52 Weeks of Canadian Gaming - Week 23
Army of Two
Release Date: March 04, 2008
Developer: EA Monctréal
ESRB Rating: Mature
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
Army of Two was the first game released for the Xbox 360 by EA Montréal. The game features the adventures of Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios, two private military contractors with the Security and Strategy Corporation (SSC). The game is a tactical shooter played from the third person perspective with a strong focus on teamwork.
As the game starts, I was offered the choice to play as either Salem or Rios with the other soldier to be controlled by a friend playing split-screen, over Xbox Live or in situations where a live companion is not available, the AI will fill in. The game features three difficulties levels to choose from; recruit, contractor and professional. I would recommend to play on recruit difficulty level when playing with the AI, the contractor difficulty level the first time playing with a friend, and finally professional difficulty once all game mechanics have been mastered (professional is only available after the game has been completed once).
Indifferent of the difficulty level selected, the key to victory in this game is to remember that Salem and Rios are a team. This is not a single player game with some co-op tagged on, this is a co-op game with single player tagged on. This fact is obvious by the many moves that require two individuals to pull off such as step jumps, pull ups, co-op snipe, back-to-back, partner healing, weapons swap, riot shield, parachuting, driving and much more. My personal favourite is kudos. This allows the gamer to congratulate with a fist pound, or some air guitar or chastise the other player with a well place head but. Kudos adds nothing to the game, but is so much fun all the same.
The graphics in Army of Two are very impressive. From the highly detailed character models to the huge diverse levels, the game felt like it was developed for the new generation of game consoles and not just a coat of gloss over an Xbox or PS2 game. The sound effects are equally impressive, mind you I like my guns to sound more menacing.
The controls are near perfect for this style of game. The left analog stick controls the main hero while the right analog stick allows for camera movement. The four main buttons are used to interact with items If playing with the AI, your partner can be controlled via the D-pad. Players can order their partner to advance, hold or to cover them either normal or aggressive mode. Aggressive move will increase the level of aggro received by the AI partner. Special co-op actions can be selected using the right bumper, while the left bumper allow for weapon and grenade selection.
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On the subject of weapons, there are plenty of weapons to be had in this game. At any time, Salem and Rios can carry one primary weapon, a secondary weapon and a special weapon. As Salem and Rios complete objectives, they will receive payment which can be used to purchase new gear (masks), new weapons or upgrade existing weapons. Some weapons and/or upgrades will only be available after specific objectives have been completed or lower grade weapons purchased. Once a weapon has been purchased, just about every part of the weapon can be upgraded (depending on the weapon of course). These upgrades can deliver more power, precision or just to “bling” it out. Take notice, the fancier the weapon, the more aggro it will receive when used. Weapons and gear can be purchased and/or selected at the start and middle of every mission.
One more useful control is the back button that turns on a full screen GPS. This will show the player a visible path to take, and to easily identify objectives and interactive objects. This mode does not allow easy view of enemies, so one could not play with it on all the time nor would one need to. Turn it on and quickly scout the area then turn it off and get to work.
All the fancy graphics or blinged out guns in the world will do little to aid the gamer if they try to play this game in a run and gun style. While this technique may success in other games, any attempt to use this technique in Army of Two will result in the player getting mowed down in a hailstorm of bullets. Remember that Army of Two is all about teamwork. To succeed in this game, one player must lay down suppressing fire and/or attract the attention of the enemy while his partner other flanks them from behind. This process of drawing the attention of the enemy is called aggro. When a team mate has aggro (identified by the red glow), all attention will be on him leaving the other player free to move about. A player cannot sustain aggro for very long, requiring players to swap roles quite often.
All this talk about co-op and teamwork may give the impression that Army of Two can only be played with a friend. While this is indeed the most enjoyable way to play the game, the designers did not forget the single players out there. Army of Two features an impressive AI for the non-player character. The non-player partner will do a great job of not dying and assisting the player in time of need. The only problem is that the AI does not take initiative to do anything on its own. It is up to the player to command his/her partner to lay down suppressing fire, hold their position or advance on the troops. Once an order has been specified, the AI controller character will do a great job at performing his task. Be warned though that this AI extends not only to the non-player character, but the the enemy as well. Bad guys in this game do not just stand still and shoot. No they will act just as your partner by taking cover, laying suppressing fire and attempting to flank the players position, but without the need of orders.
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The main storyline comprises of 7 levels, but it does feature a very robust multiplayer gameplay. Multiplayer has a team of two (or Army of Two if you will) compete to complete objective before the other team. It is still possible to find people playing Army of Two online, but at times the picking is quite slim.
My enjoyment level with Army of Two depended on whether I had a playing partner or not. When playing with a human partner, it was easy to communicate to the other to lay down suppressing fire or to gain aggro to allow easy flanking of the enemy. This allowed the game to be enjoyed on contractor difficulty level. Playing on the same difficulty level with an AI partner was not as pleasant. The AI is quite smart at staying alive and following commands but not very smart at knowing what to do and when without being specifically told to do so. The only way to play with the AI effectively is to always have the AI be the bait, while you do all the work. Either way, the game was a blast to play and I am looking forward to the sequel "The 40th Day".