I had hoped there would be a few surprises during the Burnout Paradise Community Day I recently attended (full article on that coming soon!), and while there were plenty, none were as big as this.

As we first entered EA’s Redwood City offices, we were given the chance to meet with a couple of Army of Two‘s developers, and play what basically amounted to the retail copy.

If you’ve never heard of the title before, Army of Two is a game being developed by EA Montreal. In it, you control two characters named Elliot and Tyson, two combat-hardened, heavily armored soldiers that now earn their keep as mercs. It’s all about the co-player experience here (as early trailers have shown to great effect), and it looked like a great title to play with a friend on Xbox Live, along with Kane and Lynch (heh). It was supposed to be released last November but was pushed back for some tweaking… but did they improve things?

When we walked in the room the guys had a whole bunch of screens set up with the game going. There was a co-op campaign going on two screens, and four screens on the other side of the table offering a taste of the online multiplayer. We pounced on the controllers and I ended up in a multiplayer match, with a level seemingly set in Iraq.

There are a couple of twists to the game. The first is that there are only 4 player online (2 on 2) matches, which seems weak when compared to the massive battles you can play in other multiplayer games, but actually works excellently. There are tons of non player characters that will show up to attack both you and your opponents, so it will seem like you’re playing against much more than 2 people. In fact, there’s a steady stream of opponents that pop up all around you, giving the feeling of really being in the middle of a warzone firefight, where you can be in danger if you stray too far out into the open.

The fact that it’s just you and one other guy relies you to do some serious strategic thinking. If you don’t work with your teammate, you’ll get nowhere. If one of you gets taken out, you will respawn after a certain amount of time, although your friend can pick you up by getting close and hitting the A button. Also, there are moves you’ll need to get around the terrain, like when you want to get to the top of a building. You can brace yourself against the wall and cup your hands in order to give your teammate a boost, and when they’re up there they can turn around and reach down to help pull you up. If you’re surrounded, you can do a move where you go back to back with your teammate to take care of all the enemies.

In the mode we played the goal was to get more cash than your opponents. You can earn money by killing people and finishing objectives. Both teams are trying to complete the objectives before the other, and there is a time limit, but the more missions you can finish the more money you can earn. After each one another immediately comes up, and you have to get ready to go to the next.  One was a rush to be the first team to assassinate a NPC boss of sorts, another was to blow up a truck. One has you protecting a certain point (in our case, a roof with a very-dangerous looking bomb on top of it), and in another you need to take snipers out from the top of a nearby apartment building. It seems to have a nice variety and the fact that every match can have different objectives makes things fun.

The first game I played I failed miserably, getting the most deaths out of everyone and forcing my poor teammate to keep reviving me. This wasn’t the way to play, but I was doing a lot of fucking around to see what else it had to offer. Or at least that’s the excuse I’m going with.

The second match I did a helluva lot better, now that I had gotten the hang of things… getting used to the 3rd person perspective and controlling the slightly overly sensitive camera (might have to tweak that in the settings). One cool feature I learned to use was the GPS system, which changes the screen to green with a hit of the Back button. This will highlight your objectives, co-op interaction points (places you can help hoist your buddy up over a wall, etc.), and weapon caches. Those are a neat idea- you can use your cash to purchase new weapons and upgrades, but of course it will take money from your total. You have to make sure that what you buy is going to pay for itself. I picked a up a shotgun in the second match that was more than worth it, as playing with my boom stick led to a lot of great kills, especially as how our opponents didn’t expect it.

Speaking of great kills, if you run up on someone and hit the shoot button, you’ll melee the hell out of them. There’s nothing more fun than getting up on someone’s character, smashing them in the face with your forehead or elbow and then finishing them off on the ground. Just humiliating. You can also feign death, but if the enemies see you get back up you won’t be fooling them again anytime soon.

One new feature is the “Aggrometer” on the top of the screen that will flip flop
from both player’s sides depending on how much pain they are inflicting
on their opponents. If one player does the most damage he’ll turn red
and have opponents focusing much more on him, leaving the other one practically invisible. This is handy for getting
someone to stealthily sneak into a strategic location while one guy
takes the brunt of the firefight. Of course it’s risky, but sometimes it’ll pay off.

The level design is very smart, with a lot of hiding spots where enemies can pop out of. You can easily take cover and shoot over it without exposing yourself, Gears of War style. Also- vehicles! I yelled in joy when a truck came barreling down the street… but that soon ended when the driver switched to the mounted turret and tore me up. The vehicle physics are pretty tight, and it’s fun driving the thing around the maps, even if does make you an enormous target for anyone with a grenade.

The one problem I can see is that there are only 4 maps to play with online in the full game. They said they have more on the way as DLC, but guys, that is a very low number. Please don’t charge us for those new maps.

I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to check out the single player mode, but judging by the sounds coming from the other side of the table, it’s just as fun.  We were pulled away from the game to keep the rest of our schedule, and we gave back the controllers more than a little reluctantly. The fact that it was so much fun left me feeling confused, because I’d heard that the game was pushed back because it was busted, almost unplayable. There was no indication of that here.

Later on the day, I talked with Jay van Beveren from Talking About Games, one of the guys who had played the old build and voiced their complaints about Army of Two on some pretty simple fuckups that the game had. Like- there was no targeting indicator and you couldn’t tell where you were shooting. Huh?

Every single problem he had with the game had been fixed, and he had to admit that he was impressed that the company had pulled a game that was so close to release (literally days!) to completely retool it. It is commendable.  If the full game ends up being as good as the short playtime we had indicates, Army of Two looks like it’s going to find a nice place in your 360 library.

Also please note that this is the first Army of Two article ever written without one gay joke about the lead characters in it.

Uh… nevermind.

Army of Two hits March 6th.