Game Review – Army of Two: 40th Day

I got this from Gamestop for $25.

Gamestop now has a new promo where if you get cold feet about a game within 7 days you can return it for a full refund. Suddenly I’m a lot more interested in those singleplayer titles I can breeze through or like Army of Two, it’s coop singleplayer. Return it for store credit and now for the price of Gamefly but without the monthly subscription, you too can rent games you don’t really care about!

That being said, if I had paid $60 for it new, I would have felt let down. $25 is pushing it, but it’s the right price given that Extraction Mode is included now.

The game is gross fun. You can be a sadistic jerk and it gives you weapons, or you can be a nice guy and… Oh there’s no incentive to be a nice guy. No seriously you get $30k cash for saving this kid and maybe one crate unlock but otherwise shooting everyone down gets you more guns and more money by far. Also sometimes the correct choice is still a messy choice. Saving the “trainer” guy in the first scene merely gets him killed anyway on a beach, and you lose $30k. Saving the kid later in the game gets you $30k, but he goes on to hate mercs and kill a bunch of people. If you let that kid live you also pass up on unlocking the most powerful sniper rifle in the game. You can play the game making the “nice” choice the entire time but it’s a lot harder since you’ll spend most of it starved for cash and ammo.

The bromance in the game isn’t as overt, but you can still express camaraderie and otherwise gay it up when you feel like it. Put in oftentimes weird camera angles and it’s not uncommon for Salem to look like he’s blowing Rios (air guitar). There’s apparently a points system here for expressing how awesome you are as buddies but otherwise it adds little to the game except for the downtimes between shooting. There’s also a paper-rock-scissors minigame which lets you win $100 from your buddies when you win. It’s fun to play during inappropriate cut scenes. Bored with that doctor reaming you out for warcrimes? Play some paper rock scissors for folding money! Bored with that guy talking about the majestic white tiger at the zoo you just had a firefight in? Hit camaraderie until Salem is blowing Rios over the video phone.

The aggro model works better in this game then it did in the previous game, but the AI doesn’t use it. More on the point when you’re customizing weapons, it’s not clear why the AI needs “money” at all. It would be nice if his money were given to you. Since you can get an achievement for making a “hate machine” (mine is a gold plated AK47 with a bayonet and an “enhancer” which is the opposite of a silencer) aggro plays a huge role just on accomplishments alone and it’s easy to rack up. With an AI which is ignorant of aggro, there’s no real reason to draw attention to yourself. I’ve never once seen the AI get killed. Also the game changes the AI’s attributes to cover up for occasionally shoddy AI work. In the hostage situations, the AI will always succeed in taking a hostage. The AI will always remain undetected. The AI will always pass a quickdraw. When you eat a rocket, the AI will simply take a knee for a second. And for parts where you split up suchas the first area with the fences or the area with the building cut in half, send the AI in on the hot side because the game won’t let the AI get cut down before accomplishing the “button push” sequence to let you regroup. (This may not be true on contractor difficulty but for the default difficulty, this is true – I’ve basically hidden behind the AI in the harder shootouts full well knowing he won’t go down).

The enemy AI is vastly improved over the first one. In the first one you couldn’t wound the AI. Now the AI has a DBNO status where wounding them (and leg shots will wound) cause them to go down and call to their buddies like you do. DBNO badguys can still hit you with the pistol, for the automatic pistol in the game this is particularly annoying. You can execute them, but there’s no option to force them to surrender. Grenades have a gears-of-war style arc preview which extends to the grenade launcher also. Bad guys will intelligently run from grenades or point their shields at them. Bad guys also try to fan out, which is also refreshing since the airport level of the first game was largely an excercise in reloading it until you ended up with a favorable spawn of bad guys and then hit the group with the RPG. This time around still suffers from a bit of luck, but it’s mostly lucky shots. More than a few times we’ve been hit by heavies and I’ll get lucky with a blindfire on a shotgun that saves us (or not).

Level design is worth a hat-tip here, it feels a lot like gears of war. GoW comparisons are inevitable in any game which also uses cover-and-concealment. Each level feels distinctive. Even in the hospital basement which could have looked like the skyscraper, it feels unique and you’re like “oh I’m in a different area”. The zoo feels like a zoo, each slum feels suitably slummy, the highrises feel like office spaces (although shot to pieces). More importantly each level clearly has an eye for “player space” where the players are likely to spend all their time, so these areas are highly polished. The hit model works well too – rebar sticking out of rubble will even block shots – and the game rarely suffers from rendering issues even with wide open spaces. Everything looks good. More importantly like GoW MP levels, everything flows nicely. There’s no one good spot to dig in, but it’s not like Modern Warfare where its absolute luck and each level is either “bowl” or “doughnut”.

The problem with multiplayer is twofold – strangers don’t wear headsets, which forces you to play in a game where people are required to communicate with people who don’t want to and it’s so late for this game that no-ones playing. Extraction might have been really cool with 12 players, but after checking the public servers for about an hour late my time, there were only three people playing on average. Multiplayer is a wash. It’s like Gears 2 now where the only people left are uberhardcore and they turned the bots up to 11. If you didn’t learn it before, you’re not going to learn it now. It’s actually still sort of fun since your buddies get a lot of cash for getting you up, but it’s not fun having to have someone babysit you because you’re not a headshot machine from playing the game since release. More on the point in straight up deathmatch, don’t even bother. There’s two kinds of players – headshot machines with the sniper rifles (unlike gears, the maps are big enough to make some decent use of the sniper rifles) and headshot machines with the shotguns. The maps are varied enough that you can get away with an assault rifle, but people who specialize in one of those two weapons classes will routinely score big.

Was it worth it? Probably not for $60, but at $25 and the ability to return it for a refund for 7 days, yeah. There’s enough content there to justify two sick days worth of time. For $60, I’d feel like it was short on content. There’s not enough going on with the assault rifles to make them distinctive, the same for the sniper rifles. Shotguns are interesting because they’re automatic or not, but basically there’s only four guns here. Levels are short and unfortunately divided up into bite sized chunks with “heavy troopers” in between. Once again the campaign just feels like training for multiplayer. The problem is, of course, that multiplayer is dead with a slew of new shooters out and it was never popular to begin with since the first Army of Two wasn’t really fun. So, for $25, it’s worth it to buy just for the experience, but trade it in quick.

Army of TWO Review

If you liked Gears of War, check out Army of Two.

It’s basically Gears without the scifi angle, but the gameplay is exactly the same.

The only addition is the “AGGROMETER”. How distracted the bad guys are from the other player. If you shoot at them (miss, hit, or HEADSHOT) the badguys start paying attention to you. There’s some crazy bullettime maneuver that works entirely like Max Pain – whoever activates OVERKILL either goes crazy with bullettime and shooting while the other guy remains invisible.

The only gripe I have it that I constantly try to slide into cover only to have my guy climb over whatever I’m trying to hide behind. Unlike gears, there’s no separate button for melee attacks, and ammo seems scarcer. It’s not uncommon to exhaust your primary and be low on your secondary before finding either a place to stock up or killing someone who has some ammo left that works in your weapon. Unlike gears, you can’t grab weapons off the ground, but you wouldn’t want to.

Army of Two has the ammo shop you’ll either love or hate, which lets you buy weapons and upgrade. Primaries are all assault rifles or squad automatic weapons. Secondaries are all sub machine guns or pistols. Special weapons are fun – they’re sniper rifles or miniguns or other stupidity like an RPG. Upgrades are barrels, clip size, whatever but it’s mostly cosmetic representations of damage, accuracy, recoil, clip size, and arrgo (how much attention it attracts to use that weapon). Upgrades can be exclusive – the G36 with the pistol grip improves accuracy and recoil, but the shotgun will hurt accuracy and recoil while improving the damage greatly. Basically, figure out how you want to play the game and upgrade from there. It feels like it’s going to make a tactical difference but really the 50 cal sniper rifle does the same damage as the fully upgraded G36 but it zooms in much further. Buy something which suits your play style and work from there – there’s no surprises. Weapons which dish out damage can be upgraded to dish out more damage, but they don’t get much more accurate. Weapons which are accurate can be made more accurate. Weapons which are well rounded do everything decently without being stellar at any one thing. The only extra factor is “aggro”, which “pimped” upgrades (think: golden AK47). But again, if the G36 does 80% of the damage of the 50 cal fully upgraded, there’s no reason to buy the 50 – just shoot everyone twice.

This is where the game falls flat – you can’t buy ammo. You start with a full primary, generic grenades and secondary and that’s it. They don’t fill the special weapon unless you’re on a mission that needs it (parachute insertion). This is intentional since there’s plenty of situations someone hanging back and sniping would work swimmingly well while the other guy collects the aggro. If you said “that’s how I beat Gears of War!” you’re right. They don’t let you do that however. The emphasis is on keeping the game and you and your teammate close together. This is also where ass-to-ass mode comes in, it’s basically double bullet time where you and your buddy do twice the damage in slow motion at the risk of someone tossing a grenade or blowing themselves up and killing you both. Later missions this becomes vogue, if you don’t kill the explosives guys you end up getting knocked out of ass-to-ass mode.

The last deviation from Gears is the addition of the GPS. This is what pissed me off about Gears – it was pretty easy to get turned around since all the indoor stuff looked generic. Army fixes this by having a GPS with a path on it you can activate and it also has locations of observed traps and such. It still suffers from Gears “rail shooter” feel sometimes but the areas feel bigger which makes it a bit less hokey. Exploration is encouraged in the form of extra objectives and briefcases filled with money people leave laying around. Unlike gears, you can’t just leave your buddies to go exploring and “get around to” reviving them. Your buddies will eventually bleed out or get executed if left on their own (a lot like Gears online). Unlike Gears, downed buddies can shoot (not well) and you can drag them while shooting. The shooting-while-down leads to Blackhawk Down-esque moments but it’s really only good at bringing down people right on top of your position trying to execute you. Otherwise you end up simply drawing fire to an already bad position. This does occasionally lend itself to some unintentionally hilarious moments. Since grenades are “true” (they hurt everyone in the radius, friend or foe), there’s been times I’ve run behind the “bosses” (guys wearing superior body armor which don’t take damage from the front) only to catch a grenade tossed by the cannon-fodder which severely damaged the boss while also knocking my player down. With the “shoot while down” addition, this makes it a good strategy to suicide-squeeze the boss and then empty the clip into him from the back once he turns towards your buddy. Since most of the levels end shortly after killing the boss (or when you kill him), you go down and all your aggro is transferred to your buddy – just in time for you to kill the boss and end the level before you bleed out.