Army of Two Prerelease Hands-On

EA Montreal's cooperative shooter is almost out the door after a brief delay. We played the latest retooled version.

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In an alternate universe, you've been playing EA Montreal's cooperative-focused mercenary shooter Army of Two since November, which is when the game was originally slated for release. But because we're bound to this physical reality for the moment, a universe in which EA instead opted to slide Army of Two's release date back a few months for tweaking and polishing, we just got to check out a nearly finished build of the game today at EA's corporate headquarters in Redwood City, California. Both cooperative campaign and competitive multiplayer modes were on offer during our demo.

Compete for cash and prizes (in the form of better weapons) in Army of Two's competitive multiplayer.
Compete for cash and prizes (in the form of better weapons) in Army of Two's competitive multiplayer.

The good news is that the developers in Montreal have been using the extra few months of production time to examine what was already essentially a completed game to see how they could improve it. For instance, the heads-up display has been significantly refined and simplified. The iconography is smaller and now there is less of it crowding the screen to afford a better view of the action. On the graphical side, the developers implemented a new lighting model that's meant to better highlight subtle touches, such as the bump-mapped fine details on the character models. This was in answer to criticism that some parts of the game were previously too dark and visually bland.

One of the big changes is the new teammate-resuscitation system. Gone is the old tampon-based minigame, which literally had you staunching the blood flow from your compatriot's wounds with a feminine-hygiene product. Aside from looking a little strange, this mechanic rendered the downed teammate completely useless and took both players out of the game. It also completely interrupted the action when you initiated the revival minigame. Now, when you run out of health and go down, you'll still be able to shoot from a prone position while you wait for your partner to come patch you up. Your partner will be able to drag you to safety (while you're still shooting), though you've got a bleed-out timer that ticks down all the while. If it runs out, it's game over.

We got a chance to play some matches in the game's two-versus-two multiplayer mode, called warzone. This mode drops both teams of two into the same battleground, filled with enemy soldiers that are hostile to both pairs and starts throwing objectives at you one after the other. It's essentially a race to see which team can complete each objective first; as soon as one team finishes a given goal, the next one will come up. So only one team will reap the cash reward from each objective. The type and progression of objectives presented in a multiplayer match is randomized, so you won't ever know what you're going to be tasked with next. Of course, you can always just kill the other team to stop it in its tracks before it can meet a goal.

The cooperative campaign offers all sorts of interesting tandem actions.
The cooperative campaign offers all sorts of interesting tandem actions.

The objectives we saw in practice had us doing things like assassinating a particularly strong enemy, destroying a background element like a helicopter, or escorting an injured soldier to an extraction point. The cash you make from each objective will be tallied at the end of the match, with the richest team declared the winner. But you can also spend some of this money during the match to buy new weapons and upgrades, as well as respawn faster when you're killed. Army of Two will only ship with four multiplayer maps out of the box--though the two maps we tried were pretty well packed with different objectives, vehicles, and turrets to play with--but EA plans to make additional maps available for a fee on a monthly basis after release.

The core single-player campaign in Army of Two hasn't changed much since our previous looks at the game, other than small tweaks, such as the new revival mechanic. We played a couple of missions from the middle of the storyline where Salem and Rios were chasing after a warlord in Iraq. Then, they were later parachuting onto the deck of an aircraft carrier to take on a bunch of terrorists. Army of Two is now slated for release in early March, so come back to find out if EA's extra development time has paid off.

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