The necessary tactical coordination with either the human or AI partner makes Army of Two a more than average shooter...
Focused on gun-blowing action and with little narrative as typical for the military shooter genre, the story is based on the combative comradeship of two former U.S. Army Rangers, the hot-headed, tattooed Eliott Salem and the more reflected, bald Tyson Rios, getting along as long as fighting keeps them busy.
The purpose of the couple's engagement during almost two decades in the different conflict zones all over the globe seems as utilitarian as is their proper union: hard dollars in exchange for hard bullets.
But though despising the army after leaving it in 1993 for being ill-equipped and less smart, their deployment can be seen as complementary rather than truly questioning that of the military, furthermore backed through the federal government, as has been the case in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (cf. Academi, formerly Blackwater), while a bill to privatize armed services is debated parallelly in the Senate. And although called an "Army" of Two, the two mercenaries' activity isn't shown that much as being a superior but an alternative, unofficial, even more "diplomatic" approach, such as that of a Sam Fisher doing the "dirty" black-ops work in Splinter Cell, yet preferring direct action to stealth.
Salem and Rios go private after the events in Somalia in 1993, where they first get in contact with the Security and Strategy Corporation (SSC) via private military contractor Phillip Clyde in order to eliminate local warlord Abdullahi Mo'Alim. As their commanding officer Richard Dalton joins the company, on invitation of the dubious Clyde, so do they.
The story continues in 2001; now working for the SSC Salem and Rios are sent to Afghanistan to kill Al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Al-Habiib and to destroy the dangerous ex-Soviet M-11 missile base the terrorists seized.
A similar context takes the TWO guys to Iraq two years later; thoughtful Rios suspects a conspiracy behind the fact of the chopper carrying their rescued former squad mate Lt. Col Eisenhower exploding right after take-off. But Ali Youssef, subaltern to Saddam Hussein himself, claims responsibility for the act -- just to be killed his way through the two mercenaries taking revenge.
Another year, another political context: 2008, a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier has been seized in the South China Sea by terrorist organization Abu Sayyaf. Upon parachuting onto the deck Salem and Rios meet up with the arrogant Philip Clyde, found later to be collaborating with the terrorists leaking them U.S. troop positions. The two mercenaries clean the carrier from all hostile presence while its captain sacrifices himself making the ship explode before the stolen nuclear warheads can put at risk Manila.
Abu Sayyaf is also the cause of their next mission, intended to be the last for the SSC visibly marked by corruption: now in China, in 2009, they are to eliminate a head terrorist within this group by detonating a bridge. But the man in the car killed while crossing it is U.S. Senator Richard Whitehorse, opposing military privatization, and the mind behind their CEO, Ernest Stockwell. Rios and Salem are indexed. As soon as learning that Alice Murray, their pretty SSC mission coordinator, is kidnapped, they head to hurricane-shattered Miami in the airplane of weapon dealer Cha Min-Soo, but the aircraft crashes due to nobody else than Philip Clyde having killed the pilot. Yet the true mastermind behind the plot is Dalton, and if he succeeds to eliminate Stockwell, the bill to privatize the military will pass and his SSC become the most powerful private entity.
Having survived the crash Salem and Rios save Alice and kill both Clyde and Dalton while Stockwell delivers himself. They both start now their own private military company, Trans World Operations (T.W.O.), and invite Alice to join them as their new mission manager...
During their missions, and unlike Sam Fisher, Salem and Rios are never alone, neither is the player, whether playing with a friend or solo with the CPU as partner, and the partner-dependent coop gameplay requiring short-term tactical coordination at any moment represents also the main feature of this appealing shooter: without the teamwork, as either Tyson Rios or Eliott Salem, none of the objectives can really be accomplished. Yet the good working cooperative mechanics makes this task manageable and gratifying, mainly thanks to the "aggro" system: by temporarily assigning one's partner a more active, aggressive (red) or more passive, attentive (blue) attitude, one might attract or distract the enemies' attention towards or from the partner or oneself, permitting to sneak up to enemy positions in order to attack them from behind, necessary for manned turrets or heavy-armored soldiers. Moreover, if one of the player's aggrometer is full, the "Overkill" fury mode can
be activated during 15 seconds allowing to inflict higher damage without having to reload, or to change to stealth mode to kill without being seen.
The second most important of the implemented coop modes is the healing needed when either Salem or Rios is injured and then has to be dragged to a safe place to be healed before he bleeds out, while moderately continuing to act (shooting, reloading, switching weapons), with the CPU being nearly as reliable as a human teammate here.
The TWO guys depend on each other also when havoc shooting back to back, in coop snipe, while joint using a parachute or a riot shield for both shooting and melee hits, or to step jump/pull up on ledges: each time they twin-act as one rather than two persons with the PAI mechanics guaranteeing the fluidity of the movements. In addition to those actions possible only at scripted moments, other more casual coop moves are available, like a range of dis/approving emotes, swapping weapons, or feigning death.
The money gained through accomplishing the obligatory and optional objectives can be used for in-between mission shopping in order to buy primary, secondary, or special weapon upgrades --barrel, cartridge, stock, frontmouth, silencer, shield, even silver or gold plating-- each of which adding to a specific characteristic (damage, accuracy, ammo, aggro...), while medium and heavy body armors are unlocked only after completing the Afghanistan and the Aircraft carrier missions, respectively.
Moreover, several fancy and almost intimidatory face masks characteristic of the Army of Two's combat aesthetics can be unlocked and purchased during the game. Fortunately, heavy armor, masks, and upgraded weapons can be used for replaying each of the six chapters individually after finishing the game once.
The different --basic and customized-- weapons grant a satisfying gunplay and the characters' movements like sprinting, jump-rolling, jumping into or over cover, are fluid and varied allowing to follow a rapid pace during combat, and although one might occasionally deplore different functions being mapped to one single button, the HUD-led controls are responsive and intuitive to use.
Of a game functioning that well in solo coop mode one wouldn't expect a bad online versus mode, either, allowing up to four players to compete in two teams over different targets varying according to gametype: warzone, bounties, extraction, with the main objectives being defending or destroying a certain place or NPC, in a randomly mixed manner; intelligence documents can be collected for some extra cash to be used for weapon and gear upgrades, with, however, the team with the more money winning the game. Unfortunately, servers have been shut down in August, 2011, due to a lack of online versus players.
Whilst the graphics' great realism makes one sometimes even forget that the game is a third-person shooter, the music by Trevor Morris matches well Army of Two's thrilling ambiance; however, the hammering impact of the enemies' bullets at times sounds a little monotonous and synthetic, and one might also consider one's partner's stereotype phrases though signaling need or giving advise somewhat repetitive here.
Yet all in all it certainly is the necessary tactical coordination with either the human or AI partner that makes Army of Two a more than average shooter, while the eponymous graphic novel may shed some further light on this not so unworldly story for whom the fast-paced action results too distracting.