Army of Two is an attempt at many things, one of which is to capitalize on the recent enthusiasm for cooperative games. Co-op is arguably the number one most important bullet point a game can have in its press release. Even if it is hardly suitable for the game at hand, excluding it will cause many people not to buy your product.
In order to distinguish itself from the deluge of co-op titles, Army of Two attempts to integrate cooperative measures into every aspect of the game. It also tries to deliver some social commentary like so many hotshot developers and players crave in their desire to legitimize their hobby. Ultimately, the game shares the same major fault of so many of its competitors: it was rushed. The interesting ideas and promise shown in early previews are all missing, and the end product is the usual kind of worthless.
You can tell just how much the game wants to integrate co-op into everything that goes on, but most of these features are done only when the game allows, and others (like team snipe and weapon swap) are useless. The ability to drag an injured comrade to cover (while they fire distracting shots at enemies) is a nice touch, and the game’s use of riot shields is decent (as well as homoerotic), but neither make fundamental changes to the shooter formula.
The only feature that keeps things interesting is one of the main selling points: the Aggro system (which loses some kudos for using a term coined from real life MMO’s. So meta). Essentially, the more you fire, the more attention the enemy will place on you, allowing your partner to move and act freely. Combined with the AI’s tendency to both lay down steady streams of fire and stick to cover like glue, the Aggro system is essential to getting through most battles without painful trial and error. Having both characters sucking down bullets will get you nowhere, and if one teammate is undetected, they won’t be once they start dropping enemies.
On that note, the differences between playing with the computer and playing with a friend are significant. The AI teammate can fire from cover for a very long time without needing aid, allowing a good player to silently drop enemies with a trusty pistol. With two humans, things can get tricky. The player gaining aggro needs to use cover judiciously, and if you get stuck with someone who can’t follow objectives, certain levels can become a chore. You don’t have to play with someone incredibly skilled, just make sure they are interested in more than point and shoot.
So Aggro makes the combat better than it would have been otherwise, but is it enough to make Army of Two worth playing? What happened to the dynamic partner AI which would cause him to pee in coffee pots and kick dogs? There is nothing of the sort here. All we get is a standard run and gun with above average targets to shoot at. If all the promises of the preview cycle become empty due to budgets and HD textures, we might as well stick a fork in this generation.
As for the attempt at a story, imagine a medley of cliched characters and settings from action films and games. Your guess is likely similar to Army of Two. With these elements it tries to preach a message about the dangers of Private Military Contractors and the Military-Industrial Complex. Or does it?
The protagonists are slow to act on the discovery that their employer PMC is up to no good, and the guy with at least a smidgen of morality is all too happy to revel in bloodshed when the time is right. They are put through hell and back, but by the time the ending rolls around they haven’t learned a thing from the ordeal. What good is the lamentation of lost friends and a corrupt corporation when you still get to “bling” out weapons? Army of Two isn’t sure if it wants to flip off or reflect on the dilemmas of the modern military.
Thankfully, the night I finished the game I immediately stumbled upon David Simon’s miniseries Generation Kill, which manages to cover similar topics with much greater effectiveness. I don’t even know if I want my games to send messages, but if they are going to try, make it worth our while. Of course, that can only happen if there was some money put towards competent writers rather than 1080 textures, but I digress.
If you have played Gears of War to death and need any other co-op fix, Army of Two is certainly an option. Just don’t support it with a new, $60 purchase. When it comes to 3rd person action, the current army is large enough.