The designers at Electronic Arts' nascent Montreal, Canada studio deserve kudos for remembering that not all multiplayer games have to focus on deathmatch. We've lamented ad nauseam the dearth of fun cooperative games in the last few years, but those guys are actually doing something about it with Army of Two, a new third-person military shooter that's made from the ground up for two players. Technically, you'll be able to play this one solo, with a computer-controlled ally replacing your human teammate. But from what we saw of the game's diverse co-op activities during our first demo recently, it seems like jumping online and connecting to your flesh-and-blood buddy via headset will be the best way to play through this one.
Army of Two casts you as one half of a crack mercenary team selling its services to the world's highest bidders. You'll travel all over the globe--we saw levels set in Iraq and China--to carry out whatever dirty business your current employer has in mind. Whether it's demolition, assassination, or some other shady activity, rest assured you'll always have to shoot a lot of low-level thugs, as well as blow some things up in between your entry point and your objective. Army of Two's design team tapped a real-life mercenary to discover the secret tricks of the trade, many of which will manifest themselves in surprising ways. For example, did you know mercs use tampons in the field to staunch the flow of blood from fresh wounds? We'll give you some time to let that one sink in before we explain how it works in gameplay terms.
At any rate, the core game is a third-person shooter with familiar, Gears of War-style mechanics, such as snapping to wall cover and going to a tighter, over-the-shoulder perspective for precision aiming. But even excepting the cooperative features, the game's designers have innovated in some interesting ways. For instance, there's the GPS (or global positioning system, in real life), which in gameplay terms actually serves as a comprehensive pathing and objective-identification system that overlays the environment with a blue-tinted computer display. You'll see flowing arrows that indicate specific walkways leading to your primary objectives. Sensitive environmental effects will also be highlighted in orange, such as a bridge, which was included then destroyed in a secondary objective. In this case, the GPS indicated the precise point on the bridge where the player had to fire a rocket to take out not only the span itself but also an enemy convoy crossing over it.
Anyway, about that cooperative gameplay. If you name a mercenary-related activity, odds are that you can yell at your teammate to assist you with it in Army of Two. Climbing over a wall? Check--your teammate can boost you up, and then you can blind-fire your rifle over the top before vaulting over. Making your way through enemy fire? Check--one player can carry an oversized riot shield while the other pops up and delivers return fire. Rappelling? Of course. The player up top will be in control of raising and lowering the player hanging from the rope, who will in turn have full weapons control while dangling over an enemy position. But if the action down below gets too hot, it'll be up to the player holding the rope to get his buddy out of trouble quickly.
But cooperating in Army of Two will be about more than hoisting each other over barriers. The designers have taken the "aggro" concept common to massively multiplayer online games and mapped it onto the shooting action found here. For example, World of Warcraft measures the amount of threat you're causing to enemies and tailors their aggression toward you accordingly. In Army of Two, there's a finite amount of aggro shared between both players, so it works a little like tug of war; the only way to reduce aggro on one player is for the other player to build up his own. So balancing out enemy aggression between both of your characters will be a large part of surviving Army of Two's firefights. The game will make it easy to determine who's got most of the aggro because that player will be surrounded by an intense red glow.
Luckily, you'll have a few desperation moves at your disposal when the going gets especially rough. When you max out your aggro level, you'll have a chance to orient yourself back-to-back with your partner, allowing the two of you to cover a full 360 degrees with your weapons. Similarly, when your health is all but gone, you'll be able to feign your own death to get enemies to stop attacking you and pursue your hopefully healthier teammate. And you'll be able to revive your teammate when he falls in battle by soaking up his blood flow with a trusty tampon. You'll actually see a tampon icon appear on the screen and begin to fill with blood, at which point, you'll engage a short minigame that will let you successfully get your partner back on his feet. The second time he goes down, you'll have to administer CPR by playing a more complicated minigame. The third time, however, he'll be dead, and you'll get a game over.
How about all that cash you'll be making from your successfully completed missions? Luckily, you'll find a more immediate use for it than your retirement savings because Army of Two will feature an extensive weapon-customization feature. Weapons dealers that you encounter throughout the game will sell you primary, secondary, and special weapons. You'll be able to mix and match new barrels, shields, stocks, suppressors and more to tailor these arms to your liking. Once you have a new weapon, you'll be able to use more merc tactics, such as duct-taping extra firepower to the underside of your barrel. We saw the example of a rather beefy assault rifle that could be equipped with a shotgun or grenade launcher on its underside. Finally, you can apply camouflage patterns and other personal touches to your weapons to really make them your own.
We didn't get to try Army of Two for ourselves just yet, but from our hands-off demo, it looks like the designers are putting a lot of thought into all aspects of the game's cooperative gameplay. In addition to voice communication, you'll even be able to physically interact with your partner in a variety of ways, from high-fiving him after a successful kill to poking him "Three Stooges"-style when you want to get him moving. We've been itching for a good co-op game for a while now, so we'll keep our eyes on this one and bring you more information when we can.