|Army of Two (2008)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available for: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Electronic Arts’ “Army of Two” was near the top of my “must-have games list” of last year, before it was unceremoniously pushed back to early 2008. The action shooter promised something we hadn’t seen before (more on that later) and, well, you couldn’t deny the sheer awesomeness of the protagonists’ hockey mask face armor. When negative previews began surfacing from the major gaming magazines, however, EA chose to prolong the wait so they could polish up the final product. So, was the wait worth it? Yes… and no. While “Army of Two” delivers the unique experience it promised from the get-go (and with dazzling graphics to boot), the short campaign and mediocre multiplayer mode will no doubt leave a sour taste in the mouths of some gamers – especially if they just laid down $60 for the damn thing.
The year is 1993, and as U.S. Army Rangers Tyson Rios and Elliot Salem, you’ve been deployed to Somalia to assist a private military contractor in the assassination of a notorious warlord. Following a job well done, the two-man army of Rios and Salem is invited to join Security and Strategy Corporation (SSC), the private contract firm they just helped. As mercenaries-for-hire, they are tasked with traveling across the world (from Afghanistan and Iraq, to China and Miami) to provide support to U.S. troops, rescue POWs, and even bring peace to a disaster-ravaged city along the way.
For a shooter, “Army of Two” is pretty straightforward. The trigger buttons are used for aiming and firing your weapon, X reloads, and Y performs cover actions á la “Gears of War.” The Left Bumper brings up your inventory wheel, while the Right Bumper offers co-op commands like Swap Weapons and Co-Op Snipe (the latter can be used to attack multiple enemies in a single, synchronized shot). Players can also rip off car doors to use as riot shields, or go back-to-back, initiating a sort of slo-mo, Michael Bay-inspired killing spree.
Of course, none of this really matters if you don’t master the Aggro system, which is by far the most important aspect of the game. It works like this: fire continuously, throw grenades and create general chaos, and you’ll earn aggro, along with a glowing red aura and the attention of every enemy in your vicinity. This allows your partner to recover, or even go into stealth mode and attack the enemy from behind. Once you’ve earned so much aggro, you’ll even be able to activate Overkill, which slows down the game for 10 to 15 seconds so you can destroy everything in your path.
In “Army of Two,” co-op is no longer a mode, it’s the game, so it’s not a question of who you’ll play as, but rather who you’ll play with – an AI partner or the real thing. After testing out both options, it’s undoubtedly the latter. Whether you choose to play locally or on Xbox Live, there’s nothing quite like sharing the experience with an actual human being. It’s easier to communicate with one another, and though the AI partner does represent a major step up in video game AI, it’s still frustratingly unresponsive at times. True, you can quasi-control your AI partners with commands assigned to the D-pad (attack, regroup, hold position, etc.), but sometimes, they just don’t listen. It’s aggravating as hell and completely unnecessary – especially when there are thousands of willing participants looking for a partner on Live.
Unfortunately, that experience doesn’t transcend very well to the online multiplayer mode. With only four game types to choose from (Versus, Warzone, Extraction and Bounties), the two-on-two team battles also have some nagging issues that will likely turn people off – the most evident being the inclusion of NPs that run around the map and get in your way. It’s not surprising that it feels so unfinished, however, since “Army of Two” is quite literally all about the co-op. Still, as adamant as EA is about playing through the campaign with a friend, you’d think more time would have gone into expanding the game to last a little longer. As it stands, “Army of Two” is best saved for a rental on a rainy day. But just because you only need to play it once, it doesn’t mean you won’t want to play it again.