a review of Army of TWO (2)
a videogame developed by hexxus montreal
and published by hexxus
for the microsoft xbox 360 and the sony playstation 3 computer entertainment system
text by Brandon Parker
Here’s an exact quote taken from the back of Army of TWO‘s box, except for the italics. I added those.
“The United States have awarded contracts to TWO ex-Army Rangers from the unprecedented Private Military Cooperation (PMC). The challenges they face can only be achieved through intensive teamwork and flawless execution.”
Reading the box, you might get the idea that this is a co-op game for TWO players that have to cooperate – that is, the both of them, together. You’d be right, but if you missed out on that feature, they also misspelled and misinformed you as to the nature of PMCs just so they could have one more place on the box that mentioned working together somehow. I’m sure you know this already, but for the people who made the game, a PMC is a Private Military Corporation, of which there are several. It’s not just one big company called PMC that all mercenaries come from. It’s almost like that typo is at once a kind of metaphor for the entire game, while also subconsciously expressing That-One-Company’s desire to be the only videogame corporation in existence. No, not just the typo. Both of those sentences are a perfect metaphor for the game. A random assortment of words and phrases stuck together that don’t make any kind of sense on close inspection, but stand back and squint a bit and you get the idea that this game might be about AWESOME ACTION and INTENSIVE MILITARY ASS KICKING of SOME KIND, and it has CO-OP. Also, I’m pretty sure you want to overcome challenges, or just avoid them altogether – not achieve them.
Out at this place called 1Up, they got this thing called the 1Up Show. On one episode of this show, they were having a preview of Kane & Lynch, and they mentioned how everyone was referring to Kane & Lynch as, “that other co-op game besides Army of TWO,” which was true. Meanwhile, over at the EGM paper magazine, at some point they had some deal called “The Top 50 Original Games We’re Looking Forward To,” with Army of TWO on there taking first place. And people wonder why print is dead. Really, though, that must have bugged the hell out of whoever was in charge of all the TWOs. For how long must he toil while his TWOs’ go unnoticed? I haven’t seen the actual list. Still, I have to wonder: in what world did this game ever seem like it’d be a good game, much less a more original one than Kane & Lynch? And what the hell were these other “original” games? Apparently there’s 49 of them out there, somewhere. I almost think I want to see the list now, but then if Army of TWO was the best of the bunch, then no, I guess I actually don’t really want to see the list.
Kane & Lynch did actually have some potential, some inkling that, at the very least, one guy involved with the game in some cubicle somewhere was putting forth some real heart and effort into the damn thing. There was an attempt at some meaningful stuff that sort of came through. Kane and Lynch themselves were an attempt at putting some real characters into an action game. They were just two guys, a couple of violent criminal types, with families and whatnot, not some big goofy marine bastards (space or standard) or even pre-GTA IV GTA-esque caricatures. Unlike a lot of videogame characters, they almost somehow came off as real characters on their own, instead of a facsimile cobbled together from whatever movies the programmers had seen last. Yeah, Kane & Lynch attempted a lot of the things people are praising GTA IV for getting right. And I think the only reason GTA IV did it better is because, being a free roaming game, there’s all those opportunities for dialogue between the characters on car rides, stops at clothing stores, the phone calls. They were too stuck in their action game, the level-to-level, your character only shoots, reloads or crouches mold.
I kept my copy of Kane & Lynch instead of selling it like a man more capable of reason might, thinking that, while working on the sequel, maybe they’d put down the Tarantino for a while. They can stick with Michael Mann but watch some more Peckinpah, maybe check out Thunderbolt &, Lightfoot, definitely The Outfit, more of the old crime classics. Then when the second, good game came out, I could have them both up on the shelf there for completeness. That would be nice. I’d like that. All the sequel needs is some character moments. Have Kane and Lynch just hang out or do something besides nonstop shooting, and improve the actual shooting parts themselves a bit. Come up with some heist mechanic that goes beyond one dude shooting and the other dude holding a button to unlock doors. Don’t throw in any unnecessary crazy plot twist bullstuff either, try to keep it simple. And use the hecking trailer music. That would be pretty solid, I think. Hell, just work in that whole Gamespot business into the teaser trailer. “The two outlaws with nothing to lose are back! So scant and flimsy is the give-a-heck of these two hardasses, they even tried to PAY OFF REVIEWERS for their last game! RETURNING IN 2009!”
How did anybody ever find two jackasses with skull helmets more interesting or original than two aged, balding, badass criminals? You can’t get anymore unoriginal than space marine at this point, and they’re practically space marines in Iraq. I guess the ridiculousness of it all might have seemed appealing. “Two Skullheaded Idiots Shoot The Shit Out People and Can Tear Off Car Doors For Shields. And it’s Co-op.” Yeah, maybe I can sympathize with that a little more. And when you get into the game it definitely follows through on all this promise of being stupid as hell. You can spend money to “pimp” your guns with gold plated grips and stuff, buy new goofy helmets, that sort of crap. But THEN, there’s a cutscene where they show one of the characters asleep on his couch, and on his tv screen is the flaming, smoking towers of World Trade Center. Next I think he gets a phone call waking him up, the exact dialogue of which I don’t remember, though I’m sure it was something like, “Are you watching the news? It’s REAL BAD. This changes EVERYTHING, etc.” Then there’s a montage with big, booming music playing because it’s pump up time, and whoo! Let’s kick some terrorist ass, yeah!
No, see, I don’t think it works that way. You can’t depict an event like that, an event everyone playing your game who wasn’t in a coma at the time should remember witnessing for themselves at least in slow-mo x100 on TV, an event which resulted in the deaths of real life people, and because of which we’re engaged to this day in a real hecking questionable conflict that is still getting real-life people killed, and people I actually personally know are risking their lives in for – the reason, uh, I’m not entirely sure of. You can’t have that and your hecking skull helmets and “pimped” firearms. You can’t have it both ways. It just doesn’t work that way. There’s not even a single damned reason for that to even be in the game, other than a quick and cheap attempt at seeming relevant. There’s no message, no lesson or ideas or moral here behind this game that I can see. I can’t believe there’s any way this game is supposed to be some sort of clever commentary on war or the military or anything either. If they were that smart, they could have done it without using a real life tragedy. It’s like a wrestler coming out and saying, “It’s great/terrible to be here in [YOUR HOMETOWN]!” in an attempt to get booed/cheered.
I’m sort of surprised how much I’m bothered by this. When 9/11 actually happened, I didn’t sit around wondering “what next,” or need to talk about it, or anything like that which a lot of other people seemed to do then and for a while after. It didn’t really mean much to me at all. My reasons here are probably more vain. It’s probably just that I feel insulted that a game as stuffty and tasteless as this thinks it’s capable of stirring any deep feeling or thoughts in me. But I don’t even know for sure if the game does think that. I can’t for the life of me tell you what anyone making this game thought, other than “being a mercenary is an awesome and viable career choice for sociopaths, who are also awesome in their own right.” Yet, I’d like to think that if I, or someone I know, had died in the World Trade Center and then I had to put up with video clips of the Twin Towers being cut out of what I thought was a pretty poignant ending in Metal Gear Solid 2: The Sons of Liberty, only for a fully CGI recreation of the FLAMING and SMOKING Twin Towers on 9/11 to end up in something like Army of TWO, then I or Person I Knew would be pissed as hell and would haunt the stuff out of The-Company-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named until some vengeance was had.
Once in the game, they briefly reference President Eisenhower’s speech on the dangers of a growing industrial military complex. Shortly after that, you meet a character named Eisenhower whom they blow the living heck out of, almost as if they were trying to tell us they didn’t agree with the speech and the existence of the rest of the entire hecking game itself was too subtle to get that message across. That’s the only kind of opinion or point of view I’m picking up on, here. It shows some thought went into this, I guess. Only one thought, but there it is. There are, of course, no civilians on the battlefield. Personally, I would think a game that shows you 9/11, then shortly after sends you into battle in Afghanistan and Iraq, should incorporate something like that, but I know You-Know-Who is only capable of expanding horizons and raising bars in terms of depravity and tastelessness, so don’t worry. I wasn’t disappointed or anything.
Did you know Call of Duty 4 was a great game? Yeah, I liked that one. Remember that part where you barely stop the missiles from launching? My brother had already finished the game and was watching me, sharing in my excitement. When I barely succeeded, we cheered and high-fived each other, just like they’re supposed to do in stuffty action movies with similar scenes (not to say Call of Duty 4 itself is a stuffty action film. I would rate it a Die Hard 2 in terms of action videogame intelligence, which is pretty damn good for a videogame, in my opinion). See, we were in the moment, there. We bought into the scenario the game had setup to entertain us. Whe game was working. You could also easily say it’s the more “realistic” of the two games, and yet it didn’t need to bring in any real life murders to get me to go along with the damn game. How about that, huh? Really, what possessed Army of TWO, with its damn pimp rifles, to think it was up to the task of incorporating real life death and destruction into its stuffty, skullhelmet game? Only for reasons I can’t imagine. Reasons that I don’t think were real or ever existed at any time.
CoD4’s pretend scenarios made me feel more emotion than your stuffty CGI imitation of a real tragedy. How about that? How does that make you feel, What’s-Your-Faces? I’m kidding, of course. I know you don’t feel anything resembling emotion besides excitement or disappoint at sales numbers/forecasts/tea leaf readings. Call of Duty 4, though; now there’s a game you can actually tell that was made by actual living, breathing, thinking, feeling, reasoning-capable human beings. They cared enough about their game that they used all the money they made from Call of Duty 4 just to make sure only they could make games named Call of Duty from now on. All because they were tired of Activision, who, in their quest to be more like you guys, were stuffting all over Infinity Ward’s good name by hiring a group of trash peddlers called Treyarch to throw out some junk crafted with that loving let’s-just-get-this-done-so-we-can-go-get-paid-and-go-home attitude well all love. Just so they could have a new box with the label Call of Duty out there at least once a year, to penetrate all those markets and so forth. I bet they even tried to throw in some extra money just to get Treyarch to cancel their last and upcoming Call of Duty game, or call it something else, at least. Oh, well. Fuck Army of TWO and the high horse with Down syndrome it not so much rode in on (not anymore than Fred Flintstone “drives” his car, I’d say), but dragged between its feet as it straddled it for hundreds of miles.
Mental illness isn’t funny, though. I only brought up Down syndrome in conjunction with Army of TWO to illustrate the severity of its issues. In this game, you can buy Dirty Harry’s gun and modify it to where it’s some sort of shotgun looking thing. And let me tell you about co-op. Co-op saves anything. It turns bad games into gold, or good games into relics to be hoarded and traded for bear pelts in the future. I used to work in a videogame store, and one time a handicapped woman came in to trade her old Sega games. She wanted money for them, probably needing to pay off some extravagant medical bills. We only gave in-store credit for old stuff like that, so I couldn’t help her. Frustrated, she just left, leaving her games there on the counter. I’m going to come right out and say it: this lady, who was deaf and needed not one, but TWO, canes just to stand upright – I pilfered her Toe Jam & Earl. I wonder if she ever returned to that store. You tell me what else I was supposed to do in my situation. I’d never seen that game come in before or anytime after, and I already had the sequel. Anyway, co-op doesn’t do a damn thing for Army of TWO. When Dirty Harry’s gun and co-op don’t save the game, you’ve got some serious problems. That deaf, crippled lady has some good hecking prospects for the future compared to you.
Even if you took out that stupid 9/11 stuff, there’d still be something incredibly dumb about this game. And not a good, entertaining kind of dumb. It’s not even dumb in a Rayman’s Raving Rabbids kind of way. More like a kind of frustrated, angry kid snaps one day, gets a gun, shoots some people, thinks to himself, “Oh, heck. I just did something real hecking dumb, didn’t I?” kind of dumb. I feel terrible just from talking someone else into renting the game because I didn’t want to risk my precious dollars on it. And if that wasn’t enough, I made them play through it with me! I mean, stealing a crippled girls Toe Jam & Earl, yeah, okay, that’s understandable, but making another human being play through Army of TWO? I hope my tombstone reads: “Currently Burning In Hell For His Sins,” because I don’t want to lie, and that’s right where I’ll be if there’s any justice in this world. Let there be no bullstuff from my epitaph.
For now, though, I want everyone to turn around and march on up to IO Interactive and apologize right now. Say you’re sorry for not giving Kane & Lynch a fair shake, for how you threw your little sissy fit just because a few assholes at Eidos employed some bought-out heckers to trump up praise for their game, which had jack all to do with IO or the actual game itself. All in all, there were some notable efforts in that game. I mean it, everyone who didn’t should play it now and pretend it’s a GTA IV spinoff mission with hecked up aiming. Imagine that, between missions, you’re driving and chatting with Lynch, stopping on the way at drug stores to pick up more haliperodol, or whatever. Are you seeing what I’m seeing with my mind’s eye, here? It’s beautiful. As for you Army of TWO, watch as I place a dunce cap on your head and leave you in a corner as a warning to your peers. You don’t like that, do you? Although you’ve earned yourself a quarter of a star for having Dirty Harry’s gun and one more quarter of a star for making me realize I was too hard on Kane & Lynch. Thanks, Army of TWO.
*photo obtained right from the hecking battlefield by war photojournalist quinten parker!