Co-operative games are becoming something of a popular choice in the current generation. Online technology has made it easier than ever to tell your friend to get the heck out of your firing line, while the sheer processing power of systems like PlayStation®3 means split-screen play is more viable, even with the large and expansive High Definition worlds created on screen. So with that in mind, Electronic Arts has designed an adult oriented game that's built around the dynamic of two-player co-operative action. The one man army? Pft. That's old news, son...
Sawn-off shotgun, hand on the pump
Controlling ex-Army Rangers turned private military contractors, Rios and Salem, your job is to enter locations of high political turmoil and complete objectives set ahead of you. These missions can be as simple as eliminating a target, or as tricky as escorting a prisoner to a safe location.
Being mercenaries, Rios and Salem are also after a large supply of bank for their services, although unlike their real world equivalents, these private soldiers are at your mercy when it comes to how that wealth is spent. And in this case, all those dollars can be pushed towards better weaponry and equipment, not to mention the ability to make your gear look shiny... as in Pimp my Gun.
It's not always overt, but its through elements like this that you realise rather than tip-toeing through the story's topical minefield that other war based games venture in, Army of Two indulges in a knowing wink of Hollywood satire. EA's run-and-gun action blitz refuses to take itself too seriously through a liberal sprinkling of wry humour and a less liberal sprinkling of dark slapstick comedy.
Guns and poses
This angle is typically confined to the interaction between you and your partner, playing up the strong points of the game, cooperation and camaraderie, and the comedy that comes from these elements. A quick press on the relevant button prompts your boys to do anything from a celebratory air-guitar to a more admonishing head butt, while the game's script is sprinkled with enough inane chatter to cut through its more sombre moments.
What Army of Two sets out to do is offer refined and engaging co-operative gameplay, and that's exactly what it delivers on. Guiding Rios and Salem around the hugely detailed and gorgeous looking environments is great fun, mainly because of their diverse movements and abilities. They can slide to cover, jump over obstacles, extravagantly swap weapons mid-fire fight and help each other up high platforms.
There are a number of fundamentals in the game which are novel to the third-person shooting genre, superbly tying in to the spirit of co-operation as well as being extremely well implemented. If your partner goes down you can drag him to safety as he provides covering fire. Riot shields and broken car doors can offer cover for one while the other tags on from behind to attack safely. And if you're surrounded you can defend each other literally back to back which sets off a slow motion sequence that could have come straight from a high budget action movie.
At the crux of these tactics is an Aggro meter, which tells you who your enemies are focused on the most. Attract a lot of attention and your Aggro will rise, leaving your partner to technically become invisible and sneak up on opponents. Fill the meter entirely and you can go into an overkill mode which enables a slow motion bullet time effect designed to let you unleash unlimited ammunition hell upon anyone in your path for a short time.
It's all exceptionally well designed, accentuating everything that makes playing with a friend (on or offline) an absolute joy. When you factor in the spectacular set pieces you're thrown into, some polished vehicular combat and a well judged sense of difficulty, it's hard not to be mesmerised by its crazed yet carefully designed whole.
Army of Two doesn't pretend to be anything beyond what it is: a gung-ho, brains off, trigger-finger on, slam bang clip of entertainment that rivals a big screen summer blockbuster. Grab a buddy and get to it... double time.