When Ridley Scott revisited Alien to produce a director’s cut, many fans were surprised that, rather than chuck a load of extra footage in, he actually cut a lot out. The resulting re-edit was tighter and scarier, turning a great movie into an even better one. And so it is with Army of Two. When we played it back in November, we found ourselves looking at a mostly fun game that had some serious flaws.
It seems that EA shared our opinion, announcing that the game was to be delayed a few more months to allow the team to tweak it. As with the Alien remix, these improvements mainly involved ripping unfixable content out. So the Dance Dance Revolution-style tampon stuffing minigames? Gone. Vehicular combat? Mostly gone (more on that later). Boring single-player gameplay? Definitely a thing of the past. Welcome to Army of Two - The ‘Director’s Cut’.
Despite the tinkering, the core storyline has remained the same, as Salem (Skinny, money obsessed thrill-seeker) and Rios (Burly quarterback, conspiracy theory nut), rip their way through 18-years worth of political hotspots, high-fiving their way to the plot’s incredibly obvious (and slightly abrupt) conclusion like a pair of wrestling fixated teenagers. Designed as a co-op experience from the outset, you’ll always have a partner, with the second character controlled by a friend or AI.
Much of the work done on the game since November has gone into improving the partner AI, and it’s made a huge difference to the single-player campaign. Although you still issue the same orders as before (aggressive and passive flavors of Go, Stop and Re-group) your pantomime-tough pal responds much more effectively than before, and by combining commands it’s now possible to place him anywhere you want. Now you don’t have to worry about your partner, you can finally relax into the pair’s juvenile camaraderie - to the point where you actually look forward to running up and chest-thumping your heterosexual life-partner after particularly cool shoot-outs.
While you could accuse EA of pulling their punches by removing the now notorious ‘pushing-feminine hygiene products into bullet wounds’ minigame, it’s actually a smart move. Coming into effect every time a downed player was rescued by his teammate, it was initially fun but soon turned into a grind, pulling you out of the action constantly. Reviving your partner is now just a case of standing over him and holding a button for a few seconds, although the bar will reset if you take a hit, meaning you have to pick your cover wisely. It’s far more immediate, and the game’s flow is significantly improved.
Likewise with the vehicle sections. Brief to the point of redundancy, we really couldn’t see the point of their inclusion, especially considering the lack of cool stuff to blow up while using them. Now they’re mostly gone, with only the slightly dull hovercraft sections making it through to the finished game. Fortunately, they’re few and far between.
Everything that we loved about the game before is still great - including the essential co-op mode, the blinging weapon customization and the brilliant slow-mo back-to-back bits. Equally, the removal of many of the game’s irritations makes for a far smoother ride. Army of Two has even managed to innovate on a small scale - the non-magnetic cover system (which allows you to fire over and around walls without gluing you to them) makes combat feel fast and fluid, while the Aggro combat system (which draws the enemies toward the most dangerous player, making the other player effectively invisible) turns an MMORPG staple into a pretty effective combat mechanic.
If Call of Duty 4 is a John McTiernan (in his prime) movie, then Army of Two is a straight-to-DVD Steven Seagal flick - it manages to be almost as entertaining in places, but there’s still a nagging sense that they spent most of their budget on just one helicopter explosion. If a sequel (Army of Two 2?) manages to provide more destructible scenery than the odd stray oil barrel, and includes a smarter plot, EA might really have something here. For now though, they’ll have to be content that they managed to turn a B-movie into a passable blockbuster.
Mar 5, 2008