Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Montreal
Release Date: March 4, 2008
First-person shooters seem as popular as ever, with new games being released almost monthly. The strongest selling point usually comes from the introduction of new and innovative gameplay features, so the current challenge for developers is to differentiate their titles from the rest of the pack. Unfortunately, the common trend in the gaming industry is to just "borrow" the best features from past releases and roll them up into a new product.
Army of Two follows the lives of two ex-Army Rangers, Eliot Salem and Tyson Rios, who are recruited to work as military "contractors" (mercenaries, to be exact) for a privatized troubleshooting organization, the Security and Strategy Corporation (SSC). As Eliot and Tyson take on numerous missions for the SSC, they soon discover that they may need to do some troubleshooting within their organization.
Army of Two offers up a respectable number of features for shooter enthusiasts, but most of these features will be familiar, since they originated in other FPS titles. The "bullet time" device is used several times, and your health will start regenerating if you step away from the action for a short while.
The campaign takes you through seven different map areas, including an initial training area. Campaign length is a bit on the short side, but completion times can vary greatly depending on the skills of the players, their ability to work together, and the selected level of difficulty.
The game features an interesting strategic paradigm in which either you or your teammate can draw fire away from each other by engaging the enemy in a firefight. When either player becomes the center of attention, you'll glow bright red, which will not only allow you to quickly increase your agro, but also render your teammate technically invisible to the enemies. You can use this strategic device to easily outflank an enemy and take them out. In the event that the opposition sees both you and your teammate, if a shot has yet to be fired, the AI will focus on the player with the largest weapon.
Army of Two forcibly promotes the concept of teamwork via the use of two-person transports, map puzzles, healing, team combat and cover modes. When parachuting, one person will have his primary weapons available, while the other will be steering the chute. In vehicles, one will be manning a primary machine gun while the other drives. It's sometimes necessary to enter a dual sniper mode, which splits the second player's screen in half and allows both players to use sniping scopes to take out distant targets. There are several occasions when you must open dual door locks, seek the assistance of your teammate to boost up to a higher area, or give him a hand by pulling him up. At strategic points within a mission, you'll enter Back-to-Back mode, which initiates a temporary "bullet time" sequence, where you and your partner are standing with your backs to one other and are gunning down enemies within the 180-degree arc.
I found the AI enemies in the game to be fairly good. Although they will often take cover, they also have no problems trying to rush your position. This can be unnerving when you're taking a quick breather to reload or sneak a swig of iced tea.
If you decide to employ a gonzo-rush tactic on them, your character will automatically engage them in melee combat. Although you can play solo using an AI teammate, the added chore of managing the AI becomes a distraction. For the most multiplayer enjoyment, it's essential to find another live partner. Despite the feeling of being forced into a certain style of play, I felt these co-op modes were generally well-executed and fun to play when you have two human players.
When your agro meter reaches a designated level, either player can enter a Rampage mode, which renders you invincible for a short period of time. Of all of the title's features, Rampage mode is the most poorly implemented and has less value than you'd expect. First of all, there is a time limit during which either of the players must enter the Rampage mode, or it will disappear. Secondly, you enter "bullet time," which significantly slows down a player's movement, and since there is an extensive amount of cover available to you and your adversaries, this makes it difficult to get a large number of enemy kills before the mode times out.
Another feature that I consider to be of questionable benefit is the ability to feign death. It'll work only one time with each set of enemies, and it only buys you a bit of time by immediately shifting focus away from you to your teammate. My teammate and I found it a bit awkward to actually use during our gaming session.
In the event that you or your teammate is injured, you can heal each other, although this is not as easy as it sounds. You'll usually be under fire when you locate your wounded partner, who will remain immobile while in this state. If you're shot while trying to heal your teammate, the healing timer is reset, and you must try again. If you and your teammate both enter a wounded state, you'll both die. This situation is usually improved by first dragging your comrade to safe cover; while you are doing this and healing your teammate, he can still fire his weapon to provide some additional cover.
Ammunition is not unlimited in Army of Two, so you'll have to locate ammunition pouches around the environment. Most pouches are released from fallen enemies. Again, a level of cooperation is required when dealing with collecting ammunition, since it's not divided between players when it's collected. In the true spirit of cooperation, you can even exchange your weapons with your teammate, although this is difficult to do in practice after you've spent so much money upgrading your weapons just the way you like them.
Before and in the middle of most missions, you're provided with the opportunity to enter the weapons store. Using the cash you've earned on your missions you can upgrade in several weapon classes, including, hand guns, assault rifles, shotguns, machine guns and even rocket launchers. You can also buy armor and face masks so that you can battle the enemy with a little bit of style.
Army of Two includes an impressive weapons upgrade system that allows you to further increase the performance of your purchased weapons with add-ons, including specialized stocks, increased ammo clips, silencers and grenade launchers. If that weren't enough, you can perform a modification called "pimping out," which adds cosmetic improvements to certain weapons, such as adding gold plating, in addition to increasing the generated agro of the weapon.
On top of just shooting your way through the missions, you also get the opportunity to blow things up. Both players have a limited supply of grenades, which uses the same visual aiming system found in Gears of War. When you can't blow things up yourself, you can always use your enemy. In several missions, suicide bombers will decide to start a run on your position, but with some careful timing, you can take them out. And for some really explosive fun, some of the missions will require you to blow up strategic weapons or objects by placing C-4 charges.
Although Army of Two is a linear game, you have several opportunities to earn additional cash by completing side-quests, such as blowing up certain strategic objects, retrieving information from computers, and even assassinating designated targets. By exploring the maps, you can also locate other cash bonus items, such as briefcases. Unlike ammunition pouches, bonuses are provided to both players.
I found the graphics to be on par with most other Xbox 360 shooters. The title includes a variety of nice environments, although the visuals never truly impress. Most environments in the game are static, with little to no animation except for the gameplay-induced action. Army of Two's sound effects and background music also complement the game's atmosphere but do little to enrich excitement levels. As a warning, Eliot and Tyson (and others) suffer from a strong case of "mercenary mouth," so you'll want to exercise some discretion prior to allowing underage family members play or watch Army of Two. Menus and action assignments on the Xbox controller are reasonably intuitive and are mastered quickly. As is the common practice with console games, saves are handled automatically at checkpoint locations.
Army of Two's multiplayer competition is available for up to four players on Xbox Live. There are four game types: Bounties (hunt targets for the most cash), Extraction (defend and escort hostages), Versus (complete objectives for the most cash) and Warzone (hunting the other team). The variety found here significantly enhances the replay value of the title.
Although it is a bit difficult to enjoy the superficial story line in Army of Two, the game offers a merging of some of the most popular FPS features. If you prefer a solo run-and-gun experience, then this title definitely isn't for you. Army of Two requires cooperative gameplay even when using an AI teammate. The game sports an excellent weapons upgrade system, with an extensive number of weapons available for purchase and modification. The campaign is engaging and fun, especially when you play with a friend. Combined with an Xbox Live experience that offers some great replay value, all of these features make Army of Two a pretty good entertainment investment for mature players.
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