Army of Two has had a torrid time of it. It was highly anticipated when it was on course for a November 2007 release, but as November crept closer and closer, EA Montreal knew the game would never be ready, missing out on the crucial holiday period. As such many people forgot about the game thanks to the likes of Mass Effect and Call of Duty 4. Now in March, there’s not as big an audience, so the game sneaked onto shelves without many people batting an eyelid. Justified? Or is this a game that everyone should play?
Army of Two is, as the name suggests, based on two mercenaries out to make a quick buck by killing people and completing set objectives. Tyson Rios and Elliot Salem form the pair, and the game gives the opportunity at the start for gamers to pick who they wish to play as. Initially it all seems smooth, until Rios starts questioning some decisions from the powers that be, and things quickly descend into a fight for their lives.
Not that the story matters much. After each mission is completed, a cutscene introducing the next part of the game kicks in, and each time the two mercenaries are in a random location and have to be flown in. There’s no rhyme nor reason for their whereabouts, the game makes no attempt to explain how they got there, and as such leaves you feeling slightly lost as to what the point is. This isn’t too much of an issue though thanks to there only being six missions.
At the start there are only two difficulty levels available, which means there really isn’t much of a challenge to the single player. “Contractor” is Medium in all other games, with “Professional” (Hard) locked out until one completion. This will be frustrating for anyone who likes a challenge, because Contractor sure isn’t. Total gameplay time was just over six hours for full completion of the game, which is ludicrously short. It’s not helped by the linearity of the game either; anyone that saw trailers of the game would have been under the impression that there were a lot of places to go, giving gamers the chance to utilise the co-op nature of the game. Not so. There’s never a need for your partner to go somewhere very different for a better vantage point, because it’s never on offer. Even Gears of War, despite being linear, did at least offer different paths through the game. Not Army of Two. Instead gamers will find themselves being side by side their partner for most of the game. The situation isn’t helped by the game’s very generous GPS system, which literally has an arrow guiding the mercenaries on where to go, so there’s little thinking to do on the gamer’s part.
So a crap story and linearity suggests there is little here that’s worthwhile. Thankfully EA Montreal did at least get the gameplay right, most of the time. Don’t be mis-lead though; those trailers depicting the mercenaries ripping off car doors for shields, going back to back together and generally having a lot of fun with one another are fabrications of the truth. The reality is that these are isolated incidents. The door ripping idea occurs once. Every other time there will just be a conveniently placed riot shield on the floor. The mechanic still works, as one player advances in the crouched position, offering protection for the team mate as he shoots over the top. It’s clever, it works, but it’s not as cool as the trailers made out. Similarly with the back to back mechanic: they are all scripted events, not something that can be activated when the action fits. Again it works just fine, but the trailers were mis-leading so it’s disappointing.
Other gimmicky features that were shouted about are all present and correct, but again they are only really used when the game requires it. Yes they work well, but why not integrate it with more objects, opening up the field of play? It’s an oversight on EA Montreal’s part, something that will no doubt be corrected in the almost-definitely-coming sequel. The only real co-op move that gamers will use regularly is the dragging and healing of another partner, because this is essential. If one team mate dies, it’s all over. If he gets wounded, there’s a very generous bleed out period, giving the healthy partner a chance to drag your sorry self to safety and healing you up. This does work very well, as both partners can remain shooting whilst being dragged. It looks as cool as the game had hyped it up to be and actually offers something much more than the other co-op moves.
Gameplay itself is a mixed bag. Throughout the game it’s a good, clean third person shooter fun. It looks pretty and the controls all handle well once you get used to them, but there’s an underlying feeling of “something’s not right”. That something can likely be attributed to the awful hit detection. Don’t even bother trying to hit someone far away unless using the sniper rifle, because nine times out of ten it won’t register the hit. Similarly when up close, bullets seem to just pass right through enemies. That or their armour is better than yours. Mid-range seems to be the game’s comfort zone, but this isn’t acceptable. It’s hugely frustrating that you can be pumping a guy full of lead only for them to just remain standing. Melee attacks can be activated too, but sadly it’s the same trigger that is used to shoot, so getting close to an enemy then hitting the Right Trigger often results in the firing of bullets rather than a smooth melee attack. This often results in the AI getting a melee attack on you instead, which is obviously very irritating and a flaw in the system.
The USP for Army of Two, aside from the gimmicky co-op moves, is the Aggro Metre. This actually works very well and sets Army of Two away from other third person shooters. Constantly firing and killing people draws the attention to the partner causing most of the fuss, meaning enemy AI will always look to kill whoever has the most Aggro. This is easily detectable as the player glows red. The other player, who isn’t receiving attention, becomes almost invisible, meaning they can sneak around and take out whatever object it is that is in the way. Remain in either Stealth Mode or Aggro Mode for long enough and you get the option to go into “Overkill”, which presents the attacking player with fifteen seconds of double damage, whilst the other is presented with Stealth, so no-one sees them coming. It’s clever and allows teammates to work together to flank opponents, as well as means you can actually take down the bastard hard guys that are coated in ten ton of armour (you have to approach them from behind, since despite all of their protection, they didn’t put any plates on their back).
The biggest scare in these types of co-op games is the team AI. Thankfully, for the most part, the other mercenary shows a lot of intelligence. If you do happen to become wounded, Mr. AI comes rushing over, dragging you to safety and healing as required. This works well for the most part, and only once did the AI cock up and drag one’s limp body into the middle of the battlefield. The AI did manage to lodge himself against a wall at one point, but a trusty grenade soon sorted that out. He’s certainly no crack shot (although at least there’s consistency with the hit detection), however players can bark orders at the guy, who will dutifully obey. Enemy AI is generally intelligent too, seeking cover if need be and is rarely seen just standing around in the open battlefield. If the AI isn’t doing a good enough job, there is the delightful option of split screen which hasn’t been seen in many games recently. It works fine, there’s no slowdown of any kind and it means a mate can come round and have some gaming laughs. Failing that, Xbox Live is available which for the most part is smooth. Occasionally the game pauses and declares it is “Waiting for the other player”, but it’s functionable. Sadly there’s no drop in, drop out option like Gears of War and Crackdown, so everything has to be arranged before hand.
The story rewards you for completing objectives and finding suitcases dotted about across the six missions (three in each) with money. In turn the money can be used to purchase and upgrade new weapons, making them more powerful and more “pimped” than just the basic model. Yes there is an option, for $10,000 per weapon, to pimp it into a lovely gold death machine. Each upgrade will always do something to either the Damage Metre, Aggro Metre and so on. Pimping your weapon means you’ll draw more attention to yourself when shooting, but damn does it look good.
Stupidly the developers made buying the Primary Weapons pretty pointless, because upon completing the game on either of the two difficulties, the game unlocks them all anyway. All that’s left to buy is the Secondary Weapons that are rarely used, and some sniper rifles, a RPG and a Stinger. Add to the fact that there’s no Achievement for purchasing all the weapons and fully upgrading them, it detracts from the replayability value since half the excitement has just been taken away.
The Versus multiplayer won’t add to the replayability either, thanks to its limited offerings. Up to four players can play, forming two teams of two (shock, horror). But the maps are few and far between, so variety is not the spice of life here. There is the option to drive vehicles that are not found in the single player, and EA Montreal did a good job of having next to no lag. Throughout the multiplayer battles, assuming you complete objectives before your opponents, you gain money in a similar fashion to the single player, which can be used to upgrade your weapons in the midst of battle. It works well, but make sure you can afford to buy new weapons, as the winning team has to have the most money at the end. It’s OK, it works, but it’s not something that will keep you hooked in the same way as Call of Duty 4.
Bizarrely, EA Montreal seem to have blocked gamers from different regions playing together. Europeans and Americans are locked away from each other. Not a big problem for Americans perhaps, but certainly Europe seems to be lacking in gamers, so finding games can be tricky. The move to lock regions certainly reduces any lag potential, but whether gamers will be happy with this decision remains to be seen. Surely an option to choose which servers you go on would have been a better idea, but not so here.
Overall you’re left with an underwhelming experience. The game has some great ideas, like the co-op manoeuvres, but doesn’t hit home with them. Instead it leaves them floating around in the park, crying out to be used better. Six missions is definitely not enough; a six hour single player game is not good enough in a world where we demand more from our experiences. Playing with a friend will greatly enhance the experience and will mean that tactics will be better used, although the AI will do a manageable job if you have no friends, but don’t expect too many favours. The multiplayer won’t hold your attention for long when there are more exciting offers elsewhere, however it’s there if three other friends fancy a quick bash at it. The game tries to be Gears of War, but falls far short of such an accolade. As it is, Army of Two offers an enjoyable co-op campaign with a friend and it’s good fun while it lasts, but there’s not a lot to return to here and you’ll soon move on.
Final Score: 6 out of 10 - Average (How do we rate games?)