Monday, March 17, 2008

This Army of Two is not Army Strong.

This will be the first of my "reviews" here. And I use that term as sparingly as possible given my tendency towards hyperbole, exaggeration and even outright lies. The aim isn't to give you a "fair and balanced" (that phrase has no meaning since Fox News hijacked it) indication as to the quality of the game, but instead to say whether it is enjoyable or not.

For those with no knowledge of my gaming habits and feelings you can read much of my previous work on my Gamespot user page. But I'll give you a quick summary of it.

I have limited gaming time and thus a low-threshold for bullshit, wastes of time, filler and anti-fun. This can include stuff like crappy save systems such as Ninja Gaiden, Grand Theft Auto and any other games that don't allow me to save when I damn well need to. Not want, but need - after all, unlike the pre-teen emotional retards to whom most game developers seem to pander, I can't commit to fifteen hour gameplay marathons where I may only see a single checkpoint. At least give me regular checkpoints like those which Call of Duty 2 introduced, where even a compulsive quick-saver like myself felt at home. I hope to hell that GTA4 has a decent mid-mission checkpoint system so that I can at least resume from a point within the mission rather than heading back to get the briefing and starting from scratch all over again, otherwise that game is going to find itself shelved quicker than you can say: "Mayor Bloomberg is going to sue somebody."

Similarly, I don't want filler or crap. I don't care that your game has eighty fucking hours of gameplay if seventy-eight of it is going to spent backtracking through every area that I've visited previously because you think that needless padding is good. Same goes for pointless "cut-and-paste" level design to extend your games length. For examples of this, see Zelda (in fact, every goddamn JRPG ever), Halo and my personal whipping-boy: World of Warcraft (what - you want me to play the same goddamn thing over and over and over in the hope of getting some "phat lewt"? Fuck no).

Finally, I ask that the game be fun. This "fun" of which I speak is a difficult thing to define. My personal taste for fun varies wildly from day to day. Some days I feel like playing a very realistic sim, other days even the most bombastically over-the-top arcade game will still be too little to keep me engaged. Really, fun for me is that mystic quantity that makes me want to play the game. Fun is essential to me as gaming is a hobby, it is one of the things I do for enjoyment. A perfect example of how seriously I take "fun" can be seen in the fact that I play (and have played many more) miniature based war-games. But assembling and painting all those things never really rated that highly on my list of priorities. It was all about the play experience. So what if my Fallschirmjager company or High Elf army or Goblin Blood Bowl team or Norse Mordheim warband or Eldar Aspect Warrior army or Orlock Necromunda gang or Assault Gun company were very poorly or even unpainted, it wasn't that which I was in the hobby for. It was for the game - not for the craft.

Any how, back to the topic at hand, which happens to be Army of Two. Not that you would have guessed it from the story so far.

Army of Two is of course, the recent "topical social commentary" from EA. And it shouldn't have been. Because I want to get straight down to the problem with this game. It takes itself too seriously. And I must ask: "How did this happen?" This game has all the cliches - the mismatched "buddies" from every cop movie ever, the hilariously low grade plot (more on that to come), villains who munch on the scenery more than Dennis Hopper and lets not forget the fact that you can make your weapons into something worthy of being displayed next to a Fabergé egg.

So how did any of this end up as "serious social commentary"? I have no idea. Someone at EA obviously developed Jane Fonda syndrome about mid way through the script writing process, because it goes from perfect Team America style piss-take on the entire "War on Terror" to this ridiculous thriller that even Tom Clancy's current team of chained to the word-processor ghost-writers wouldn't want to take credit for.

Seriously, how do we move from a super-stylised Somalian warlord soliloquising on American Imperialism (in the precise manner that the enemy in a 1980s Chuck Norris movie would) and the chemical weapons obsessed Al'Qaeda leader to suddenly having "I'm being serious, can't you hear how I've lowered my voice an octave and altered my tone?" discussions of US domestic and foreign policy? Oh, and saying "Conspiracy theory" about 40 times per dialogue certainly doesn't help matters. If the game had kept the ridiculously over-the-top, moustache twirling villainy throughout, then it would have been a much better game.

Thankfully the switch in tone only occurs when there is about two hours left in the game. Which places it about halfway through. Which brings me to my next point. It's short. Like four hours short. Thankfully, it is a joy to replay, as long as you have someone to play co-op with. But still - that is damn short. Especially considering the monster delay.

And it's not like the delay did much, in fact, one thing that seemed to happen in the delay is that a lot of the stuff that was in the game was taken out. Really, much of what this game was allegedly about was cut. The co-op stuff is there as a way of ensuring that you don't separate too much, and even if you do, the occasional mandatory "snap you both to the same location" sequence will occur. On the bright side, it doesn't have quick-time events.\

The weapon customisation is kind of fun, and really the only incentive to keep playing, in order to unlock it all. But by the same measure, the actual customisations look like the concepts were done by a angry 13 year old who was scribbling school massacre fantasies in the back of his Home Economics text book. And with every bit of hateful disrespect intended, I say this to you, whoever you are: "Your designs look like shit." Some are better than others (for example I love the .44 and its upgrades) but the overall quality of them is bad. And their implementation is worse, as a friend pointed out, it's like a shoddily made mod for something, they just whack another model and skin over the top and damned if it's not noticeable when suddenly a texture alters, or hideous overlaps are evident. As for outfit customisation, you have a choice of Light, Medium and Heavy armour and about twelve equally crappy masks. Again, these look like the results of the same 13 year old's sketches. Why not give us a little toolset like Need For Speed (I won't mention Forza as NFS has what I want and it's a goddamn EA product) to allow us to customise our masks and armour? If I can carry a diamond encrusted Stinger missile, then please explain why I cannot put some sweet designs on my face mask and armoured shoulder pads? I'm assuming that a few hours of airbrush work by someone is well within my budget. This applies in single player only though. In multi-player it's a much bigger criticism, there is no customisation beyond choosing a character model and at some point during the round purchasing a new weapon package. You can't even mix-and-match beyond swapping with your partner. It's a poor design choice given the depth of options in single player.

So, how does it play? Pretty well overall. I'm assuming that you've played Gears of War? It's like that, but the controls aren't quite as tight, and there are some terrible button placement decisions. Putting every action on the "A" button? Not a good start and leads to some unfortunate events. Having melee and ranged attacks on the same trigger as well as putting on "slap your team-mate upsides the head" on that trigger too? Let me just say that I was forced to replay a segment several times after a furious gun-battle ended with my parter and I both dead after we head-butted each other into oblivion while the enemy who we were trying to kill blasted us with impunity from three fucking inches away.. Campaign mode is alright for a run-through by yourself, but for any prolonged play, you really want a friend to play with. Adversarial is quite a lot of fun, being that it is just like co-op, but it actually has things like drivable vehicles and all these other bits that were meant to be in the single-player originally (and I'm not counting the hovercraft sequences in China and Miami, because it's crap).

Of course, the problem with the multiplayer is that at any given moment you have a nine-in-ten chance of being suddenly and violently disconnected. This has happened too many times to too many people that I've spoken to for it to be isolated cases. But then again, we're all in Australia and I doubt that EA squandered any money in putting a server here for us to connect through, so that's probably at least half of our troubles.

Finally, I'll put in one last criticism - the Miami level stinks to high heaven. It's lazy design and writing at it's worst. For a game that wanted so badly to be "serious social commentary" by that point, it missed the boat completely. What could have been a beautiful take on the mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina and the profiteering by certain groups in its aftermath is instead reduced to nothing but a level in which to play. The fact that the city is 6' underwater is never even mentioned. It's just like that so you have to use your hovercraft. It's this kind of laziness that really epitomises Army of Two.

Now, because some readers are lazy oafs who can't be bothered digesting such a solid block of text as that above, I will provide a quick summary for you (this will be the way I end reviews, with a hefty dose of thanks to PCPP for the great concept)

It's better than: Conflict: Denied Ops
It's worse than:
Gears of War
Try it if you like: Gears of War, Kane & Lynch, Brothers In Arms
Best played... with other humans, preferably those who realise that the entire game should not be taken seriously and that the characters are not, in fact cool.

No comments: