Army of Two Review
If you've always wondered what it'd be like to don a scary mask and get paid cash moneys to kill brown people, then EA has got you covered. Army of Two takes a cooperative mentality that works pretty well, then puts it in the most ridiculous, over-the-top game where anyone that ain't American is a target. Throw in some so-bad-they're-not-funny stereotypes and mediocre gunplay and try to hide it with a decent set of offline and online gameplay features, and that's Army of Two in a nutshell.
When I first saw the game almost two years ago on display at E3, it looked like a solid title. The animations were excellent and the teamwork you and your partner use seemed pretty fresh in the crowded shooter market. But what they didn't tell us at the time is that they were going to make fun of our soldiers and Marines currently in Iraq with a game that's much more foot-in-mouth than tongue-in-cheek. You see, you play as mercenaries for hire, doing the things that the hilariously inept military is simply incapable of. The game spends a while trying to preach a bit about how much better it is being a merc, and if they hadn't set it in modern-day Iraq, it could probably be seen completely as fiction. But with the realistic setting and timespan, it seems much more like actual commentary. I don't know if the developers have been following the exploits of real-life mercenary group Blackwater in the Middle East, but if they have, then they made Army of Two with willful ignorance. If they want to comment on the actual US military's successes and failures in Iraq, there are many ways to do it better than this. If they just wanted to make a cool game with scary-looking dudes blowing away "terrists" then... actually, they didn't even do that very well.
Yes, yes, I know - you're probably wondering now if at least shooting people in this game is fun. I don't blame you for wanting me to get to the chase. It turns out, though, that the game's over-the-shoulder view gets a little frustrating from the start. The cover system seems to work well at first, and the ability to run and slide behind a solid object for cover works well. But soon you realize that you have to do a lot of fiddling in order to be able to shoot people effectively, and will have to watch your own character and the trajectory of fire from his gun as much as you watch the crosshairs. Don't stick your body out just enough, and you'll find yourself plugging the concrete wall you're trying to hide behind. The game doesn't have a system for popping out of cover to the side - only to the top - so that will take some getting used to. And the ability to do things like rip off a car door for cover while your buddy shoots out from behind it is just a laughable tactic in real life, and only works due to the completely inept variety of enemies you're pitted against.
So let's get into the AI. It's functional at times but is usually totally braindead, while their impeccable aim is the only thing that gives this game the slightest bit of challenge. But it is challenging, at least until you start to figure out the game's insipid "Aggro" system. Ripped off from MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and Everquest, the system has either you or your partner shooting at enemies in order to make them shoot back. Then the other guy sneaks around and shoots them from behind cover. The system works, it just feels really gimmicky and video game-y. Compared to something like Brothers in Arms, this is like the dumbass hillbilly version of a tactical shooter where you spray paint a skull on your hockey mask and slap it on, go to "eye-rack" and kill anyone you see. Ok, maybe I'm being a bit harsh, but this game tries so hard to be edgy that it's tough not to get a little too critical of it.
Gimmicks are everywhere here, like the absolute requirement to get around behind some guys in order to take them out. "Co-op Snipe" mode lets you, well, both snipe a pair of targets at the same time. It looks great when you pack it in with the other gimmicks and toss it into a trailer pre-release, but now that the game is in our hands and we've seen this in action, it's pretty dull. You can buy upgrades for your guns (no, you can't actually pick up any of the enemy's weapons - it's almost like this dynamic duo is somehow above doing so) as well as new guns with the money you make from missions, but there are only so many upgrades and eventually it gets into the territory of blinging them out with gold trim. If you'd rather not, then you can buy new, scarier masks to wear. Or how about the suicide bombers, apparently lying in wait for you with explosives strapped to their chests? I kid you not, these guys come running and screaming at you like the headless guys that explode from Serious Sam. You kill them in exactly the same way. It's completely ludicrous that this was actually put into a game that tries to take itself, well, "seriously".
Some of this would be forgivable if the graphics were particularly special, the gunfights were interesting enough to keep us coming back, or the multiplayer gave us anything really unique compared to the rest of the shooters out there right now. Don't get me wrong, the offline and online cooperative play is usually a welcome feature and it still is here, but it's not much of a consolation when it's attached to a mediocre game. Plus, the competitive modes - for two teams of two players each - all take place on pretty small maps with of course the stifling player limit. It does work and some of the gameplay modes are fun, but it's just not going to be enough to pull people away from the other great shooters out right now. Maybe if they had thrown in more twists, like three-team mode or something with vehicles, then Army of Two could have felt a little more original.
Hey, maybe you're just bored to death of all the other shooters you've been playing. Maybe you're feeling a pressing need to play a game where you mow down dozens of people and then bond with your teammate by using a little tough-guy animation. Maybe you like really small-scale multiplayer games. If any of that is true, then Army of Two is going to shine for you - but if none of those apply, then you'll find this game to be barely decent at best. And its idiotic treatment of our current military and rather insulting depiction of our soldiers is the kind of thing that makes me feel not only like my intelligence was insulted, but also just a little ashamed to be a gamer. I don't wish Jack Thompson on any game or publisher, but this is the closest I've been to doing so. I know EA can do better than this, and in the last year or two they've shown improvement with quite a few solid games. But this is a step backwards - I really hope that this game doesn't turn into some kind of habit for them.