Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Montreal
Release Date: Fall 2007
Army of Two's title serves a pair of purposes, as it not only pokes fun at the United States Army's "Army of One" slogan, but it also delivers the core concept behind the game. No matter how you play — be it offline or via Xbox Live — you will always have a partner, whether it's an AI companion or an actual human player. This combination of shooting, action and constant cooperative play helps make Army of Two seem like the bastard child of Gears of War and Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction.
Of course, when name-dropping two of the best shooters of the last couple of years, expectations are going to be high, if not monumental. At a recent Electronic Arts pre-E3 event, we were able to check out a 20-minute demonstration of Army of Two over Xbox Live, with each producer manning separate Xbox 360 debug units and flat-screen televisions. While hands-on time was withheld (presumably for E3), the guided demo gave us a look at many of the game's core gameplay mechanisms, including the Aggro Meter and contextual team-based actions.
Army of Two shines a light on the controversial world of Private Military Contractors (PMCs), who may be tasked with sensitive black operations typically reserved for elite enlisted soldiers. When the dual protagonists in the game are booted from the Army following some kind of botched op, they decide to lend their services to the fictional Security & Strategy Corporation, a PMC seemingly modeled after powerful real-life PMC, Blackwater USA (an E3 press flier for the game even implies the connection).
This allows the pair to take on highly lucrative contracts, of which there are many within the game's seven massive environments. Each map is split up into five or six playgrounds, and each playground is said to contain between five and 10 contracts. These contracts seem likely to include elimination, protection, and destruction objectives, though the only one we saw in action tasked the duo with locating a general on the map. The 20-minute segment that we viewed was said to take place in just one-half of a playground, so Army of Two may prove to be a very expansive experience with significant replay value.
The income earned from taking on and completing contracts will allow the duo to purchase and heavily customize primary and secondary weapons, which can be purchased at any time before or during a mission. Francois Pellard, lead artist and lead level designer on Army of Two, showed us around the customization screen prior to the demonstration, exhibiting the myriad ways in which a firearm can be modified. Scopes, shields, suppressors, and barrels merely scratch the surface of what can be swapped, attached, or altered, though we were most drawn to the possibility of shotgun and grenade launcher attachments on the automatic weapons.
Crafting a monstrous firearm may give you an obvious offensive advantage, but the Aggro Meter system is in place to ensure that bigger isn't always the best option. Aggressive acts and crazy firepower will earn the player Aggro, which is represented by a red glow that surrounds the character. Essentially, the more aggressive of the two characters will attract most of the attention from enemy, while the other player will more easily be able to evade attack. Your Aggro will drain automatically if you don't fire your weapon, though it can also be emptied instantly by playing dead, which can only be done sparingly.
Managing the Aggro between the players is essential to completing many objectives, as one player may need to draw all the fire while the other sneaks around to gain an advantage. Building up an immense amount of Aggro may lead to Overkill, a "super-stealth mode" in which the world slows down a bit, allowing the player to perform sneak attacks against lethargic enemies. As there are multiple levels of Aggro, there are also multiple levels of injury. In the first stage, the injured player must be dragged away from the action (though both soldiers can still fire on enemies during this process), at which point a mini-game is initiated in which the wounds must be plugged with tampons. Oh, the wonders of modern technology.
The use of two characters informs every aspect of Army of Two, but nowhere is it more evident than in the use of both bodies to navigate the environments and safely approach and eliminate enemies. The face buttons will be used for contextual actions in relation to the environments, such as boosting a partner over a high wall (and having him pull you up in return) or lowering him through a hole in the roof. Several attack animations were also seen during play, including a back-to-back, rotating fire formation, as well as one in which one player walks forward with a heavy shield while the other fires from behind the cover.
Those are just some of the many teamwork options available in Army of Two, and they are included to give players options in the sandbox environments, as there is no single solution to any contract mission. One other tidbit we picked up: every vehicle in the game can be manned, from the requisite machine gun-mounted jeeps to the versatile hovercrafts. However, the most compelling ride may be the forklift, which has been seen in the official trailers. As one player steers the lift, the other stands atop a pallet raised 15 feet in the air, ready for the attack. It looks incredibly dangerous, but that's the thrill of it, right?
Army of Two looks to be a very sharp online co-op experience, though it remains to be seen if the adaptive partner AI system delivers a similar sensation on the single-player side. With luck, we'll get a better sense of what to expect this week at the E3 Media & Business summit in Santa Monica, where the game will likely be shown in a playable state.
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