Army of Two is a brave step by EA. Despite being responsible for some of the most entertaining games released over the past few years the publisher still has a bad reputation with certain gamers, and Army of Two was looking to change that. As a brand new IP with a clear focus on cooperative gameplay we had high hopes, but for every moment where the ideas seem fresh, the gameplay feels awkward, often to the extent that the fundamental mechanics feel broken. You're certainly an army of two, but you might not want to see your partner again once you're finished.
With a plot revolving around soldiers for hire (mercenaries Tyson Rios and Elliot Salem), privatising the military, political hot spots and some backstabbing and revenge, Army of Two is set up pretty well. It's got all the ingredients needed of a solid action game, but it doesn't make the most of it. The plot seems patched together and is never all that engaging, the characters are hard to believe - mainly because they don't do enough that plays towards their different personalities - and the threat never seems as big as it's made out to be. Without the story to keep you playing, the gameplay has a lot resting on its shoulders.
Whether played with a real person (online or via split-screen) or an AI partner the game focuses heavily on what EA calls the Aggro system. A meter at the top of the screen shows who is generating the most aggro, and the enemies focus on that character. Taking the aggro is as simple as firing at an enemy location, or better still hitting enemies - the higher the aggro the redder the character becomes. The other character then becomes somewhat invisible to the enemy (to the extent that the game shows him as being slightly transparent), enabling him to sneak around the back of enemies to get a better shot - indeed, some enemies can only be downed by attacking from the rear.
For this to work you need to play the game as it wants to be played, which means sticking to cover and working as a team. Rather than using cover like in Gears of War or Rainbow Six Vegas, you simply move behind objects and peek out from the sides. The only snapping to cover is when you dive behind something. It feels a little fiddly at first, but you get used to it and it works - although you'll often think you're aiming directly at a target only to find you're shooting into a wall.
Problems quickly arise though. When everyone is playing by the rules - you're in cover or trying to flank the enemy and the enemy is a reasonable distance from you - the game ticks along, unspectacularly, but decently enough. You feel like you're having to use tactics to overcome them and it seems like a job well done by EA. But then someone will rush at you and the game falls apart at the seams. For trained soldiers these guys can't deal with close-quarters combat well at all.
The main problem is the camera, which isn't your traditional third-person shooter viewpoint, instead going for something like Splinter Cell where you can only strafe when using the slightly zoomed in aiming view. Unlike Splinter Cell, Army of Two throws an awful lot of enemies at you and you need to be able to aim and take them down quickly, often while moving. Trying to shoot anything while not using the aiming view makes a joke of the soldiers you're controlling, as they're almost incompetent and the turn speed when using the precision aim view is so slow that you're a dead duck if you're out in the open.
All it takes is one guy to get up close and you'll be a mess of aiming reticules and spinning camera angles, and if that guy happens to want to launch a rocket at your face from two metres (it does happen), you can wave goodbye to the world. Things aren't helped by an inability to easily spot where enemies are shooting you from. As is the norm, an on-screen red marker appears when you're hit, indicating the direction it came from, but in the heat of the battle - and with enemies ducking down behind cover all the time - it's almost impossible to spot them. It's made even worse when the screen is filled with red to indicate your ill health.