Thursday, April 2, 2009

Army of Two

Oh Jesus. Where do I start with this shit?

I guess I knew it was going to be bad. I held off buying it until my brother was up visiting me and until it had dropped in price to $20. Surely at $20 it would be an enjoyable bonding experience with my younger bro. I mean, it's a game specifically designed to be played most enjoyably with two players, right?

The combat is boring and repetitive. Instead of interesting tactical challenges highlighting the need to use both players to their fullest potential, the game tends to simply throw platoon after platoon of gormless pissant soldiers at you. It does have some enemies impervious to frontal attacks that must be flanked, but it doesn't present a novel tactical challenge... it's just another of those dudes you've gotta flank. It feels like some sort of high-resolution Wolfenstein 3D remake, but with cover mechanics and without any of the glee.

The cover system aggravates the shit out of me. Mainly because cover isn't sticky. If you're crouched and near something cover-like, you take cover; move away from the cover, and you take to a run. This makes it difficult to determine whether or not you're actually safe when you're ducked behind a box. It also means that if you slip on the button, you can easily find that you've gone from aiming to running away from cover.

Furthermore, the blind fire system is stupidly broken. Both you and the bad guys have ridiculous accuracy while firing blind. Using an upgraded pistol, I routinely got head shots while blind firing. And, I also routinely got shot the hell up by AI soldiers blind firing at me.

The most aggravating part of the cover system, though, is how little the game designers respect it. When given a cover system and a tactical team, the natural way to play a such a game is by checking and clearing each area as you pass through it so that you don't leave and badguys behind you. Army of Two doesn't want you to play naturally, though. It constantly and irritatingly spawns badguys behind you and on your flanks. You'll be in a battle with a small group of dudes, you'll kill one, and suddenly you'll find that there're ten more guys to your left and right. It's like, what's the point of taking cover?

The game dialog is embarrassing, stupid, and macho. The plot is equally trite: you're a soldier, then you're in a private military contractor, then the PMC does something morally questionable, then you fight against them while still making some cash for yourself. It amuses me that this identical plot appears in HAWX, a game about fighter pilots. Apparently, if there's a private military contractor involved, there is only one plot possibility.

Well, maybe there's a twist ending other than the clearly obvious destruction of the PMC. I wouldn't know. Our copy of Army of Two crashed after we had completed one of the most arduous and tedious sections in the game on our third attempt. We made it all the way through, it saved a checkpoint; we watched the next cutscene; it saved a checkpoint; it restarted us in the same hellish quagmire we'd fought our way out of already. Restarting from checkpoint, and reloading the game completely, sent us back to that same hell. At that point, since the game had essentially nothing compelling us to play, we ditched it.

The selection and customization of weaponry is kind of nice. But, the customization really only affects the appearance and some invisible statistics. None of it really changes the way the weapons feel or act. For instance, putting a shield on your gun doesn't seem to actually protect you at all; it just makes enemies notice you quicker. It just means you'll hit the dude slightly more often.

There's one particularly stupid feature I'd like to highlight: the ability to praise or punish your colleague in-game. Now, when I played Golden Axe with my brother back on the Genesis, we both did a perfectly satisfactory job indicating to the other our momentary pleasure or displeasure with the his actions. This was generally accomplished by curses and shouts, although it rarely devolved into fisticuffs. Army of Two, however, thinks I need to have buttons on the controller that, when pressed in proximity to the other character, cause my on-screen avatar to either headbutt or fist-bump my brother's. I think I saw a butt-slap one time, too.

I'd say Army of Two is one of the worst technically competent games I've played recently. I've played worse, but they were worse primarily due to technical defects that detracted from the game experience. There's nothing technically or artistically wrong with Army of Two, it's just stupid and pedestrian. Or maybe I'm just biased since it's the reason I sat close enough to my brother for his airline-acquired chest cold to infect me. It totally isn't worth a week of hacking coughs. Not by a long shot.

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