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Army of Two

 

Army of Two

ESRB: Mature - M
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: 3rd Person: Action
 
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Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Montreal

Features

Players: 1-2
Co-op 2
60 KB to Save Game
HDTV: 720p/1080i/1080p
In-Game Dolby Digital

After much anticipation since the game was originally announced back in May 2006, Army of Two finally arrives for the Xbox 360 and PS3. I was given the opportunity to review the Xbox 360 version. During its development EA pledged to redefine strategic two man cooperative gameplay in a videogame. In the months leading up to the release Army of Two’s videos and screenshots looked promising as the game featured two gritty tough looking characters in hockey goalie-like masks who unleashed brutal assaults on terrorists while giving each other high fives. The game clearly had an edge and it was targeted to guys like me who enjoy co-operative shooters such as Gears of War and playing co-op games online in general with friends. But does Army of Two ultimately live up to my expectations? On some levels it is a brilliant game; however there are also many areas in which Army of Two fails to execute.

Graphics

Overall Army of Two is a good looking game and at times it certainly rivals any of the Xbox 360's big shooter offerings such as Gears of War and Halo 3. I played the game on a 52" DLP HDTV and there are moments during the game where the environments simply looked stunning and the cut-scenes were quite captivating too. Not much is lost from the transition from cut-scene to in-game play. The presentation of the game is slick, raw and delivered with an edge clearly targeting the more mature gamer.

I love the detail that went into the two main characters, Rios and Salem. Both characters are former US Army Rangers and come across in the game as military jock types. They high-five each other while making comments such as: "What up dawg" or "Who da man". Both wear 'Friday the 13th' style hockey masks and suit up in some pretty cool commando digs. The characters look exactly as they should and the development team did a wonderful job with the detail that went into the two main protagonists. Best of all, they are both original characters who are unlike any other characters I have seen on the Xbox 360 to date. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the enemy AI. Thy all generally look alike with the exception of the bosses or enemy leaders who appear every so often. That being said, the enemies you come across do die in a variety of different ways which was nice to see. I also felt the suicide bombers who run towards you shouting some kind fanatic rhetoric was nice touch and added some comic relief.

In terms of the battlefields, some of the environments seem a little too small and the levels are not that open by any stretch. In fact, the missions are very linear and the game features far too many loading periods. You do not get one big load time before a mission but rather you get these re-occurring load times during and in-between missions. There are simply far too many of these instances and it tends to take away from the overall enjoyment of the game. It’s annoying to say the least. Nevertheless, the environments you do get, including such things as mountainous terrain and underground bunkers to name a few, are without question next-generation quality.

The lighting and smoke effects are also very good in Army of Two. From the glare of the sun to the gases which fill the air in the underground bunkers, the effects are well implemented and done to perfection. You will even notice some amazing shadow effects in the game. As characters move about shadows drift off their bodies and objects realistically. Technically speaking Army of Two runs quite smoothly and there are only a few frame-rate drops. I also noticed some occasional screen tearing. This was evident when moving your characters line of sight from one side of the screen to the other. You will notice some tearing where your screen is slightly disjointed. The draw distance is also 'hit and miss' as on some occasions I noticed some the visuals in the distance were unclear did not pop up right away. The latter is not a major issue but more of a noticeable glitch.

Sound

Overall the sound in Army of Two is adequate, but I can’t help but have some sense of disappointment with many as aspects of the games audio. For starters, the sound effects in the game are lackluster. Gunfire and explosions do not sound as good as they could. Granted games such as Rainbow Six Vegas and Call of Duty 4 have phenomenal sounding weapons and are a tough act to follow. Nevertheless, Army of Two's weapons and explosions sound 'run of the mill' and nothing really shakes you out of your chair. I found that the guns just seem to lack some punch and it almost seems the sounds are dated. For instance, when firing the Ak-47 it really doesn't feel like I am firing a high powered machine gun. It is difficult to put into words as you will have to try it out for yourself. For those who are casual shooter fans though it most likely won’t be an issue, however if you have played all the major shooters on the Xbox 360 you will probably be disappointed with the sounds of the weapons.

The music and soundtrack in the game is also somewhat disappointing. You would think that considering Army of Two is an EA game the soundtrack would be strong, perhaps even featuring some big name artists. Sadly this is not the case. In fact, the music is very forgettable and really doesn't add or subtract from the gameplay. It isn’t very moving and I certainly didn't find myself humming any if the tunes after I shut down the game. I find this quite disappointing considering this is an EA title and they have produced some of the strongest soundtracks and musical scores to date, however Army of Two falls short in this area.

The voice acting in the game on the other hand is very good. Both Salem and Rios are entertaining, engaging and quite funny at times. Their interactions with each other are superb and their relationship is arguably the driving force behind the game. Their voices are clear and articulate. Overall there is no major concern with the voice work, and it stands as one of the games strong points.

Gameplay

Ever since Army of Two was announced comparisons have been made to Gears of War and some have even argued that this was EA’s attempt at coming up with their own version of Epic’s masterpiece. They do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery though. Army of Two is a third person shooter and plays very similar to that of Gears of War, but overall it just not as good and it suffers from far more issues than Gears ever had.

Army of Two’s story spans over a couple of decades and follows our two main characters (Rios and Salem) from their early days as US Army Rangers to their careers as contract mercenaries. The game takes you to all the major modern day hotspots including Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and China. Army of Two takes mostly a fictional approach but still touches on some real-life disasters including, and somewhat surprising, the attack on the World Trade Centers. I can’t get into much more detail as I don’t want to spoil the story; however some of the twists the game takes only leads to dead ends. Furthermore, there is no character development or explanation as to how these two mercenaries became best of friends. In theory the story sounds great but the execution is flawed and I found myself confused and not really caring about it as much as I hoped.

You progress through several missions, moving from cover to cover while using your team-mate in the best possible manner to take down the enemies. You will find yourself using 'blindfire' as your enemies will also hide behind cover and flank you every so often. Sound familiar yet? Although Army of Two seems similar to Epic’s big 2006 release, it is quite different from Gears in many ways and it just does not feel as smooth as Gears either. For starters, moving your character and aiming your weapons doesn't feel as tight, in fact it seems almost too loose. Add to this that close combat fighting is incredibly frustrating and problematic and aiming towards enemies as they are moving is also difficult. The latter should not be an issue after some extended playtime; however even after five hours of gameplay I was still having aiming issues. The cover system is also misleading as there is no button or visual cue to let you know when you are in cover. With Rainbow Six Vegas and Gears of War when you are in cover you know it, but with Army of Two it's anyone's guess. Far too often I found myself struggling with the controls and it became a source of frustration taking away from the excitement and enjoyment of the game.

Clearly the focus of Army of Two is cooperative play. Granted there is a single player mode where you can progress with a computer AI team-mate, however the real fun starts when playing the game with a buddy. For the most part I spent the majority of my time in the game playing the single player campaign which takes anywhere from 6 to 8 hours to complete. Unlike other games, such as Rainbow Six Vegas where you can give your team-mates specific orders and direct them to a specific location, Army of Two does not allow for this detailed of interaction. In fact rarely does you team-mate AI even do what you want him to do. That being said there are a number of commands you can give towards the later half of the game. I found myself simply ordering him to cover and shoot since getting him to move forward generally resulted in having to save his ass.

At the end of the day however the game is best played with a buddy via XBOX Live. I found myself overlooking some of the games nuisances because the enjoyment level was so high when playing over Live. The co-operative gameplay is the meat and potatoes of the game. There are number of cooperative specific actions that you can do. For instance, you can switch weapons with your partner, although this is something that is not entirely new to shooters. There is also cooperative sniping where your companion snipes one target at the exact moment you snipe another. Another cool feature is the mobile cover where one character uses a piece of debris as a shield (e.g. a car door) and advances while the other guy shoots from behind it. Also during the game you help each other out climbing various obstacles. Overall, the actions add to the game and work well. I found that there is certainly far more enjoyment playing the game with a friend.

One of the key cooperative mechanics in the game is the "aggro" meter. This meter swings between the two characters. Whichever player is firing the most will attract all the enemies attention towards them and the meter subsequently heats up and swings in that players direction. This allows the other player to become virtually invisible allowing them to sneak up to enemy positions. If the aggro meter is full for one player they can initiate an "overkill" mode where the player with the most aggro goes into a fury unleashing all sorts of punishment on the enemy. It is a cool concept and works very well when playing with a buddy as you can simply tell your team-mate to cover you and you attempt a sneak attack by flanking the enemy AI. It works great and allows you to progress through the levels with relative ease.

Another key element to the game is the “shopping” mechanic. Between missions, and even during some of them, you can buy new weapons and upgrade the weapons you have. There are many customizable options and this adds great replay value to the game. You can even add a little ‘bling’ to your weapon by purchasing gold and silver weapons. The weapon shopping is a great aspect of the game as you earn cash by completing certain goals and reaching certain points in a mission allowing you to get better weapons or upgrades, allowing you to do it again in a much more fashionable manner.

There is also an online versus multiplayer element to Army of Two. Players team up in groups of two and fight with other teams in an effort to try and complete various objectives. This in turn rewards you with money which can be used to upgrade weapons and equipment. There are several game types, but to be honest I found it hard to tell the difference between them, and I was often not even aware of what I was playing. The ideas behind multiplayer are interesting, but unfortunately it suffers from the same basic gameplay issues described earlier.


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