Easter holidays - this means 4 days of gaming and relaxing!
Andreas Ludwig and I decided to spend this year's Easter mainly with three different activities:
1) Playing Empire of the Sun (GMT). You can read the report about the disastrous defeat of my US forces in the CSW Empire of the Sun Group in the topic "Japanese Easter Blitzkrieg" ;)
2) (Re-)watching Peter Jackson's Lord of the Ring Extended DVDs for the 6th or 7th time since release...
3) Playing the cooperative tactical third person shooter "Army of Two" on Xbox 360.
And thanks to this videogame, I feel compelled to write my first blog entry ever. I have to warn you. If you are a fan of tactical videogames (for example Call of Duty, Operation Flashpoint and even Halo), you should avoid "Army of Two". I'm not joking. Please take this warning seriously!
Army of Two was announced as a tactical team based shooter with a strong cooperative factor. Andreas and I love cooperative shooters, we played Conflict Desert Storm together, all three Halo games, the Star Wars Battlefront campaign, Doom 3, Marvel Ultimate Alliance and many more games. Usually, we are a quite good team, Andreas being the guy with the heavy MG, much firepower, Anti-Tank weapons and sheer force, while I am the combined Sniper and Shotgun / Claymore close combat specialist. Some of the cooperative games were great (see above), some were horrible (for example all later Conflict titles such as Conflict Vietnam and Conflict Global Storm, Rainbow Six 3 and more games I already pushed away in my mind).
When Army of Two was announced, it sounded like heaven for us coop people: A team of two mercenaries with weapon accustomization, tactical gameplay, flanking maneuver and cooperative moves such as lifting your partner over obstacles or solving puzzles together. The two guys could even tease their partners with funny moves and sayings. The idea of creating a game especially for two players who want to play the story cooperative sounded great and we decided to rent it from the video rental store over Easter.
The game was never published in Germany due to an over-strict and sometimes weird protection of minors law, but this wasn't a problem because the video store offered the EU version (UK/Austria) which even includes a German dubbing (I was somewhat confused by the fact that "my" character, the mercenary Elliot Salem, had the same German voice actor as Dr. Bashir in Star Trek Deep Space 9...). We rented the game and we started to play on Good Friday.
The very first impression was good... the graphics were okay (not a match for Call of Duty 4, though), and the characters were different and distinctive enough to have fun with them and generate some competition and cameradery. In the tutorial level, we learned the various game specific coop moves (push your partner over an obstacle, haul your partner up to your level), and how to tease your partner. The game is a third person shooter, and we got the impression that the controls were somewhat sloppy and imprecise - in contrast to our beloved Call of Duty 4 which is the current reference game in graphics and gameplay. We often lost orientation in fire fights and it took some time to get accustomed to the weapons select wheel and other controls.
"Hey, aren't we coool?"
When the first level was finished, we expected the true game experience to begin. We thought that all events and encounters during the first level were downgraded due to the tutorial character and that we would meet tough enemies which require the well-practiced flanking tactics. The game utilizes a strange concept called "Aggro" where the firing player becomes red over the time and drags all the attraction while the passive player becomes transparent and almost invisible, thus allowing him to sneak behind the enemies and flank them. This appeared to be strange, but it was a design decision and we decided to give it a try. The idea is very arcade-style and not very tactical, accurate, authentical or even a simulation, and it soon became a little bit ridiculous to draw the attention of the enemies to one flaming red player and sneaking around with the transparent one.
We could have lived with this concept, though. There was only one problem: the level design was from outer hell and the enemy AI was the dumbest we ever met over the past few years. And we met a lot of dumb AI in our videogames careers.
Imagine this: a straight level, i.e. a tight corridor filled with obstacles such as misplaced walls, containers, fences or wooden boxes (!). Behind these obstacles, hordes of dumb enemies, sitting there, firing at the red "Aggro", ignoring the transparent player who stands right besides them. Sometimes, enemies run at you, screaming. Sometimes, they run into the obstacles or into a wall. Sometimes, you could stay besides them and they would look the other direction. The lacking AI was compensated by the sheer number of dumb idiots shooting and running at you. Whether in China, in Iraq, on an aircraft carrier, in Miami - the enemy consisted of hundreds of hundreds of hundreds of idiots who had nothing else to do than to sit behind a box or a container in a confined space and wait for YOU to pass by. In addition, the enemy had gun turrets, pointing at the red Aggro player. Gun turrets - in a library, an uninteresting store room or whereever the game forced us to go. The level design was not a single bit plausible and certainly the most primitive one I saw for a long time (since Conflict Global Storm, I guess). Our task was to fight along these roads, corridors, alleys full of misplaced obstacles, generating "Aggro", flanking dumb idiots, killing hundreds of them (just imagine 250 dumb idiots in libraries with gun turrets), sometimes meeting a "heavy" trooper who could only be killed from behind *yawn*.
During the game, we had to endure a very stupid and very outrageous story. As mercenaries, we earned money for completing objectives and could use it to buy and customize new weapons in the store. As a matter of fact, most weapons were of no use due to the stupid straightforward level design full of event triggers. You could not snipe into a room because you had to enter it first in order to trigger the enemies. Many games utilize triggers, this is okay - they need them to tell a story, even Call of Duty does - but players should not realize them or even be forced to search for them. Sometimes, we overlooked an enemy and this blocked the trigger. Without a trigger, we could not leave a room because doors opened miraculously when a trigger was triggered. Only Conflict Vietnam had even worse triggers; each time you hit one, the game announced this with a slow-down.
Me (left) and Andreas (right)
I eventually bought a shotgun and all of its upgrades and painted it golden in a hysterical moment. Andreas bought the heaviest MGs he could find and afford in the store. In addition, we could buy more ridiculous masks for our mercenaries. There were various types of ranged weapons, but it was of no use to snipe in this game. This is always a bad sign.
In the end, we had to force ourselves to play this game to an end (mainly, because I decided I want to blog about it and warn the world. Andreas sacrificed himself and his valuable time to this noble task). The entire game took about 9 hours on medium difficulty level (in the end, we switched to easy because it was too stupid and not the slightest tactical challenge to kill 250 spawning dumb enemies). The auto save check points were unfair and frustrating sometimes, adding to the overall negative impression. The various levels showed no diversity or variety, there were no thrilling tasks or interesting puzzles (they were reduced to "both players press A to open the door") and the entire game consisted of long, long corridors with hundreds of waiting enemies apparently living behind obstacles (wooden boxes or even wicker baskets offered protection against the heaviest weapons!), their only life-task: waiting for you to pass by. The speech samples became repetitive after a while and the main villain wasn't very interesting either due to the dull story. The game even lacked a final boss fight. The only highlight was the healing system - if your partner was wounded, you got 30 seconds to reach him, to drag him out of enemies LOS (the wounded one could fire while being dragged) and then you could apply some medicine which healed him. This was quite nice, but it didn't save a substandard game.
Army of Two is in fact one of the worst "tactical shooters" we ever played. The vast amount of dumb and brainlessly spawning enemies was boring, the level design was without any innovation, implausible, gamey and lacking variety. The graphic was not a highlight either, although utilizing the Unreal Engine. Army of Two becomes repetitive after the first level and didn't surprise nor entertain us during the final levels.
All things considered, the basic idea of a team based tactical shooter is great and the game shows some nice aspects (the coop team system, the healing, the funny teasing, fully customizable weapons), but the entire game is completely destroyed by the dumb level design and the lacking AI which is compensated by ridiculous numbers of spawning enemies.
If you are a fan of tactical, team or squad based shooters (I know some of you are!) - don't buy this game!
Don't even rent it from a video store! Don't support such a trash! The game is boring, it's not the slightest bit tactical and it's crap. Save your money, save your time! There are far too many good games out there to waste your time with cheap, uninspired and dumb games like "Army of Two"!