Anyone who listens to our weekly podcast or has heard me ramble on for the past six months knows that I have been looking forward to EA’s co-op shooter for a while now. The idea of being able to blast your way through hordes of enemies without relying on sub-par AI to get your back is exponentially more enjoyable. Army of Two takes the idea a bit further with enhanced gameplay experiences that are designed with two people in mind, which makes the game a solid shooter when playing with a buddy, but also limits its appeal to those with a second player available. If you are in the market for a single-player experience Army of Two may not be your best option. However, if you have been chomping at the bit for the next great co-op experience this game delivers it in spades.
The story behind Army of Two is an interesting one. The game follows two ex-Army Rangers named Tyson Rios and Elliot Salem over a 16 year period of blood, guns and cold-hard cash. You see Tyson and Elliot are mercenaries that wear creepy hockey masks and do the things C-Span doesn’t cover. Their only objective is money and if captured, well you know the drill they were never there. The game also takes some questionable stabs at the current military, which some will find offensive, but at the end of the day it is a game and is meant to be nothing more than entertainment.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review Army of Two is designed for two players, and should be played as such. The game spans six extensively long chapters, however when you add it all up it is still reasonably short. Throughout the game you will quickly realize that run-and-gun is not the best method for victory. Enemies have ridiculous accuracy, even from long distances, forcing you to work together as a team and take advantage of a feature called Aggro.
Aggro will be familiar to fans of popular online RPGs. Basically this method causes all enemies to focus their attacks on one character allowing the other to move around and get a better vantage point for the kill. I have to admit when I first heard of this feature I was cynical. How often do we hear about these cool advancements in game design only to be let down by a gimmick that does nothing more than induce frustration. After only one level I began to love the Aggro feature and realized it was paramount when playing on harder difficulties. Some enemies simply take too many bullets to kill from the front, which is where this feature really comes into play. It is also great for sniping enemies and the best part; when you remain in full-aggro for long enough you will get the option to go into Overkill mode. Here you will slow down time and rip through enemies with double damage while your partner becomes completely invisible.
This is where solo players will hit a snag as getting the AI to always respond to your commands can be a pain. You have the ability to control your partner with a touch of the context-sensitive d-pad giving him such orders as passive, aggressive and of course a general array of movement. The problem is that your AI partner doesn’t always listen to your orders and a lot of the camaraderie the game portrays feels lost in translation. This is more evident in the areas where teamwork is imperative.
This is really what sets Army of Two apart from the rest of the shooter crowd. There are key locations in the game where having a human partner is imperative. For instance early in the game you are base jumping through a canyon. While one of you can steer the chute the other snipes enemies on the ground, imagine trying to do this with AI. There are also several points in the game where you will need to boost your buddy up to see over a ledge and take down some baddies and of course there is the co-op snipe, which may just be one of the coolest uses of split screen in some time. The main point here is that Army of Two was designed with two players in mind and substituting that with sub-par AI makes this a game that should not be played solo.
Each level has a laundry list of primary objectives that are required to finish the level. You will also stumble across a variety of secondary objectives that will net you extra cash to pimp out your weapons and of course purchase new, creepier goalie masks. Several times during each level you will get the opportunity to do some mid-level shopping. Here you can peruse a virtual smorgasbord of hardware as well as upgrade your current firearms. The list is pretty standard fare with plenty of sniper rifles, automatic weaponry and of course the occasional RPG and shotgun selection. You can also pimp out your weapons with shotgun attachments for your SMGs as well as gold plating for your coveted sniper rifle. This game is all about earning money so you can look good on the battlefield.
The single player campaign is roughly six hours and as I have mentioned time and time again throughout this review the more you go at it alone, the more you realize this game was intended for co-op action. For instance many of the team moves throughout the game feel more scripted than necessary. Back-to-back shooting is an awesome dynamic, but when the game forces you to only use it when it deems necessary it loses some appeal. The rest of the actions feel under-utilized such as co-op snipe, which is rarely necessary, and swapping weapons feel more like features that had yet to be fleshed out. Finally the interaction between you and your partner, while often endlessly entertaining, are not integral to any facet of the game. Sure jamming air guitar or punching your buddy in the gut is good for a chuckle after a brutal firefight, but after a while it does tend to grow stale.
Thankfully Army of Two dismisses all of its faults with stellar co-op gameplay. Everything in the game is based on the two-man dynamic and you have the option to enjoy in a variety of ways. You can trek through the campaign in either split-screen, online private matches with a buddy, or even quick matches with complete strangers. The idea of sharing a screen may appall some of you out there, but trust me it saves a fortune in buying multiple copies of a game when your spouse wants in on the action. There is also an online adversarial mode that again focuses on teamwork. There are only four maps and three modes shipping with the title, but EA has promised future support with DLC. What is here though is original and quite frankly a blast to play.
The modes consist of objective based missions such as eliminating gang leaders, saving POWs and VIPs and a combination of the two. Each objective you meet earns you more cash that you can use to upgrade your arsenal between rounds, and the team with the most cash at the end is the winner. While it doesn’t sound overly innovative, this fresh take on the traditional online shooter mechanic will likely add legs to this title. Couple that with the fact that blasting through the game with a buddy is a truly engaging experience and you have a game that is well worth your time granted you have someone to play it with.
If there is one thing Army of Two can brag about though its presentation. Visually this game is a monster, sporting some nicely detailed environments and great looking character models. Granted the game does sport the shiny bump-mapped look that you will either love or hate, it is hard to deny just how good the game looks. Animations are smooth and the environments are also somewhat destructible. The sound is also top tier with some outstanding voice over performances and even a decent soundtrack. The story is actually interesting and will keep you playing to the end even if it is a bit predictable.
Army of Two is a good single-player game and a great co-op experience. Drawing the line between the two is how you should make your decision on whether to purchase it or not. If you have someone to enjoy the action with, then by all means do not hesitate. However, if you are going solo you may want to give this one a rent as the campaign, although extremely enjoyable, is a bit short and lacks the best features found when playing with another human. The online modes will occupy for a while and with a promise of new modes and maps via DLC we could be playing this one for a while. If you are a fan of shooter and are dying for the next great co-op experience look no further than EA’s Army of Two.