy shields, the other shoots), and to patch up each other's wounds. If one of you drops, the other guy has to drag you to safety and administer magically restorative first aid. Meanwhile, the injured PMC is still able to provide cover fire during this procedure. There are also a few hovercraft sequences, which function like Halo's Warthog on water. You also airdrop into combat zones together, with one player guiding the parachute and the other sniping targets. Weapons can be swapped to maximize the use of ammunition.

I felt a ton of Gears of War deja vu while playing this game. Army of Two builds nicely on that game's formula, expanding the use of cover with the aggro system, and upping the complexity of playing field medic. The visuals are also somewhat reminiscent of Gears, but that isn't surprising as they both run on the same engine (the Unreal engine is everywhere). Army of Two doesn't look as good as Gears, but that's like saying that Natalie Portman isn't as hot as Angelina Jolie. A more serious charge is that Army of Two doesn't handle nearly as well. If you've been playing games with razor-sharp preciseness (like Call of Duty 4), Army of Two's controls will feel extremely soft and sluggish. It's particularly onerous when you're trying to swing the camera around to aim at an enemy right up next to you. There's also no sprint or dash function (I really missed this option), although you can slide or dive into cover.

The tone of the game is decidedly schizophrenic. You play as a pair of PMCs (private military contractors), a modern euphemism for mercenaries. This subject matter is highly topical, as real world PMC companies like Blackwater provide ample geopolitical controversy. At one point, the United States fielded over 100,000 PMCs in Iraq. The plot of Army of Two alludes to the dangers of a privatized military, but mostly revolves around the glorification of explosions and mowing down waves of enemies. One of the characters is a contemplative conspiracy theorist who uses moments of downtime to ruminate on the dangers and implications of his profession, but will readily hoot and holler as he pwns muthafuckas as soon as the bullets start flying. I suppose that this isn't entirely unrealistic; when you're being shot at, even the most insightful political outlook would quickly boil down to us vs. them. And Army of Two is intentionally a shallow romp, like your typical summer action film. It's still a shame that this topic isn't explored more thoroughly, especially considering how eloquently lead designer Chris Ferriera speaks on the subject.

For enjoyment's sake, it's best not to dwell on the shallow morality of the game and enjoy its frivolous personality and style. Aside from being ruthless killers, the main characters are likable anti-heroes, bristling with fun banter. They can smack each other in the head or celebrate by playing air guitar on their weapons, depending on your mood. Naturally, mercenaries make money, which is spent on usefully silly and fun weapon upgrades. By the time you're done attaching new barrels, magazines, grenade launchers, shields, silencers, and encrusting the whole shebang with gold plating and jewelry...

"Blinging" a weapon out isn't merely cosmetic goofiness, it also affects the amount of aggro you generate.

Army of Two is also fairly short, but what with the cost of developing "next-gen" games, that's par for the course these days. There's also an online versus mode, which pits two man teams against each other in a race to complete objectives for cash. I appreciate the novel design here, as opposed to the generic deathmatches of most shooters, but it isn't fun in actual execution. The frustration of clumsy aiming/camera controls at short range is hugely exacerbated when going up against an actual human opponent.

Again, I can't stress enough that Army of Two should not be played alone. It's not the massively amazing franchise jump-starter that Electronic Arts hoped it would be, but it is sufficiently entertaining, which is the primary aim of any game.

If you're trying to decide between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game, they're virtually identical. Once again, the 360 wins the tiebreaker by offering Achievements and controller rumble.

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-07-11 10:14:12

Army of Two Downloadable Content

There are two downloads of note for this game.

First, the SSC Challenge Map Pack includes four maps which are essentially obstacle courses. These are purely skill checks, devoid of context or plot. The main draw here is for players looking to stamp their best times onto the leaderboard. At 600 Microsoft Points ($7.50), I'd say to give it a pass.

The second piece of DLC is the Veteran Map Pack which costs the ideal price point of free. It adds two new levels to the main campaign, one of which I consider to be the "true" ending. In the original package, after you beat the villain's flunky, you're treated to a cinematic in which our heroes explode his chopper with a rocket. With this free download, you get to actually take him on. It's a level that wasn't completed/integrated in time to make the street date of the game, and it's good to see it released as sort of a "Director's Cut", particularly since they found corporate sponsorship to shoulder the cost as opposed to charging us.

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