The Middle Ages: serfs and knights, kings and barons, hovels and castles. Trebuchets and portcullises, battering rams. Boiling hot pitch and men swinging on chandeliers with swords. The plague. Really, really bad medicine.
There were so many ways you could die horribly in the Middle Ages that people started strolling around in huge suits of armour. Or riding horses clad in more protective metal than the average sports car nowadays.
You've got to love the way the human race really enjoys shortening its own lifespan. As a race, we completely embody that scene from Indiana Jones where the guy twirls his sword for ages and Indy just shoots him.
When someone comes along and says, "Haha! I've got armour! You can't kill me with that axe now!" Someone else - perhaps with that same Indiana Jones world-weary look - promptly invents the gun.
Someone else sighs, yawns and just makes the gun bigger. Like really big. And shoots a massive hole in the castle.
Now, we've got weapons that destroy whole cities and no-one - the world over- dare twirl their sword too much.
Army of Two's whole premise - in terms of the actual action - is the idea that hundreds of years of technological progress hasn't occurred and armour still works. This means that two steroid-chugging American mercenaries (one big and butch and HARDCORE GUNPLAY, BITCH, one whiney and slight and a bit I WANNA BE A IN A BAND) dropped into the middle of an entire country of enemy troops can kill their way out of it with ease and take dozens of bullets to a metal hockey mask - at close range, no less - without curling their lip with exertion.
However, I imagine the real difference is that whereas your average insurgence is rather chaotic and badly organised, the PMC's have years of combat experience and are - on a purely tactical level - better at the bangers and mash of soldiery.
The comparison - and again, this is an assumption - I imagine one could draw is that of a SWAT team or Armed Response Unit going up against a load of bank robbers.
The idea of a game where you out-strategise a far numerically superior force of insurgent rebels is an intriguing one. Perhaps something akin to GRAW only, you know, more intensely tactical like a Swat game.
Army of Two simply boils down all this rather interesting potential to - as mentioned - your avatars wearing huge amounts of metal clobber which is capable of taking an insane amount of punishment, including the legendary hockey masks and - my personal favourite- a codpiece with MERC etched on it, visible in the above picture. It makes for a fairly arresting image, I suppose, and that's what game marketing is all about but its very, very silly.
So is pimping a diamond studded shield to a bright gold assault rifle, adding a barrel three quarters of a mile long, and - just for good measure - sticking a shotgun front piece on it. Sadly, this is what you have to do if you want your weaponry to have any effect more permanent than a mild bruise.
Fortunately, by the time you complete the first level, you should have enough money to buy a SAW with an extended 120 round clip. And then the rest of the game is pretty easy.
The other selling point of the game is the fact that it was apparently built from the ground up for two player co-op. This is why my friend and I bought it and played it. I know nothing of the single-player experience and care not a jot. I wanted co-op. Like Gears of War's brilliant two-player mode but even more so.
Sadly, the simplest way to describe the extreme disappointment of the co-op in Army of Two is to say, should you want a two-player, split-screen, same room experience, you're still better off with getting Gears.
The trouble is largely how Army of Two forces you to play. It wants one player to build up all the Aggro, go bright red like a well-flogged penis, and get the attention of every single soldier on the level. Then, your mate is nice and opaque and can sneak around the side of the enemy.
The fact of the matter is, as much as my friend and I tried it, the central gameplay is not only broken - and it is, fundamentally so - but actually no more effective that taking the levels conventionally, just clearing stage by stage of enemies in as natural a way as you would.
Now, its not the case that we simply weren't good enough at the game, my friend has completed it - on the hardest difficulty - on his own and I'm not too shabby either. It worked out that, once the invisibility thing was working and the Aggro was all on me (Mr Saw), my friend (Mr Death Whisper) would sneak round the flank and open up. However, the AI immediately notices when some of its men are being wasted. They run away and open fire at the previous invisible mate and the Aggrometer at the side of the screen does a crazy swing-dance, unable to decide who deserves more attention.
The other thing is that you don't build up Aggro simply by shooting (as I had imagined), you can pour hundreds of rounds at targets but gain nothing in the way of the little red bar if you don't hit anything. You need to be accurate, which means taking time over your shots which means not killing quick enough to necessarily build up Aggro. Surely, your huge weight of fire should act as suppression (a tactic the game could have happily plagiarised from Brothers in Arms) and gain Aggro accordingly.
Also - there's this stupid game-play conceit where if you build up enough Aggro, you unlock a special Overkill mode. The Aggro-ised player gets double damage and Mr Death Whisper can run right up to the enemy and hit them in the face with the car door, or race around the rear of one of the game's extraordinarily irritating, heavily armoured (of course) MG emplacements and shoot the absolutely hell out of the gunner.
Of course, apart from a few choke-points in the game's badly designed interior levels where the power up is basically obligatory to progress - you only ever get Overkill when you've basically cleared the room anyway. Meaning one final little Muslim terrorist gets the full brunt of the ARMY OF TWO!!!
Having burnt the inconsequential witch of Main Gameplay at the stake, its time to discuss the other ways EA tries to cram the Two Player-ness down your throat.
1/ Every door needs you and your partner to press A simultaneously. Sometimes this means both pressing a button at the same time. Suggesting that Al Queda always expected to be attacked by someone playing an FPS not - conveniently for you - an ARMY OF TWO!!!! Most of the time, though, it leads to a cutscene where, together, with the strength afforded to them merely because they are AN ARMY OF TWO, Mr Big and Mr Suicide-Girls tear the doors out of the way. Variously - elevator doors, the walls of a metal cage where Mr Escort Mission has been kept for years and, best of all, the exterior hull door of an aircraft carrier.
2/ At any point, you can go over to your partner and press A to handshake or air guitar or, ludicrously, have the big guy sing, "Salem, Salem, Salem" to the theme of Rawhide. This serves no purpose. Alternatively, if you're, for whatever reason, pissed off with your partner and unable to convey this in real life - via microphone or a sneaky on-the-sofa elbow nudge or shrieked cursing-their-incompetence - you can press Right Trigger and, in the game, slap them round the head or head butt them. Its pointless and, honestly, you simply won't ever do it, unless you're pissing about and want to get your partner killed and so activate the little dance routines mid-combat.
If you do wish to use them, its better to wait until you you hear the end of combat, GOW-style gong of "Everyone's been fucked up, bro!"
You can also swap guns. You will never do this.
3/ Co-Op sniping. The sniper rifles are the most supremely useless weapons in the games. Save yourself the shitty bother of these unskippably bad bits and just nominate one guy to fire twice.
4/ Co-Op parachuting. One guy directs the chute, one guy snipes. As I've said, the sniper rifles are useless and you're generally shooting moving targets while swinging about like a huge, erect penis beneath a parachute canopy. In fact, I think this only happens two or three times in the game, as if the designers realised how awful it is. The most protracted sequence sees you jumping off a cliff using a parachute someone Mr Escort Mission has conveniently left at the edge of said cliff. After which, you clearly hang-glide for ages through endless Afghan caverns with the parachute obstinately refusing to act even a little like a real one.
5/ Step-Up. In which you engage in face-off break dancing with Islamic fundamentalist dance troops from across the see-through global conspiracy.
Of course not. That'd be a pathetic attempt at silliness in this well-grounded, well-structured, thinking man's action title.
At points in the game, the stairs have been shot away. A single man could not traverse such an obstacle but you ARE THE ARMY OF TWO. One man lifts the other, he pokes his head up, checks for targets, shoots the absolute putrefied shit out of them if they're there, then clambers up. He reaches down and pulls you up.
Its pointless and boring and happens with that sort of Only-In-A-Game frequency that makes you roll your eyes and pierce your foreskin with needles full of The Cancer.
7/ Back-to-Back modes that, as far as I can, try to replicate the end of Doug Liman's Mr and Mrs Smith to the point it might be an overt reference. These are shit. The sooner you can detach from it and return to the cover hiding normal action the better.
About that, actually. Not having a button to bind you do cover is actually a really irritating hindrance. You very rarely bind when you don't want you, yes, but when you do want to, you end up ducking and running straight into the sandbag wall or whatever until the game decides what to do with you.
And that's, uh, it. When your partner dies, you can drag them about and heal them. Often, its easier just to clear the area as quick as you can and then find them. Unfortunately, this whole aspect of the game is marred by the fact that, if you do die, you then instantly jump back up and sprawl into the sitting position in which the dragging animation actually works.
As you play Army of Two, you never really feel like the game has embraced its own hype. There's nothing you do that makes you particularly act at a team. Indeed, with the constant Kill Tallies and remarkably unfunny banter, you can feel like two guys in complete competition at times. As the friend with whom I played this mediocre-at-best title with said, "I was expecting their constant insulting of one another to come to a head or something. But nothing happens."
In fact, an end level where you fight each other - finally driven apart by Mr Eat Bauer For Breakfast's insistence to occasionally trip Mr Fallout Boy over as they enter a room (do mercenaries really do that in hostile zones?) - would have been amazing. Certainly better than the storyline of the game which is, well... there isn't one. There just isn't.
Any attempt to build on the characters at all would have been welcome. Any suggestion that being a mercenary wasn't sunshine, lollipops and blood drenched, high-paying rainbows would have been great.
Instead, the game simply flits from one hoo-aah to another, killing the usual tick list of current foreign threats. And you wear fucking armour.
Things that are this stupid are at least generally quite big. Army of Two is criminally short. I reckon that you and a committed friend will take two afternoons at most to play through this. After you do so, I doubt you'll feel an urge to play any more. The more you play, the more you find the game hateful and annoying.
This was such a good idea. A two player game with ground-up co-op, based around the morally very dark grey area of Private Military Contractors, not without a sense-of-humour... it could have been hopelessly terrific. The trouble is that without a story to speak of, you have to focus on the combat and, sadly, the combat is utterly banal and lifeless.
Also, shooting suicide bombers in the chest. A game dynamic even Uwe Boll would probably call fucking retarded.
The only really exciting bit is some FMV with a jet plane. That says a lot.
*Banter in these captions is guaranteed 120% more witty than any incongruous discussions about the Wu-Tang clan and the NFL.
Jachap has handies of two, right at the end of his armies.