We're not there yet, but we're getting closer and closer to the point where we can expect that every game that can have some form of online co-operative play will actually have it. Stuff like Gears of War and Halo 3 have put this style of play onto the mainstream map, and the people want more. Rightfully so, I think, considering that running with a pack of AI-controlled goons still doesn't come close to the experience of having actual people at the controls. That's certainly the case with EA's Army of Two, which takes the co-op style of Gears of War, slaps on some tactics, and slides it all into a modern military setting. But even with another player, the action gets repetitive too quickly.
The game's story spans over a decade, and stays attached to your two man team of Rios, the conspiracy theorist, and Salem, the somewhat-cocky guy who says "bro" every 15 seconds, bro. You start out taking them through Army Ranger training and one mission for the Army in Somalia. After that, the duo decides to follow their commanding officer into joining up with a private military corporation called SSC. As mercenaries, they'll get sent into hotspots with lots of guns and big, dopey-looking metallic masks that make them look like Knights of the Round Table. But those knights didn't run around with Steyr Augs, P90s, miniguns, or sniper rifles. The game's plot is just deep enough to keep the story moving, but don't expect anything too epic. You'll probably see where the story is going about three levels before it gets there, but it's still a bit of fun to watch it all unfold.
For the most part, Army of Two is a standard third-person shooter. Targets are everywhere, and they like to hide behind cover, something you'll also need to do in order to survive. The cover mechanics feel very natural and work well--you don't need to fumble around with buttons in order to stick to walls or pop out to fire a few rounds. It's a good thing you have a partner, too, because the game is filled with very contrived moments where you need two people to proceed, like spots where you'll have to give your partner a boost, and a ton of doors that require two buttons to be pressed simultaneously in order to open. So all of these terrorists you're killing must have to run in groups of at least two, or else they'd get stuck every ten minutes.
Aside from the world's dumbest door design, the way Army of Two differentiates itself is with a big meter at the top of the screen that shows you how much "aggro" you or your partner currently have. If you've played a lot of massively-multiplayer online RPGs, you're familiar with the concept of aggro, and it's interesting to see it used in an action game. Long story short, the enemies aim at the character that is perceived as a larger threat. This means you earn aggro when you fire your weapon, and you earn more if you have a larger or louder weapon. The bro that doesn't have any aggro becomes practically invisible, letting that guy run around behind gun emplacements or armored enemies to get a better shot. And this concept makes up the entire game. If you're playing alone, it gets old fast, because all you're ever doing is telling your AI buddy to hide behind something and start shooting. Then you just wait for the meter to swing his way, run around behind everyone, and put them all down from relative safety. You can play through three difficulty settings, though this just makes the enemies better shots, forcing you to adhere to the aggro strategy more rigidly.
Playing with another human is more exciting, though the same basic technique still applies. The main difference is that another human will be able to act more intelligently when it comes to saving you. If you're shot up too much, you'll go down and require medical aid from your bro. When you're down, you can sit up and fire your weapon, but can't move. Your partner can drag you around before healing you, letting him drag you out of the line of fire for safe healing. The AI partner doesn't always seem clear on the concept, and he'll often try to heal you in the line of fire, or get your body caught on a piece of cover when trying to drag you and generally behave poorly.
That's why it's better to play with another player, but Army of Two doesn't make that as easy as it should. While you can opt to switch back to a single-player game if an online partner quits, you can't have that player jump into the middle of your game--you need to start playing with a player from the beginning of one of the game's six levels. The other issue is that the game feels pretty short, and you're meant to get your replay value out of it by completing those missions again and again. They aren't bad, but once you've learned them by playing each one once or twice, you can just burn through them again and again. The benefit to doing this is earning more money, which you can use to purchase and upgrade your weapons.
The weapon upgrade system in Army of Two is probably the best thing about the entire game. You can spend your blood money at mid-mission checkpoints. The upgrades are deeper than most games, letting you get longer barrels for more damaging shots, better stocks and grips for more accuracy, silencers for quiet killing, and so on. In addition to having an impact on a weapon's magazine size, accuracy, and damage, each upgrade also has an effect on how much aggro it will draw. Big shield attachments, longer barrels, and bigger clips make you attract more attention from the enemy. Silencers make you a bit easier to ignore. But if you're trying to get the enemy's attention so your partner can do the dirty work, you can also buy a "pimped" version of your weapon, which bedazzles your gun in gaudy silver, gold, or diamonds. While I could go the rest of my life without hearing about a physical item getting pimped (sorry, Xzibit), it works reasonably well in this context because the rest of the dialogue is similarly dumb... but it's a dumb that you can believe in.
There's one great aside where Salem starts mindlessly talking about the members of the Wu-Tang Clan that would have been a much better tone for the entire game, bro, but there's really nothing else like that throughout the game, making this light moment between the duo feel way out of place. The voices fit the characters just fine. The line reads, though, get really stiff in spots. And again, if there's a year-end award for the most brosephed-out game for broheims who like to say "bro," Army of Two will almost certainly take the prize.
On top of the campaign, there's a full multiplayer mode that lets teams of two compete in a couple of different games, like warzone, which gives you a map and drops random objectives onto it. The team that completes the objective gets paid for the job, and the team with the most money at the end wins. It's an interesting idea, but I couldn't get into it at all. Melee attacks feel like they're more useful than your guns, since they'll knock you down and give your enemy plenty of time to fill you full of holes while you're helpless on the ground. And the weapon firing in close quarters feels clumsy, which just contributes to the melee madness.
While there's a contingent of players out there who will immediately jump at the chance to play another co-op-focused shooter, the lack of tactical variety and short campaign makes Army of Two too repetitive. It has its moments, and it's an OK game overall, though you'll probably be left with the feeling that it could have been a lot better. But then, that's what sequels are for, right bro?