Army of Two

In Army of Two, co-op isn’t just a bullet point on the list, or even a separate, albeit full-featured mode. It’s the game. At least, that’s what the line folks at EA are using to pull in buyers of their new IP.

Army of Two is a good reason why I’ve been paying more attention to EA lately. In the past year or two they’ve been putting out a lot of surprisingly creative titles, from the 1st-person action adventure Mirror’s Edge to the horrific 3rd person hit, Dead Space. And then there’s Army of Two, another game coming out of left-field from EA, and they don’t seem to be showing any sign of stopping their new direction. Which is good.
Co-op has become a very common feature in third person shooters. And with good reason. Flanking enemies with a buddy, or taking up a distant sniping position as you cover comrade(s)’s advance from cover to cover is simply exhilarating. Somehow, co-op in third person games always feels more involved than co-op in first person games.
Army of Two clears up a bit of the fog surrounding reasons why this is so by introducing a few handy elements of teamwork, such as giving your partner a leg up, going back to back, or dragging him/her to safety when they’re downed. This game makes it clear from the get go that for a variety of reasons, this is in no way an experience where you two can just go your separate ways, meeting only to open a door that for some reason requires two buttons pressed near simultaneously to open. I played through the game with my sister on the lowest difficulty, Recruit, and found that in the latter half of the game, this supposedly easiest difficulty felt more like medium-hard. Several times I found myself realizing that a certain situation would be so much easier if tackled as a tightly coordinated team. What I’m getting at is, this is a game that demands teamwork, even on the lowest difficulty. Not just in getting past doors and obstacles, but in regular combat as well. United We Stand, Divided We Fall.
The most outstanding method the game uses to encourage partner communication is the Aggro system, represented by a red and black meter. Whenever you fire a weapon or take someone out, the meter tips towards your side of the screen. The more Aggro you have, the more attention you’ll suck up. On the bad side, this means that you will have pretty much every person in range gunning for you, but this also means they won’t be paying attention to your partner, who has become all but invisible. The main benefit to this as that it allows for some pretty flawless flanking maneuvers, for those enemies who have a near impenetrable front defense, but a squishy backside. When the Aggro scale tips completely towards one end or the the other, you have the option of going into an adrenaline mode that gives you infinite ammo and all the aggro, and makes your partner completely invisible, for 10-15 seconds. you can also affect your aggro meter drastically by feigning death, an option that becomes available when you are about to die (though it only works once in a while). Understandably, doing this instantly maxes out your partner’s aggro, and makes you invisible.
Other teamwork options encourage coordinated or co-op attacks. For example, when you are downed, your partner doesn’t have to heal you on the spot. He can grab you and haul you to somewhere safer. In the meantime, you can cover both of you by picking off pursuing adversaries before they can KO your buddy. It’s a great mechanic, and works well. And then there’s back to back shooting, where you land in an area and find yourself surrounded, and have to take out people as they rush in from all sides. Moving on, there’s also co-op sniping, which helps you two take out two people at once from afar, and two man parachuting, where one man steers, and the other snipes.
Overall, the co-op was done pretty well, and I was impressed. The actual shooting gameplay is also solid, though it’s a bit clumsy at close range. (I’ve missed with a shotgun at point blank range more times than I can count). Another small peeve I have with the controls is the fact that melee attacks are mapped to the same button as gun attacks. The game automatically allows you physically attack enemies when you are right next them, but it’s sometimes too slow to recognize that I should pistol whipping my target, not shooting him in the face.
Army of Two also has way too much loading and/or fancy menu effects going on. Maybe this is just a matter of opinion, but I felt like it was a serious chore to have to wait 2-3 seconds after each menu choice I made, before I’d see results. It was even worse in the weapon menu, where you had a wait several seconds every time you wanted to see a selection of weapons. The game also apparently doesn’t cache the map you’re playing on, because if you die you get to wait about 20 seconds while the game loads all over again. And if you happened to die right after a cutscene, you have to watch it over again. Checkpoint frequency was never a huge issue, though, so this only became a glaring nuisance once or twice.
Speaking of weapons, Army of Two has quite a few of them. Rios and Salem (the two playable characters) have a large arsenal of gear and guns available to them, albeit for a price. You’ll always carry four weapon types: A primary weapon (usually an assault rifle or shotgun), a sidearm (a pistol or submachine gun), a sniper rifle/special weapon (special as in rocket launchers), and grenades. For most of the guns there’s a decently large amount of room for customization for each weapon. There’s options to change the stock, barrel, add a silencer or different cartridge..and of course the mandatory “pimped” paint job. I’ll let you think about what that might mean.
It feels a little weird having waited this long to talk about the characters and story, but that’s probably because the co-op is more important than they are. The game follows the two mercenaries Rios and Salem, who are good partners and tight buddies. They work alongside Alice Murray in a PMC, taking on various jobs and hits for money. However, they are betrayed by the higher ups in the company, and you play them as they unravel the question of who framed them, and why. Neither the plot nor characters were very interesting to me, though, and seem to serve solely as a way to move the game forward.
The graphics in Army of Two are pretty good, though a lot of objects have a strangely bright shine to them. The music is largely forgettable, and the amount of swearing going on kind of bars you from getting into the experience sometimes.
Overall, Army of Two is an interesting endeavor. The gameplay was done pretty well, but the presentation could of used some ironing out. 7/10

Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest for Booty

I was originally going to merge this with Tools of Destruction‘s post, but because I didn’t quite feel ready to write about this one yet, I decided to wait and give it its own post, so as not to delay ToD.

Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest for Booty is the immediate sequel to the first R&C game on Ps3.  I won’t spoil the ending of Tools of Destruction, but the Quest for Booty picks up almost right where it ends.
First and foremost, Quest for Booty is a PSN title.  That means you’re not gonna get the epic length quest you normally would from a disc-based game.  This one you’ll finish in about 4 hours tops, and unfortunately there’s almost nothing to keep you coming back to this game once you complete it.  Personally I think it would have been cool if they had supplemented the campaign with multiplayer.
Besides being significantly shorter, the game also plays a little differently.  Though you’ll still have weapons (they start at Lv3 and go up to Lv5), you have only a limited portion of the arsenal granted to you in Tools of Destruction.  No devices, either.  However, the focus this time around isn’t on over the top weaponry and enemies to shoot up.  Rather, QfB‘s pacing slows down a bit to focus more on pure platforming, with some puzzles here and there.  Ratchet’s greatest tool is once again his wrench, but it’s put to much more use here than in other games.  Now you can use its kinetic grapple (I think that’s what it’s called?) to push and pull platforms and other objects, and pick up small green animals that illuminate dark areas.  You’ll certainly need to fight often, but your wrench is at the center of the game this time.
Which isn’t a bad thing.  Being a downloadable title, it supports the often considered idea of downloadable games putting a new spin on a genre.  It gives the game a fresh feeling.
The graphics remain almost the same on a technical level as Tools of Destruction, with a bit of sprucing up here and there.  The game’s theme is, as hinted by the title, pirates.  You’ll traverse dark caves and gloomy lagoons, duel robot pirates on their ships (and ghost pirates), and explore a decidedly more tropical setting.  This is comes out in the music too, even when you hover over the game in the XMB.
Quest for Booty is tough to recommend to most people.  It lacks much replay value, and is pretty short in the first place.  But it continues the surprisingly compelling story that started in Tools of Destruction, and offers a new spin on the series.  And it also confirms that a new game (just now revealed to be titled A Crack in Time) will be out this fall.  It sells for under $20 (about $15, if memory serves) on the PS Store.  You decide if that’s worth it.  A 7/10.
Note: No, the pic is not a shop.  Though its a PSN exclusive in America, its sold as a retail item in Europe.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Gamefly’s been pissing me off for the past week or so. It skipped at least 10 games on my GameQ and fished out two seemingly random games was totally not expecting. This was one of them.

But I’m not one to hold grudges, and I had been meaning to play this game at some point or another (just was looking forward to a weekend of CoD WAW..*grumbles*..), so I didn’t consider it any sort of big deal.
So, here’s the run down, plain and simple: Force Unleashed is really, really kick ass. But only for the first hour or so. Then it gets boring.
The game starts soon after Revenge of the Sith; Order 66 has killed off most of the Jedi, and any remaining are in hiding. You start the game as Darth Vader, who has been sent to Kashyyk to kill off a Jedi master living there in secret. After a short romp across the battleground, where you show off your badass-ness by easily destroying any Wookies or allied soldiers that get in your way, you face off against the Jedi, and kill him. Interestingly, before Vader can strike the final blow with his lightsaber, the thing flies out of his hand, and into those of the Jedi’s toddler son. After Force choking the Jedi and tossing him aside, Vader takes the boy into his care, raising him as his secret apprentice. From then on, you play the game as him, having grown into a young man.
The Force Unleashed is, at its core, a hack n slash game. Starkiller (the apprentice’s codename) has a wide arsenal of fancy combos at his disposal, but if you so please, you’ll probably get along just fine with the standard 4 hit combo (though you’ll have a harder time if you don’t at least take advantage of your force powers when they are likely needed). Most enemies can be taken down quickly and efficiently in this manner. Besides his physical lightsaber attacks, Starkiller employs the Force as a weapon too. Someone out of your range? Toss your lightsaber at him, and itll slice right through him from a distance before heading back towards you. Don’t feel like fighting your enemes? Use Force Push to knock em down, and make a break for it. But what Sith warrior can’t use Force Lightning? Indeed, pressing the triangle button prompts Starkiller to release mighty electricity from his fingertips, zapping the poor fool caught by it into oblivion. You can also Force Grip a LOT of stuff, from enemies to various objects around the area (even Star fighters!), but the controls for it are kind of sketchy. They work, but require most of your concentration to use with any sort of accuracy. And since you can’t move while Force Gripping something, it tends to go unused in the thick of battle. You’ll also use your Force powers outside of battle too, like using a massive Force Push to blast open a door, or Force Lightning to overload a generator.
I’m betting a majority of the people who got this game were more interested in its story than its gameplay. And it delivers well enough. Its not a grand masterpiece on par with the likes of Metal Gear Solid or any better-than-decent RPG, but its compelling, and ties together the old and new trilogies well. Most of the characters are likeable, and are voiced well in my opinion. But honestly, unless you hate reading or something, you might be better off checking out the novelization of this instead, as it probably portrays the story even better than the game, and you don’t have to bother with repetitive gameplay.
As for graphics and overall performance, the game does glitch occasionally. But this seems to be typical of most Star Wars games. I’ve seen glitches on SW: Bounty Hunter. I’ve seen them on Battlefront 2, Jedi Starfighter, Starfighter, and probably Rogue Squadron. They’re usually just visual ones, like distorting views or soldiers freezing in place, but I have encountered clipping issues in this one often as well, like being stuck in between a door or the physics engine miscalculating. None of them are game-breaking, and the title as a whole looks pretty darn good.
The Force Unleashed isn’t something I’d recommend anyone to buy for keeps for more than $20-30. There are a wealth of costumes to be had in the game, as well as more that can be bought via DLC, as well as standard extras like concept art, but overall there’s just not much to keep this game from becoming shelved after the first or second playthrough. Gameplay-wise, the free demo offers almost as much excitement as the entire game. A 7/10.