“Army of Two” is the first game actively marketed as a “co-operative shooter,” which either means you need a friend to play or you need to have the patience of a saint to put up with the dim-witted intelligence of a computer partner. You control two mercenaries hired to trot around the globe to real life places like Somalia, China and Iraq (not just the “24” and “Call of Duty 4” cop-out of “somewhere in the Middle East”) where you get paid to blow up shit and kill terrorist leaders, all the while unraveling a conspiracy theory that will surely reveal one of the cast as a traitor. The control scheme is a more slippery version of the one found in “Gears of War,” and the entire game is essentially “Gears” with everyone wearing skull helmets. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as good.
Cast of Characters: Players are given the option of playing with either Rios or Salem, two mercenaries hired by the U.S. government to kill every terrorist on the planet, because, as we all know, our military is a bunch of pansies. Rios looks like a cross between Fenix from “Gears” and the Thing from “Fantastic Four” and he’s always saying manly things like “Stop bitching!” The one doing the bitching is Salem, who looks like the lead singer of “The Starting Line” and enjoys wearing backwards hats and saying “bro” at least once in every line of dialogue. Both wear bulletproof skull masks and are actually pretty impressive-looking video game heroes, considering that all the manly buff men in these kinds of games tend to blur together over time. The best part of the game is that when there’s nothing going on, you can walk up to your partner and press A, and they’ll do some sort of hand-pound. But if you’re lucky, they’ll bust out an air guitar solo together, which could be one of the best features in a video game in recent memory.
AGGRO!: There should be a rule that any game featuring the word “aggro” in it from now on is automatically deducted a full star (this comes after the “aggro kick” found in “Tony Hawk’s Proving Grounds”). But in “Army of Two,” aggro is something else and, unfortunately, is quite key to the game. If you’re shooting at enemies with a big gun, they shoot at you because you have all the aggro (not sure if you have aggro? Check your handy aggro-meter). When you have aggro, you glow bright red like you’re about to explode, and, in contrast, your partner becomes transparent and is able to sneak around in an almost unfair way and snipe the enemies attacking you. And that’s 95 percent of the fighting in “Army of Two.” It’s an interesting idea, but starts to feels very repetitive about 20 minutes into the game.
The Buddy System: The whole “2-player teamwork” aspect of the game feels very forced. You can tandem parachute, use a car door as a mobile shield together, go back to back, unload a spray of bullets in a circle and boost your partner up to a better sniping perch. But God forbid he dies up there and you have no way to revive him. Speaking of which, when playing with a friend you’ll constantly be running back and forth reviving each other because no one can agree on who should have the aggro. Unlike “Gears of War,” which involves just one button press, revival here involves dragging your partner to safety and waiting for a little bar to fill up as you inject him with adrenaline or steroids or something.
Custom Made, Custom Paid: Since you’re operating as a mercenary rather than a standard solider, it actually makes sense to receive cash payments for completing certain objectives during your missions. Finding a file crucial for intelligence might net you $2,000, but taking out a high-profile terrorist target could land you a cool 10 Gs. You can use this money to buy new weapons and customize them with different stocks, ammo clips and silencers, not to mention the “pimped” option, which paints your gun chrome or gold and etches tribal designs on it. The weapon upgrade system is one of the best aspects of the game and even trumps the system found in the far superior “Call of Duty 4.”
Artificial Unintelligence: The enemy A.I. is downright bizarre in this game. First of all, there are so many bad guys it often feels like they’re just popping out of a bottomless pit somewhere. Firefights last upwards of 20 minutes and by the end you feel like you’ve killed literally every single person in Al-Qaeda. They exhibit all sorts of behavior ranging from the annoying (poking their gun barrel out of cover and shooting blindly with inexplicable pinpoint accuracy) to the downright strange (they run directly at you like your bullets are the cure for some disease they have). The worst are the enemies they throw in to force you to use “teamwork,” such as the super soldiers that are bulletproof in the front but made out of marshmallow Peeps in the back, so one player must distract him while the other circles around behind. It’s reminiscent of Mario sneaking around Bowser to grab his tail, but the whole thing feels stupid when you realize you’re a mercenary with a Gatling gun, not a plumber in overalls.
Two-Player heaven?: Here’s the thing: as marginally enjoyable as this game is, the fact remains that there are simply much better cooperative shooters out there. “Gears of War” was never advertised as a “buddy game,” but co-op mode was fun nonetheless. And nothing feels like a greater accomplishment than pwning noobs in “Halo 3” doubles online. The extra doo-dads “Army of Two” shoved into the game to force it to be co-op just come off as gimmicky most of the time, and you find yourself wanting to play without having to worry about what your partner is doing every two seconds. Upgrading weapons, killing terrorists/mutants/space marines and playing with a friend is fun, but there are better ways to get your fix than “Army of Two.”