Army of Two Game Review
360 (also available on PS3)
Developer: EA Montreal
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Game Resolution: 1080p/30
Display: Westinghouse 42-inch 1080p LCD
Reference System: Reference System 3
Rating: Mature (Blood & Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language)
Point-of-source sound effects not utilized
Gameplay limited at times, forced at others
For a long time, playing games was a solitary endeavor. At best, you could invite a friend over for some competitive play. A few games had cooperative play but these were really the exception and not the rule. And you were usually limited to inviting a friend over. Then along came the Internet and of course the first thing we thought up was the ability to virtually "kill" total strangers. Occasionally, the game developers would throw in a couple of co-op missions as well.
Gears of War (GoW) was one of the earliest games that encouraged co-operative play. The entire game can be played with either the computer controlling the second player or with a friend (either in-room or over the Internet). Built on the same Unreal III engine, it isn't surprising that Army of Two shares this ability (and many other aspects) with GoW. But they take it a step further. Co-operative play isn't so much encouraged as it is practically required.
When One Man Is Not Enough…
It will take an Army of Two to stop the corruption of rogue private military corporations. Fight along side your team-mate to become the deadliest two-man military outfit a government can buy. The breakthrough gameplay in Army of Two, with a live or adaptive AI partner, enables you to take advantage of two-man strategies like customizable weapons, vehicles, and tactical shooting. If you’re going to survive, you’ll have to bring down a vast conspiracy in which the line between ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ has been obliterated.
Army of Two is about two mercenaries Tyson
Rios and Elliot Salem. Former Rangers, Rios and Salem are outfitted with some of the latest
weapons and body armor available. Rather than being set in WWII Germany
(relatively safe from a PC standpoint), AoT
is set in a post-911 world. The duo are sent on missions to Iraq, Afghanistan,
China, Korea and more to kill high profile targets or save VIPs. Only by
working together can the two come out alive... and get rich in the process.
Gears of War was known for its great graphics and Army of Two is no different. Being an owner of both games, I can see a lot of similarities here. The characters are extremely detailed as are the environments and backgrounds. Where GoW featured a dark, gloomy environment, Army of Two is generally bright and brilliant. One nice touch is that when you go from a light to dark (or dark to light) environment, the picture takes a moment to adjust (as your eyes do). From light to dark, everything is so dark you can't see anything at first and vice versa for dark to light. This effect is so natural that I didn't realize it was happening at first.
Resolution, Detail and Anti-Aliasing
The detail and resolution on this game is absolutely amazing. While GoW featured cartoonishly proportioned characters (one wonders in what lab they were grown), AoT features more realistic characters. During the gameplay (and in-engine cut scenes) your character's actions and movements all look all very natural. Their armor and face masks are extremely detailed and well rendered. Enemies have their own garb and personalities, though in the heat of battle it is sometimes hard to make them out. Especially if you like to live and therefore shoot from a distance whenever possible.
For the most part the environments looked very realistic, but occasionally there would be an element out of place. For example, at the beginning of the China level, there were… butterflies I think… maybe fireflies… that were floating around. Looked like a glitch at first and then a hidden enemy. Wasted a few bullets on butterflies. They just sort of glowed red and flitted around the screen. Their movement looked ok but it seemed odd how they were colored. And really, did I need butterflies in this game? No, no I didn't.
One of the better aspects of the game is the physics. If you shoot an enemy in the leg while they are running, that leg shoots out from under them and they fall head over heals in a heap. Shoot them in the arm and they spin like a top. If you are like me, you never get tired of this. One of my favorite moments was during an "Overkill" (see the Gameplay section below) when I threw an enemy against a wall in slow motion, drew my gun and plugged them a few times for good measure. The physics may not always be realistic but they are "movie" realistic. As a fan of John Woo, I appreciate the difference.
Jaggies and edge issues were non-existent in the game. Many of the backgrounds in particular looked photorealistic. There were the occasional issue but these were invariably caused by poor programming. My favorite was that you could see the shadows of your enemies on the ceiling of the room you were in if they weare on the roof or floor above. Makes anticipating their moves a bit easier.
The cut scenes of Army of Two are nothing short of amazing. The programmers seemed to finally have made CGI look completely, convincibly realistic. Can you tell it is CGI? Sure. But not because of the facial expressions or movements of the characters. While I was playing the game with Clint DeBoer, I can't tell you how many times we said to each other, "Man, that looks great! I can't believe this is a cut scene in a game!" Honestly, many of the scenes were nearly as good as the feature film Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within. It was that good.
The only problem I had was with the main characters. The smaller of the two characters (Elliot Salem is the smaller while Tyson Rios the larger) looked pretty proportional but Rios just looked odd. There was something about his lack of neck, width of shoulders and size of forearms that just looked wrong. Clint and I argued about it a bit with both of us fluctuating between, "Now it looks OK," and "Wait, that doesn't look right." It's a minor gripe at best.
The story unfolds (as they usually do) through the cut scenes. While not exactly compelling or believable, the characters are well rendered and look fantastic. Emotion (for the most part) is conveyed not just in the great voice acting, but in facial expressions and body language. This level of realism really helps you feel like you are participating in a (albeit B) movie rather than playing a game. Of course, then the game starts again and you have to kill scores of people while bullets bounce off your armor. A little suspension of disbelief will help here.
I can't stress enough how important sound is for a fully immersive experience in a game. When you have a full surround system set up you can, in theory at least, use that information to target enemies or at the minimum identify which direction your death rained down from.
Surround Audio Quality and Fidelity
While the audio quality and fidelity was very good, point source information was implemented pretty poorly. There were definitely a few moments in the game where you would hear fly-bys or other surround information, but during firefights it was near impossible to tell what direction you were being shot from. As I have mentioned on the AV Rant podcast, this sort of information can really make or break your experience. The game has a visual system of telling you where you are getting shot from but it isn't as intuitive or natural as actually hearing it. I much prefer the latter.
Sound was used to good effect during the game when you were hurt or after a grenade exploded near you. Essentially, everything would become muffled as if you were loosing consciousness. The effect was as natural as it was effective. You really felt like you were about to die much more than just having the screen change colors or watching a health bar decrease and glow/blink. Believe me, I could tell how dark Clint's screen was getting by the panic in his voice.
If you are familiar with the gameplay of Gears of War, Army of Two will feel very familiar to you. Taking cover is absolutely critical as is ammo management. The characters in AoT seems to move a lot faster (as if you were running in GoW all the time) and you can dodge to one side or do a front summersault if you want. The only real innovation over GoW is the ability to slide into cover. Firing blindly leaves you under cover, while aiming is more precise but practically guarantees damage.
Army of Two is meant to be a co-operative experience so it was played and reviewed as such. Clint DeBoer took up the mantle of having to play through the game with me so that we could let you know how it worked and whether or not the gameplay justified having to have a friend. First of all, contrary to what you may think, you don't have to make a friend in order to play Army of Two. The computer will control the second character for you if you wish and will basically take your orders. You can order it to advance, regroup, or stop and to set the action to passive or aggressive. While this can be controlled via the d-pad, you can also do it verbally with the headset! While I would have preferred if you could set your own commands rather than use the preset commands, the verbal commands worked pretty well.
The computer wasn't a total idiot, though that depends a lot on how well you order them. It is, of course, preferable to have a live friend to play with. You can play co-op side by side (in the same room) or over Xbox Live! The AI of the enemies is pretty good with them moving to flank you if you push too far ahead and taking cover if you're firing on them. There were ways of manipulating them, though. If they were too far behind cover and you couldn't get to them, having your partner stand up and make themselves a target practically guaranteed that they would as well.
The "Aggro" feature is one of the best innovations over Gears of War. If one of the characters is doing most of the firing or is holding the biggest (scariest) gun, they get most of the enemy's attention. This causes them to glow red while the other character fades out (literally - you can see through them). Managing aggro quickly becomes your most important weapon in the game. If your partner is drawing the most fire, you can sneak around and flank the enemy taking a few out on the way. Knowing who's got the aggro and how to use it can make or break your experience. The other advantage is that if you manage to maintain your aggro for a period of time, you go into Overkill Mode.
In Overkill Mode time slows down, you do twice as much damage, and have unlimited bullets. You could call it "John Woo" mode. Overkill lasts for about 16 seconds. The person that has the aggro at the time moves very slowly while the other person goes into "Silent Overkill" and moves more quickly. The silent overkill is particularly deadly and really helps when you're getting pummeled by well entrenched enemies.
Back to Back mode is contextually triggered and has both the characters stand back to back. Like Overkill, time is slowed down and you have unlimited bullets. While this is pretty gimmicky, it's a great gimmick in that you feel like you're in a John Woo movie while it is going on. You spin around each other and if you happen to face the same direction, Salem (the smaller character) takes a knee while Rios fires high. It just looks cool.
If one of the characters gets too damaged, they will fall to the ground in a seated position and call out for help (even if you have a real player, the game will have the character call out for help anyhow). The other character can then come over and pull that character to safety and eventually heal them. The wounded character can fire while being dragged as can the other character. Once they are under cover, the wounded player can be healed as long as the "healer" isn't interrupted during the healing process. This really helps reinforce your importance to each other and is probably one of my favorite parts of this game.
There are a few other gameplay things that happen: picking up a shield that one holds while the other takes cover behind you and fires, helping each other up on to high ledges, dual sniper mode, dual parachuting, etc., however it only partially works. Far too much in AoT is context sensitive. You can't help each other up on any ledge, just the ones that advance the game. You can't pick up anything and use it as a shield, just the stuff that they've identified as a shield. Back to Back happens only when the game determines it should. It ends up feeling forced contrived. Also, while crouching down gives you cover behind many things, it's hard to tell if you're in the right position to aim around them (over usually isn't a problem) and aiming to the left seems to be a big issue. Climbing up on top of crates or boxes is very hit or miss and you often feel like you hit the lottery when you manage to do it exactly the way you expected. And don't get me started how every door has to be opened by two characters (triggering a cut scene). At first it was cool but by the end it just got silly.
My biggest beef with the gameplay is the aiming and repetition. While GoW took an hour or two to get used to, aiming in AoT seemed to be nearly impossible at times. If you place your reticule on an enemy and hit the aim button, you are usually pretty far off where you'd thought you'd be. This is particularly worrisome when sniping from cover. Also, while running around and firing, I had a hard time keeping track of the aiming reticule. And attacking hand-to-hand just seemed random (though the animations were pretty cool).
While there were a number of things you could do together during the game, the enemies were all pretty much the same. They came at you with guns or grenades and you shot them. Different buildings sometimes, different locales, but the basic scenario was the same. There were some enemies that you needed to get behind to kill, but other than that there were no real "boss" battles. While this may be more true to life, it makes for a very repetitive game overall.
Probably the biggest success of the game is the weapon upgrade system. While there were a few times I felt cheated by a purchase, wanting to get money for weapon/face mask upgrades became a driving force for Clint and I. Since the game is based around a pair of mercenaries (by definition "all about the money"), by the end, I started to agree with them. The only irritation was the inability to pick up an enemy's weapon. Most of them had the standard stuff but occasionally someone would have something good (i.e. expensive). You couldn't pick those up and add them to your arsenal (or at least sell them for cash) which seems counter to the paradigm set by just about every other shooting game.
Game Menu and Options
The menu options are really pretty limited in this game. You have the initial choice between the Campaign (you can play single player, dual player at home, and dual player over Xbox Live!) and Versus Mode (more on that below). The Weapons menu allows you to purchase and upgrade weapons (if you have the cash). The Options menu will let you set your preferences for your preferred character, aim sensitivity and so on. The "TV Type" setting is really less dependant on your TV and more about contrast. Settings range from Default, Soft, Lucent, and Vibrant. I preferred the Default setting as it seemed to have best darks and not overly washed out lights. There is a slider for Brightness that will allow you to fine tune the picture. The Extras menu has the ability to watch the credits or unlock weapons. I understand that if you preordered the game, they gave you a code for certain weapons. I'm sure we're only a matter of days before you can find all manner of cheats based on this.
The single/dual player campaign is fairly short (around 6 hours or so) which feels a little less than satisfying. Playing through it again is great if for nothing else than getting all the weapons. Figuring out that you could have shot the helicopter out of the sky if you had the Stinger, going out and buying one, and then coming back and doing it has a satisfaction that I can't quite explain. Online multiplayer options are available but are oddly limited. Rather than having a number of groups of two in a multiplayer match, you are limited to just two groups of two. You can play Versus, Warzone, Extraction, or Bounties on one of four maps.
In Versus you try to accomplish various objectives in a race to gather the most money. Again you can upgrade your weapons but this takes away from your bottom line and can cost you the match if you're not careful. Warzone is all about hunting enemies and destroying or defending key targets. Extraction has you competing to kill/save allies while Bounties is all about killing high value targets.
Please, please, PLEASE take the Mature rating seriously. The subject matter, language, and visuals are not meant for kids. If you are an adult, especially one that is looking for a great co-op experience, Army of Two does not disappoint. While this seems like a hold over while we wait for Gears of War 2 to come out, it is a pretty good game in its own right. I hope that EA decides to make a sequel and irons out some of the kinks of this game. I have a feeling that AoT2 (Army of Four?) could be a fantastic game. If nothing else, I applaud them for releasing a game that focuses on co-op play. While the story is a bit weak (if you pay attention to such things) and the ending blows, it doesn't distract from the gameplay. If you like co-op games, this one is a buy. If you are more into the solo missions, rent it and make a friend. You never know, it might be for you.
Visuals - 5
These days it is hard to find a game that doesn't have great graphics and Army of Two is no exception. The cut scenes are simply stunning.
Sound - 3
While the sound overall was fine, the lack of point-of-source localization during gameplay is inexcusable in my book.
Gameplay - 4
While I had some problems with the gameplay being overly linear and repetitive, overall it is a very fun game. Grab a friend and work through the campaign together. You won't be sorry.
I would check it out but I think I am about to get busy with the new Rainbow 6 LV.
Wouldn't it be cool if Rainbow6 Vegas let you send a team in CES to destroy the whole thing?
Yeah, I'm sick sometimes
The AI on beginner and normal levels don't offer the type of AI resistance you find in say the Call of Duty series on a relative difficulty setting. The final two levels ramp it up in China and Miami on professional. These two will have you working some to stay alive, but the rest of the game is relatively easy if you're an experienced shooter.
The ending is very anti-climatic as I agree with Tom in that it pretty much "blows". Without spoiling it, let's just say they seem to be saving something for a sequel.
Also this huge element in the game called "Aggro", doesn't always work correctly if you're playing in single player mode. This can be extremely annoying when you are attacking what is called a "heavy" that is supposed to be killed only while being flanked ( I learned to just RPG them). Since your AI guy needs to use his gun for "Aggro" to be initiated, and for whatever reason he sometimes simply will not shoot at the enemy when put in the aggressive hold mode and in a position to hit them.
Gamestop pre-order copies had a one-time use code that unlocks two-weapons, a sniper rifle and a SMG. Since these are one-time use and I didn't buy through Gamestop. I've still yet to get these weapons, which sucks in my opinion, as I've already completed the game and don't have everything there is to offer.
The multiplayer matches are a bit spotty, but I never come to expect much from it unless that seems to be a point of emphasis in hype leading up to release. This games' primary objective was to be co-op campaign driven, which it does pretty nicely.