Is there any nobler tradition than the buddy action flick? Pair up a couple of wisecracking tough guys, borrow some half-baked plot points from old episodes of The A-Team, rent a horde of bullet-catching extras from Goons-R-Us, and season to taste. Built from the ground up with co-op shooting in mind, Army of Two uses this tried and true recipe to deliver some big time tag-team action. Unfortunately it shoots itself in the foot a few times along the way.
Rios and Salem are a couple of former Army Rangers turned globetrotting soldiers of fortune. Sometimes they joke around, often times they bicker like an old married couple, all while gunning down boatloads of enemy combatants for fun and profit. The story touches on the debate over the American government’s use of private military contractors, but it mercifully degenerates into the usual action movie shtick. Mostly the plot is just an excuse to fly around the world shooting stuff, which is fine, and this really isn’t the right format for thoughtful political discourse anyway.
As the title would lead you to believe, Army of Two is all about teaming up with a buddy and kicking ass. Ideally this buddy would be a real person, but if you cannot afford a friend the game will supply an AI stand-in free of charge. The campaign mode spans six missions, featuring such luxurious vacation spots as Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and China, all of which are fairly straight forward linear firefights through a variety of arenas with objectives to accomplish for cash paydays. Money earned can be used to buy better guns, or to trick out the ones you’ve got with upgrades like more damaging barrels, stabilizing stocks and grips, sound suppressers, and even more bling. As with most shooters these days, Army of Two’s campaign is a little on the short side—probably between five to ten hours depending on the difficulty setting and your level of skill.
What sets Army of Two apart from all the other shooters out there is how the game has been specifically crafted with a two person dynamic in mind. First and foremost is the use of an agro system akin to a massively multiplayer game, where enemies tend to shoot at whichever player they hate the most allowing the other player to go somewhat unnoticed. Using bigger, noisier, and even shinier guns builds agro faster, as displayed by a meter at the top of the screen. Fill the bar to max agro for a few seconds and you can enter an overkill mode where your shots do double damage while your partner becomes super quick and nearly invisible. It sounds a little goofy, but it works surprisingly well, and as the backbone mechanic of the game it does an admirable job of encouraging teamwork.
Using agro to your advantage is pretty much a requirement, largely due to the high accuracy of blind fire in Army of Two. While it’s nice to be able to hunker down behind cover and still get headshots at a hundred meters, the enemy isn’t shy about attempting the same, spraying massive quantities of bullets at you from the relatively safety of their hidey-holes. Managing your agro and moving to flanking positions is a must, and it can be great fun when you and your buddy get into a good rhythm. Sadly the attempts to incorporate other forced co-operative behavior don’t work nearly as well, such as some tandem parachuting where one person steers while the other shoots and spots where one player must boost the other to higher ground. These gimmicks never really add that much to the experience and often feel incredibly contrived.
Versus mode is Army of Two’s answer to competitive multiplayer, pitting two dynamic duos of players against each other in a battle for cash. Both teams are dropped into the middle of a battlefield swarming with hostile NPCs and must compete against each other to complete objectives like assassinating enemy officers, destroying objects, or rescuing VIPs. It’s a novel idea, and one that works well with the overall concept of the game. It is, however, the only competitive mode, which is more than a little disappointing. The potential was there for so much more, and other modes with more teams and more options could have been really cool.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of all though is how awkward it is to get into a game with other people. You would think that a game so based on teaming up would have made damn sure its interface was up to snuff, but not so much. Whether it’s co-op or versus, the system is extremely clunky with no easy way to see what games are available to jump into, and unless you have a friend to invite (or three friends in the case of versus) the whole thing becomes a chore. In any game it would be frustrating, but in a game that depends so much on multiplayer it is really unforgivable.
There’s no denying that Army of Two is a game concept whose day has arrived, and it’s a shame that it didn’t quite hit the mark. The campaign mode is great if you have a real person to play with, even if it is a little short. On the other hand, playing with the AI stand-in can be very frustrating. Most of the time it behaves well enough to get you through, but it’s more like babysitting than compelling team play, and it isn’t really up to the challenges that make the game really shine. That versus mode isn’t more robust is also too bad, and the difficulty of getting into a multiplayer game is even worse. Still there is definitely something worth noting here. Defining agro in a shooter in this way is really unique, forcing you to work closely with your partner every step of the way, and is worth checking out if you have buddies who are also into it.