LOS ANGELES--At E3 2006 we had a chance to get a closed-door demonstration of Army of Two, the new action game for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 from Electronic Arts' new Montreal studio. The demo build we saw was running off of Xbox 360s. The game is set in the near future, where you take control of, as the name suggests, a two-man mercenary team doing high-risk paramilitary operations. The game is a third-person shooter that focuses very specifically on two-man team interactions. You can either play through the campaign with a friend, or issue orders to an intelligent computer-controlled teammate who may or may not obey the orders you give him.
The very start of the demo rammed home the cooperative theme pretty firmly in our heads. The main characters started off by parachuting in tandem (buckled together on a single parachute) into a heavily defended area. The computer was controlling the character holding the parachute lines, while the developer playing the game was controlling the character whose hands were free to shoot. The screen was split left and right, with the left side leaving the mercenary duo visible, while the right side showed the scoped view of the gun that the developer was holding. With the developer barking voice commands into a headset like "move right, accelerate, slow down," he was able to direct the parachute descent while using the controller to aim and fire at enemies below him.
When the duo reached the ground, the view shifted into a standard third-person mode, as the mercenaries got surrounded by enemies. Again, the developer directing the demonstration barked an order, this time calling for his sidekick to "go back to back." Surprisingly, the artificial intelligence-controlled mercenary replied with "what do you think this is, an action movie?" so the developer had to give the order again before the sidekick would comply. The twosome then went back to back (as if they were Murtaw and Riggs or Tango and Cash) to shoot at and take down enemy soldiers approaching at them from all angles. What you'll notice in Army of Two is that the AI sidekick has a memory, so if you give orders that backfire or result in something bad happening, your teammate will remember this and be less likely to immediately obey orders later on. He'll actually sass you if you turn out to be a particularly bad commander. Later on in the demo, the AI teammate actually rejected, flat out, an order to shoot an unarmed civilian.
There were many examples of cooperative style gameplay you'll need to engage in as you play Army of Two. If your teammate gets shot, it's possible to pick him up, and throw his arm around your neck so you can help him limp to safety. As you move slowly together, he'll shoot autonomously with a submachine gun out of his free hand, as you shoot one-handed with a gun in your own free hand. If you're playing two-player mode and your buddy gets incapacitated, it's possible to revive him with CPR. The healthy player simply has to walk over to his downed buddy, at which point the CPR minigame begins. On one side, the near-dead player has to run away from a growing light in a tunnel, as the healthy player applies chest compression rhythmically to help his buddy escape death. There's also cooperative rappelling in the game. One player ties a rope around his own waist, and holds up his teammate as that player hangs from a ledge. The hanging player pushes off the wall as the anchor slowly moves forward, lowering his teammate a few feet. Lather, rinse, repeat until the rappelling player reaches the bottom. For shorter gaps, it's possible for one player to boost the other one up, and then get a hand up to the next floor.
The coolest example of the cooperative style of play available in Army of Two, though, is the co-op sniping. You can call out the order for "co-op sniping" into your headset and engage the mode. At this point, the screen split into three sections. The top half of the screen showed the two soldiers from a third-person perspective, while the bottom half of the screen showed the scoped view from both your own sniper rifle and your teammate's sniper rifle (in the bottom left and bottom right quarters of the screen). Using this split-screen viewpoint, you can see when your teammate has his shot lined up so you can snipe two guards simultaneously. Presumably, once both shots are lined up, you can call out "3, 2, 1, GO!" and have your teammate fire at the same time you do. However, being the headstrong sort, the AI-controlled soldier in our demo insisted that the shot be fired on his say-so, again showing off a more dynamic and interactive experience. We got to see another sequence where the developer drove a forklift and lifted up his AI buddy on the fork so that he could fire at enemies over a high wall. Again, the viewpoint split the screen, with the forklift visible on one side, and the perspective of the shooter on the other side.
The end of the demo showed off a naval mission that was perhaps the best example of Army of Two's impressive graphics. Sure, the character models in the game extremely detailed, with nice clothing and skin textures and great-looking animation. And yes, there's plenty of physics-based gameplay that lets you shoot out wooden crates and fences or blow holes in stone walls with explosives. But at this point, all that's to be expected from an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 game. The water in the final level was simply amazing, though, as the duo rode out on the open ocean in a zodiac boat on choppy seas. The ocean offered some realistic-looking roll and chop, complete with white caps and spray as the boat crested waves and splashed down into the ocean. The objective of this mission was to sneak around behind an aircraft carrier and snipe the guards in the back before infiltrating and blowing up the ship from the inside out. The demo skipped forward in time, showing the ship already about to sink and listing heavily, with the stern of the carrier going below water. We then had to escape the ship by running across the flight deck to the bow of the ship in order to get a helicopter ride out. The problem is that aircraft, steel drums, girders, and all kinds of debris are sliding down the ship at you as you're trying to run upslope to, as Arnold Schwarzenegger would say, "get to de choppah!" With some slick dodging, we got to the helicopter and got a ride off the sinking carrier, ending the demo.
We got a quick look at the kinds of weapons you can buy which include all manner of pistols, shotguns, and assault rifles. What's crazy is the level of customization you can apply to the guns. Swap out and swap in different stocks, red-dot sights, scopes, tactical flashlights, underslung grenade launchers, silencers, grip handles, extralarge mags, new barrels--anything you can imagine seems to be available for you to use in this game. You can even chrome your gun with gold trim if you like. Hey, you're a mercenary, right? Do what you like! A handy firing range feature lets you immediately test out your new toy.
Unfortunately, Army of Two isn't slated to ship for PS3 and Xbox 360 until sometime in 2007, so it'll be a while yet before we can play the final version. But if you're a fan of action games, you should definitely keep your eye on Army of Two. Its unique and irreverent style struck a chord with us.