The Good, The Bad and The Buggy - Army of Two (2008)
I have decided to start a new type of list - game reviews where I highlight ten aspects of a particular game that were noteworthy in making the game either playable or unplayable. Army of Two was developed by EA Montreal and published by EA. The game is a third-person shooter set in a contemporary era of modern warfare. This is actually quite novel given that most modern war shooters are first person perspective. The game also incorporates a lot of unique cooperative mechanics that can either be exploited by two players working together or explored by a single player who uses the "Aggro" to control the flow of NPC enemies. The main characters of the game are very likable and the narrative allows the player to learn about some real aspects of political issues regarding private military contractors. This list is the top 10 highlights for Army of Two.
For a game that was released in 2008, the cinematic cutscenes in Army of Two have high technical sheen and the animation is of a very high quality. This aspect of the game renders the narrative more compelling and the gameplay more engaging. The playable characters, Salem and Rios, become more lively onscreen heightening the drama and raising the stakes of each mission. Of course, the high quality of the production makes sense given that the game was developed by a Triple A studio.
9. Aggro Mechanic
Army of Two emphasizes the Aggro mechanic, which is one that I have not encountered in video games prior to AoT. Aggro involves the unique effects from the two main characters engaging the enemies in an unbalanced way. The player chooses to play as either Salem or Rios and then the other partner becomes an NPC who can be guided and controlled in a limited, yet highly effective manner. The player can choose to make their NPC partner engage the enemy aggressively or cease fire in cover. There is an Aggro meter which displays how much the enemies are goaded by one or the other of Rios and Salem. When one of the characters shoots for an extended period and the other stays in cover, the meter overloads against the aggressor. Eventually, this leads to a prompt to enter "Overkill" mode. For a short period, the aggressor's bullets are twice as powerful while the other character in the team becomes like a ghost and marches much faster. Overkill can be used effectively against bosses and turrets allowing the player to overcome tough moments in the game.
8. Coop Mechanics
Apart from Overkill and Aggro coop mechanics, there are a few others which make gameplay exciting and unique in Army of Two. One of the coop mechanics is the Coop Snipe. The player can call their partner into a cooperative sniper rifle moment where the screen splits to show the sniper lens of both Rios and Salem. These moments can be effective for blowing up helicopters or for taking down the front line of guards. Another coop mechanic is the Back-to-Back. When Rios and Salem land in the middle of an enemy encampment and are surrounded by enemies, they go into a back-to-back moment. Time slows down as the player swings around 360 degrees taking down enemies. The player's partner is pressed against the back of the playable character as they cover each other's six o'clock position.
There is another coop mechanic that occurs only a few times in the game - the parachuting moment. In the first half of the missions in the game, Rios and Salem have to enter missions or mission stages through parachuting together down to the enemy encampments. One of the partners directs the parachute, either swaying right or left, steadying or speeding up the descent. This role helps evade enemy bullets. The other partner has their choice of guns to use against the enemies, however, it is most effective to use the sniper rifle. The parachuting moment is intense because in some ways, the characters are like sitting ducks in the sky.
6. Forceful Melee
The melee mechanic in Army of Two can be frustrating because it is receptive to button sensitivity. The player has to really jam their trigger button when beside an enemy to trump the enemy's melee attack. Apathy on the controls will lead to dangerous moments of being felled and exposed to enemy fire. The aggressiveness that is required to effectively melee enemies makes for greater engagement and investment by the player.
5. Shooting from the Hip
Shooting-from-the-hip is a critical tool in most shooters allowing elite players to quickly evade situations where they are surprised or pinned down by enemies. However, in Army of Two, shooting from the hip is extremely difficult to employ effectively. At close range, the barrel of the gun rarely responds correctly to controls and at long range bullets are scattered too much to be effective.
4. Plot Contrivance
One of the positives of Army of Two is that there are only a few missions but each is in a very unique geographic location - Somalian town, Iraqi military base, US aircraft carrier ship, Chinese villages and downtown Miami. However, downtown Miami is hit by a hurricane just prior to Salem and Rios having to land there and storm their old headquarters. The city is badly flooded in a totally unrealistic way and the city is bereft of citizens and authorities save enemy military contractors. Until this final mission, the narrative has a degree of authenticity where the player feels that they are exposed to realistic geography and knowledge about the world of private military corporations. However, the decimated Miami unravels all this good work.
3. Simple Bosses
One of the worst aspects of Army of Two is the lack of bosses and the ease with which the final boss and mini-bosses are disposed. The first mission in Somalia has an interesting boss and one who gets a cinematic cutscene to establish their sinister reputation. They have to be pinned down and flanked. The only way to defeat them is through shooting them in the back. There is a great opportunity to use the Aggro mechanic against this boss. However, the mini-bosses and bosses in the next missions have exactly the same conditions for defeat. The repetitiveness and lack of challenge really diminishes the gameplay and enjoyment of the game. The Aggro mechanic is milked until the novelty totally wears off. Even the final boss, Clyde, is extremely easy to defeat once the player pins him down.
2. What a Drag
When one of the two playable characters is downed in battle, they will become immobilized. They can continue to shoot at enemies but require the aid of their partner. The character must arrive promptly at the location of their partner and drag them to shelter where a stimulant is injected to revive the downed character. If this process takes too long, the downed character dies and the mission is over. When the NPC partner falls in battle, it is relatively straightforward to locate them and drag them to safety. However, when the player falls the NPC partner can often wander around incompetently if they have unclean collisions with environmental assets. They may also read areas of shelter incorrectly, either dragging the player forever while passing over appropriate locations for a revive or alternatively setting up a revive in a location where they are exposed to enemy fire. This can be an unbelievably frustrating situation and leads to needless death. A game such as, Rainbow Six Vegas 2, has a better system where the player uses their reticle to pinpoint a location for the NPC to move to.
1. NPC Wandering
The NPC partner wandering around during a revive moment is a major bug in Army of Two, however, it transcends all gameplay. When the player requires the NPC partner to take cover, the partner can often wander around stuck in a situation where bad collisions render the NPC unable to find a "safe" location to take cover. These fiasco moments can make mechanics seem haphazard and moronic diminishing the player's experience of the game.