Army of Two
Maynard and I got about halfway through Army of Two this evening. I’m gonna start with some philosophical concepts before I get into some neat gameplay elements and then the lunacy of the game world.
I’m not entirely certain we wouldn’t have had more fun playing co-op levels of N+. However, that’s not a ding on Ao2 – N+ is just amazingly, insanely fun.
(Or, maybe it is a ding on Ao2. Ao2: millions of dollars to build. N+: probably less than 200 grand, all told.)
Okay. First, Ao2 feels (and acts) a lot like Gears of War. In fact, I am *pretty* sure that the game was sold as “hey, it’s Gears of War, only two player, and without the chainsaws.” And it is.
Army of Two is a two player game. It says so in the fucking *title*. About half way through the evening the two of us (harh) agreed that it probably would only be half as fun playing it solo – especially because you’d obviously be roped into having an AI companion.
Now, I’m certain that technology has grown by leaps and bounds since 2002’s Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. But that is the yardstick by which I measure “AI companion” missions and maps. In GTA:VC, there are a couple missions where you are paired up with Lance Vance – who acts like a total fucking moron. He runs right into bullets. He gets trapped behind walls. He, in general, is a fucking albatross around your goddamned neck.
(And I’ve been waiting a long time to include a Samuel Taylor Coleridge metaphor in a review.)
Half-Life 2 (or, more specifically, Episodes 1 and 2) introduced some punk-rock, insanely good “companion AI”. However, Alyx required *no* direction or interaction; she just did her bad-ass thing and looked good doing it. (Halo 3 had a companion, but it was seriously a “who gives a rat’s ass” type of thing. He died *constantly* and *ineptly* but it didn’t impact gameplay at all).
Ao2 requires (like Gears) some “tell people what to do” crap.
I fucking hate that.
I get that it needs to happen – that, from a gameplay perspective, the player needs to tell the companion what to do from time to time. But nothing breaks my immersion more than being forced to tell my combat buddy “yo, see those dudes, shoot *them*.”
Right, I get it, it’s not technically feasible to make this happen automatically. Granted. So why make it a requirement? If you’re planning on making a single player game, just build a single-player game. If you’re making a game designed for co-op play, make it a multi-player game.
(There is a point here. I’m working to it.)
Army of Two is a two player game. It says so in the fucking *title*.
So, there are many elements in the game that I can see where they modified what would be a totally awesome two-player experience *just a bit* so that it could play as a single player game (if you wanted to). Which kind of cheats the two-player experience.
Okay. Philosophy over.
The game has several interesting elements, many of which enhance or encourage co-operation.
“Death” is kind of a non-issue, and there isn’t a “life bar”. When you get shot too much, you sort of drop down – and you can still shoot. Then your partner comes up and drags you out of harms way. During this time, you still get to cap bitches. This works very well, but it’s a bit abusable.
There is a neat system of “aggro”. “Aggro” is a term from MMORPGs, where certain characters get the “aggression” or attention of all the monsters, allowing the other players to kill the enemies at leisure. Ao2 works the same way: you shoots the shit out of people, making a lot of noise, and get the attention of all the badguys. Then your partner sneaks around behind them and killifies them in the back.
One of you can grab shields (like car doors) and the other can creep behind, killifying while you take bullets. Or when parachuting in, one of you controls the ‘chute while the other makes bitches suck it down. (Lunacy alert: in no real universe will a car door protect you from AK-47 gunfire.)
And after you’ve buried some dudes, you can walk up to your partner, press “A”, and then you’ll emote something fratboy-ish and then bump knuckles with one another. Maynard used this as a kind of “denial of service” attack on me: the game locks you both into the emote, so he just spammed the “A” button at me from time to time, and our two “heterosexual” dudes ended up getting stuck telling each other that they were “alright, dog”.
Mission-wise, it’s pretty staid. Start at point A, go to point B, kill everyone in between. That’s a ding.
We stopped playing for the evening after about four hours, thinking that was enough for now. We’ll probably finish it over the course of the next couple of weeks, but it isn’t something that we felt, “oh, we’ll stay up all night and play this.”
This game exists in a universe where a group of ill-equipped terrorists can hijack a United States military aircraft carrier and the federal authorities are seriously considering the privatization of the entire military.
They use this as a kind of quasi-political statement. It rings of failure.
The masks . . . the masks are really cool. They’re the biggest “art direction” impact that the game has, and it works well. You can buy different masks but honestly the default mask that my guy wears is the coolest one.
Another lunacy moment: Apparently, in this universe, 400 dollar handguns cost 15,000 dollars.
At any rate, the next time we play, I’ll be bombing around in Iraq with a gold-plated P-90 (with the grade one suppressor extension).