Army of Two Preview - 13/08/2007

In a year filled with games that promise to redefine the meaning of true innovation, can EA’s unusual co-operative thriller put a new spin on a genre in desperate need of new ideas?

You’ve got to hand it to the third party giant for being confident enough to produce a brand new franchise in the wake of the many sports and racing titles that have, in most cases, flown straight to the top of the multiformat chart. The risk of critical and commercial failure, the likes of which the FIFA developer has not had to face in many years, could deal a lot of damage to their credibility. Scary no? Well, perhaps not as scary as the sight of a skull masked assault rifle wielding mercenary ripping the door off a van and running towards you screaming profanities and showing off his pinpoint accuracy.

Enter Army of Two, a seamless co-op shooter that, refreshingly, doesn’t take itself too seriously. With next-gen graphics, tongue in cheek humor, and over the top tactics, there can be no denying the seriousness of EA’s claim that their “new next-gen boutique development studio is changing the face of how people will play games”. We sure hope they end up being right, because we might be a little excited about this one.

Co-Op games are instantly appealing to us here at TGSN. Whether online or off, fighting side by side with a buddy in games designed to accommodate that extra player presents so many opportunities for relentless fun (Halo 2 and Resistance: Fall of Man spring to mind). This bizarre mix of teamwork and tomfoolery has defined the games that support co-op gameplay, where you’ll often find that pairs are either working with great efficiency or just messing around with in-game physics.

Most games that feature a co-operative mode are developed as single player adventures. Through the use of a few additional cut scenes and tweaked gameplay mechanics, a second player can be integrated, but never truly becomes a part of the story. Gears of War was the first title to really break the mould in terms of how co-op can be done, and is easily the closest thing to EA’s latest effort. In Army of Two, the action is so intense and the challenges so great, you simply cannot fight this fight alone.

Army of Two is, as you might have gathered by now, all about teamwork, but more importantly, how teamwork can evolve beyond one player yelling “you’re being shot at” while the other player confidently replies “I’m going in anyway”. The emphasis on supporting your teammate’s efforts is presented in a variety of different ways. For starters, there are the consequences of one player becoming critically injured, which would force the other player to consider his own safety should he attempt a rescue, as well as the successful outcome of the mission itself. One of the many co-operative abilities that Army of Two gives you in situations such as this is the ability to drag your injured partner out of harm’s way. And if you can’t get to your buddy straight away, he can fake his own death, which should divert any unwanted A.I. attention leaving you to mop up and eventually come to his aid. In the heat of battle, partial or full clips of ammo can be shared, and if a better vantage point is desired, one player can give the other a boost. There’s even a sort of co-operative sniping ability, where the screen gets split into three parts, the standard third person view on top and two zoomed in views representing the scopes of both players. Each and every one of these techniques demands skill, co-ordination and effort, and we’re sure that Army of Two has plenty more hidden up its virtual sleeve come this November.

Some of the more action movie inspired moves include the ability to engage “back to back” cover, flip over scenery to create makeshift (often moveable) protection, and even celebrate by pretending to play a guitar. The latter ability might not add much in the way of the gameplay, but there can be no denying that the lighted approach EA are taking to such a violent game might actually work in their favor.

The “Aggrometer” is a recently revealed mechanic that along with the aforementioned co-operative techniques will have a direct impact on how you will play the game and approach the various situations it presents. Depending upon the intensity of you and your teammates situation or, more specifically, how much of a threat you have each been designated, the Aggrometer will visually display how severely the enemies in an area will react to your actions. This additional level of awareness is particularly useful if you decide to draw a group of enemies away from your partner, allowing him to get to a better position and continue his or her attack.

Enemies will become more inclined to attack you depending on your level of aggression, the power of your currently selected weapon, and the overall vulnerability of your position. It’s an interesting idea on paper, but whether or not it will make for truly golden co-op moments remains to be seen. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Army of Two could so easily have become nothing more than a realistic depiction of modern warfare tactics. But EA have instead chosen to add three-dimensional ideas into a setting of little depth (“there’s a war, and the mercenaries are there to make a buck”), and ironically it’s this that could be the most innovative thing about Army of Two. It definitely has the potential to achieve great things for the overpopulated shooter genre come its release this Christmas. We suggest you keep an eye on this one.

- Jon Titmuss



EA Games
EA Montreal
360 - PS3