Hands-on with Army of Two

Nuzzled deep in the inconsequential city of Millbrae, CA, EA hosted a hands-on trial of their much anticipated co-op game Army of Two at the Bay Area Paintball facilities. Press was greeted at the door with an onslaught of high-sugared delicacies and caffeinated beverages to effectively rev us up for play, and an ambitious few opted for a few bouts of press-on-press paintball.  

With an ambiance that resembled a middle school birthday party, I cozied up to play the game alongside Gametap’s Jared Rea; he assuming the role of the character Rios (as he dances on the sand) while I opted for the sexier soldier of the two, Salem. I had a chance to play the game from the start, differing from CTZ’s experience at the EA Showcase a month ago.

Today EA surprisingly announced a delayed release of the game until Q1 2008 due to internal and external feedback. What sort of last minute polishing does EA have up their sleeves? Hit the jump for details of Army of Two‘s co-op features and this .tiff’s reflections on the game. HOO-rah!

Training Session and Co-Op Features

The game starts off with a mandatory training session in which you learn the basics on battling and interacting with your partner, particularly how to use the “aggrometer” to your advantage. CTZ went into detail about the aggrometer in his post, but this typically involves one player assuming the aggressive role and thus distracting enemies while the other player pulls some headshots from behind. This unique feature could make the game very strategically engaging as it offers players to take turns simultaneously at both brawn and stealth.

Additionally you get a grasp of the basic co-op motions, all of which are described below:

Back to Back

At specific points in battle, Salem and Rios will align back to back to engage in a circular ring of combat. You are required to defend your front by shooting off a survey of baddies, including the occasional arm-wailing suicide bomber. This mode assumes the FPS perspective with a momentary Time Crisis feel to it since you aim while in place.

Dual-Snipe

Occasionally the two of you will need to destroy a target in tandem. In the training session, this instance appears as a laser trap with two hubs you each need to destroy, but later you’ll have to both shoot at a large gas tank (to make it go ASPLODE!). At this point the split screen goes into sniper mode with a view of the target area at the top and two view finders at the bottom. Once both players have the target in sight, one player presses A to initiate a countdown that ends with the two of you shooting at the same time. That is, if you both know how to count.

Health & Revival

Like in other co-op campaigns, when your teammate falls in battle it’s your duty to locate and save them. The first time a player falls a countdown starts dictating how much time you have before they’re taking the stairway to heaven. When saving your teammate the infamous tampon recovery scene takes place where both of you will be required to press buttons to ensure that the bloodflow is put to a halt. Once the tampon is wedged into the bullet wound (with awkward squishy-passage sound effects included, kids!), you’re good to go. The second time you go down, a totally un-gay round of CPR takes place where button mashing is revisited but sadly without any hot mouth to mouth action.

It should be noted that despite the fact that the tampon mini-game has been frequently mentioned since the game’s debut, it comes off as rather annoying and anti-climactic amidst battle. Reminiscent of the hack mini-game in BioShock, tampon insertion game is magical at first but loses its sparkle dust around the fourth or fifth time. And while the game stays true to life as far as feminine products and bullet wounds are involved, it seems a bit unrealistic that one would be able to engage in such intimate moments of insertion whilst in the heat of battle.

Door Defense, The Buddy Drag, and Acts of Support and Dissin’

If at any point you find a decrepit sedan amidst your path, you have the option to rip off a door and utilize it as a shield while the two of you slowly advance. The player who holds the door is in charge of moving while the other shoots from behind. A similar scenario unfolds if your partner is stunned in battle and left lying on the ground. One player grabs the the other by the back of his shirt and drags him out of the line of fire while the other shoots oncoming enemies.  

Other brief moments of co-op game play also include occasional partner pull-ups and lifts (much like a finely choreographed dance of war) and the readily available act of encouragement (the now un-cool fist bumps, rock anthems, and other macho gestures) or act of dis (slaps upside the head, and an occasional punch to the face á la Peter N.)

First Mission

Once you’ve completed your training you’re helicoptered away for your first taste of blood on the battlefield. As soon as you’re at the scene you jump into a truck to blaze through the city. Jared took to the wheel and expressed a sense of frustration while maneuvering the vehicle, saying disappointingly “Well this ain’t no Warthog.” From the seat of the turret I had equal difficulty shooting and aiming. My surroundings swirled wildly around me and by the end of our road trip, I even felt a bit nauseated.  

Following the ride you hit the streets and start shooting. Similar to Gears of War, your path is littered with objects to use while you duck and cover. This plays well into you and your partner’s use of the aggrometer, allotting smooth successes in sneak attack strategies and maneuvering through enemies. While going through the motions of getting through the mission, I again found it somewhat difficult to aim my gun efficiently.  

Almost all of the co-op features are integrated into the gameplay as you progress through the mission; a dual-snipe here, a back-to-back session there. These instances are typically initiated by an indicative line of dialogue so you’re aware of what sort of duo act you’re about to get into. It was somewhat difficult for me to become adjusted to this co-op oriented play after just finishing single player FPSes like BioShock and Portal. On the one hand, I felt as though the overall pace was fragmented by the co-op moments as it seemed like I was continuously being stopped in battle to engage in a predetermined partner move. On the other hand, these instances certainly peppered up the game by offering various modes of play and kept the mission diverse in activity.

You continue on your way through the streets and into the boss’s home. Once you’ve ensured that the boss is dead you make your way to the pick-up destination, utilizing a pair of turrets to tick off enemies until your ride arrives.  

A final thing to mention is the script and character development. Similar to the dynamic featured in the trailers for Army of Two, the dialogue and personalities you encounter as you progress through the missions have a Lethal Weapon kind of ambiance to them. While I wasn’t personally too interested in embracing my masculine side while playing, I still found myself giggling occasionally at the macho manana phrases that were tossed back and forth like when the training narrator describes the red aggro aura glowing like “Rudolph the fucking red-nosed reindeer.” Oh, boys.

Overall Impressions

When interviewing Woody Mister, the military consultant to Army of Two, he made a claim that while Gears of War was originally his favorite title to play, Army of Two had taken its place in light of its concentration on co-op interaction. For gamers who are looking for a twist in game play and have a favorite gaming pal to play with, this game should be a refreshing new spin on the typical shooter. However, gamers who are typically pinned on the ways of the Halo-style shooters and enjoy going lone wolf on games may have a bit of trouble adjusting to the co-op oriented game play.

But hey, maybe that’s a good thing. It’s nice to know that a game has opted to extract some of the most valuable social elements of gaming and modify it into a means of play within the game. Perhaps it’ll go all the way to even encourage gamers to make more friends! Now that EA has announced the delay with hopes to make some polished tweaks to the game, we can only wait and see whether they’ll clean up whatever obstacles may deter gamers from putting down the controller. Meanwhile, so far the game follows up with alright enough action and is complimented with a decent amount of entertaining dialogue. It looks like this game will be a pretty fun play.  

So … anyone want to be the Rios to my Salem?

Expect Army of Two to arrive sometime in Q1 2008 for both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

Tiff