If you have an Xbox 360 or a PS3 and if you have any friends, I recommend getting Army of Two.
Co-op tends to be two people playing through the singleplayer campaign together. This is great, we all love it (by which I mean I love it) because it’s a noncompetitive social situation. Two players against computergenerated enemies and (when done well) with a story just as good as singleplayer. Some games go the extra mile to add specific co-op content such as Splinter Cell 3‘s co-op moves where you can lift each other to reach high ledges.
Army of Two (let’s call it A2 because AoT is a somewhat unwieldy acronym) is in a whole other league. It’s pretty much in the title of the game: It’s designed explicitly for two-player co-op, and as such it provides the most powerful cooperative experience I’ve had since Ruben’s QFG campaign in NWN. A2 is such an improvement because co-op isn’t just the singleplayer with more players. It’s not even limited to a few impressive co-op moves like in SC3. In Army of Two, certain fundamental design elements encourage constant cooperation between the players.
The major feature is of course the aggro meter. At first it seems like a pretty odd idea to put aggro in a shooter – aggro is a feature MMOG’s use because nobody has yet come up with a good way to implement proper, convincing AI in an open environment with hundreds of players. In Army of Two, however, it works a bit differently – for starters, it has nothing to do with proximity. Enemies will see you when they see you, aggro simply serves to make them decide which player to attack. This gives the players a really easy, intuitive tool to execute flanking maneuvers and a completely new type of stealth gameplay based on distraction.
One player buys a really big and intimidating weapon, hunkers down behind some sandbags, and blindfires in the general direction of the enemies, hitting nothing. Meanwhile, the other player becomes practically invisible to the AI, which is focusing all its attention on the guy with the big gun, so he can sneak up to a position where the enemies are completely exposed and take them out with a silenced weapon so he doesn’t pull too much aggro from his friend. For extra satisfaction, the stealthy player can use melee attacks which attract no aggro, and thus take out a whole group of enemies without getting noticed. Some enemies can’t even be killed from the front, forcing the players to flank them in order to bring them down.
Furthermore, the level design does a good job of encouraging and rewarding co-op. Though there are some linear, narrow hallways to traverse, most of the levels are reasonably open so players can split up and flank enemies, leapfrog from between cover, or cover each other from different positions.
A2 isn’t content to be all fun and games though. It also wants to be a political game with a message about the dangers of private military corporations. Unfortunately that aspect tends to seem a little out of place. In between bouts of slaughtering hundreds of soldiers and subsequently fist pounding, you’ll hear the mercenary protagonists engage in serious discussions about the merits of a pending bill to privatize the military. Happily these mini-debates are quite well written and the two avatars have enough personality to make it tolerable. They’re not nearly as hideously macho as Gears of War‘s steroid golems.
My only real complaint so far would be the very long and very elaborate cutscenes. I didn’t like seeing my avatar perform amazing feats of superhuman ability in Halo 3, and out of principle I don’t like it in Army of Two. They are very exciting cutscenes with some crazy effects, and they really get you psyched for the upcoming levels, but while I do enjoy watching them and while I acknowledge that they tie the missions together, they do raise questions such as: “Why don’t I get to raid a weapons cache on a moving train!?” or “Why don’t I get to fight the bad guy on board a crashing cargo plane!?” It kind of seems like these cutscenes should’ve been intros or outros for actual missions in the game, not just well-directed filler to move the story along.
The storyline is predictable and its message is more than a little self-contradictory, but the gameplay speaks for itself. Whatever you do, do not play A2 in single-player. There’s an achievement for completing the whole game with the AI buddy, but that’s just not how the game was meant to be played and frankly I think it was a mistake to include that achievement. If you do get the game, let me know so we can set up some co-op