Army of Two Review (PS3)

Private Military Corporations are about money, and getting a job done. One part contractible mercenary, and one part special operative, employees of PMCs find themselves in some of the more war torn areas of the world. For the right price, PMC contractors are hired out to perform various tasks which are either too dangerous or too under-the-table for state armies. EA Montreal’s Army of Two puts players in the role of such individuals, and focuses on delivering an experience solely based on teamwork and cooperation.

Whether you agree with the morality of paramilitary companies or not, Army of Two produces satisfying gameplay by requiring tactical strategy and a few fun gimmicks. When starting the campaign, you choose to play as one of two ex-Army Rangers: Tyson Rios or Elliot Salem. No matter whom you choose, you’re going to play through the same six-mission game, spread across 6 different regions, over a decade-plus span of time.

Salem likes the front of boat, for the just-incases.
I don’t recall seeing those masks in the NHL before…

Your missions will carry you from being an Army Ranger sent into the latter years of the conflict in Somalia, up through post-9/11 Afghanistan, and even into Miami, after you become a contracted mercenary working for Security and Strategy Corporation. The story is about politics, corruption and conspiracy, with Rios and Salem discovering a little bit more about dubious mission activities in connection with legislation to fully privatize the U.S. military.   

Each mission consists on varying objectives that upon completion, add thousands of dollars to your bank account. There’s also ways to earn extra cash by finding ‘exploration items’—and for once, finding hidden objects serves a purpose as they supplement information on your mission. Unfortunately, with such a setup, there’s little incentive to replay the campaign once you’ve completed it; unlocked weaponry and money carry over with each play-through, but unless you’re a hardcore completionist, there’s little incentive to go through the campaign again just to buy a few more weapons, upgrades or masks.

While the campaign can be played in-full with the A.I. controlling your teammate, the game really shines when played by another human being; luckily however, the A.I. for both your teammate and enemies isn’t completely inept. There are times when your buddy will get stuck, not follow you, or drag you through hostile areas to help you, but for the most part, the computer does a fairly good job of getting the job done—for a game based on teamwork, without a competent teammate, things would deteriorate quickly.

To accentuate the necessity of teamwork, Ao2 utilizes a few features which are a bit gimmicky, but entirely enjoyable and exciting. There a good number of games that tout teamwork and strategy as their core components, but when implemented, do little than put a couple of extra bodies on your side—and even then, enemies will still focus their attention on you.

However, Ao2 introduces Aggro, which is essentially a measure of who is drawing the most attention in a battle. Unlike other games where you’ll get shot at no matter what, in Ao2, whoever has the most Aggro is going to take on fire; leaving the other partner nearly invisible to the enemy. This is really a simple feature that works well to distract enemies, allowing the other person open to flank and attack from other angles. It becomes essential to have one partner drawing all the fire, as this is one game where charging into a group of enemies will leave you dead rather than victorious, making for more believable firefights.

Complementing the Aggro feature are a number of other co-op devices which show that the game was developed around the concept of teamwork, and makes playing with a friend undeniably entertaining either on a split screen or online. Things such as the duo parachuting into an area with one steering and the other sniping, one deflecting bullets with a shield while the other shoots over it, the two going back-to-back to shoot in a circle, or a dragging a downed partner to safety to fix them up feel a little gimmicky and forced at times, but really drive home the co-op-centric nature of the game.

Not all of the teamwork features are fully fleshed out however, as things like Co-op Snipe, swapping weapons, and player interaction have little meaning in-game. There will be times where both players will need to snipe single, or multiple, targets at the same time, but they’re all scripted, making the function feel underutilized. Also there isn’t much need to swap weapons with your teammate, unless you just feel like it. Finally, you’re able to punish or celebrate with your partner, but doing so doesn’t have any ramifications either positively or negatively.

While the campaign is fairly short, the ability to play through it with a friend online adds to the addictive Versus feature of the game. Online, the mayhem continues as two teams of two battle it out over extraction missions, assassination targets and defendable bounties. In timed sessions, each team accrues money based on completing in-game mini-objectives, as well as killing the other team and enemy AI. Games are decided on which team has more cash in the end, but with the ability to spend money on armor and weapon upgrades during games, there is even a strategy to shopping.

Overall, the online experience is great and highlights the necessity of teamwork, but is plagued by a few minor problems. The same teammate interaction features from the campaign carryover online and become an issue when you’re in the middle of a fight with you’re friend close by; instead of punching out your enemy, you might smack your friend in the head, leaving you open for an easy kill. Similarly, you can revive your teammate by pressing X over them, but when you’re low on health you might feign death, making for another easy kill.

By mapping so many actions to the same buttons, things feel cluttered and end up causing more trouble than they’re worth. However, one of the biggest problems with the game’s online functions comes in trying to find the games themselves. With only four actual players, when one person drops, Versus games end, leaving feelings of frustrating rather than excitement. On the campaign side of things, trying to round up a random player is nearly impossible as you can’t just drop into an already running session.

Ooh, pretty muzzle flashes.
Okay, on 3: 1…2…

On the whole, Army of Two is really a stand-out title when it comes to stressing the importance of teamwork. Being built around cooperative gameplay, it really is a game to sit down and play with a friend; the AI is competent, but relying solely on it makes for a shallow experience that isn’t as rewarding. A few of the co-op features feel a little gimmicky, but ultimately work in their implementation. The game looks good overall, but has moments where it’s gorgeous; and with a soundtrack put together by a Hollywood composer (Trevor Morris), coupled with distinct in-game dialogue and sound effects, Army of Two is a strong technical title. The game is really a welcomed step-up in cooperative gameplay; it’s just disappointing that the campaign is so short.

Top Gaming Moment: Finding a partner on LIVE, and continuing to beat other teams by more than a million dollars online.