EA’s latest original IP, Army of Two can best be described as something fresh, and most importantly fun. You’ll find yourself immersed in the world of private security contractors, hoping from conflict to conflict and dealing with the worst terrorists have to offer. You control either Elliot Salem or Tyson Rios, two former U.S. Army Rangers who turned to the private sector after a stint in Somalia. The games name derives from the fact that Salem and Rios are a tandem, always side by side in battle. Right from the get go it’s apparent that the two are best of friends, on and off the battlefield. They have distinct and well-defined personalities that brings out some great dialogue. Chatter is a constant presence during gameplay, and just listening to some of the things they say adds a humorous aspect to the characters.

Army of Two introduces some new features to the world of third person co-op shooters. Salem and Rios have numerous team maneuvers they can utilize, from a back-to-back attack when they’re surrounded to tandem parachuting and simultaneous co-op sniping. The most innovative aspect to the game though is the Aggro Meter. When Rios or Salem shoots at an enemy, they draw Aggro, or aggression, which causes the enemy to concentrate their fire on the character with the most Aggro. With the enemy focusing on one character the other becomes almost invisible and is able to sneak around to flank the enemy. Holding Aggro long enough will also allow a character to enter the Overkill mode, which doubles the damage done by a weapon and slows down the battle so you can better target an enemy.

When playing in the single player mode you have full control over your partner’s behavior via the D-pad. You can order him to advance, hold position, and regroup, plus a double tap will set any of those three behaviors into “aggressive” mode. This will cause him to draw Aggro and allowing you to position yourself better for the kill. When playing co-op you relinquish control of your partners behavior, instead making it essential to communicate during the game. There’s a reason it’s called Army of Two, it’s meant to be played with a human partner. The entire game is designed around the co-op, and makes it an enjoyable experience when playing with another person. You can play on-line or though a split-screen if your partner happens to be next to you. If playing in single player, the AI is generally pretty smart, but at times fail miserably. Unfortunately it makes from some frustrating times. Generally speaking though, the AI does a good enough job to help you out and make missions a bit easier.

Since you are playing a mercenary, you earn money for accomplishing certain objectives for each mission. You can use this money to purchase and upgrade weapons that will give you an edge as the game progresses. The range of upgrades is impressive, and each one changes the look of the weapon noticeably. High level upgrades can make exceptionally deadly items, including sniper rifles with 5 foot barrels, .44 Magnums with giant extended magazines, and assault rifles with shotguns strapped to their undersides. To draw extra all-important Aggro, you can upgrade the appearance of any weapon to “Pimped,” which will pimp out your gun in diamonds, platinum, and gold. You also get to buy different masks through the store, giving your character a unique look.

The multi-player is limited to 2 vs. 2, similar to the co-op structure of the main campaign. Both teams compete over objectives on the map such as assassinating a VIP or destroying an objective in order to earn the most money for their side. At the same time, they will also be forced to deal with the opposing team in order to secure their objectives. There are 3 multi-player gametypes: Warzone, Bounties and Extraction. In Warzone the objectives are randomly generated and range from inhabiting a checkpoint and defending it, shooting down a helicopter, blowing up a jeep with gunner, transporting wounded soldiers to extraction points, assassinating V.I.P’s, etc. Bounties has you eliminating targets, such as gang leaders. Extraction involves rescuing V.I.P.’s or P.O.W.’s and transporting them to a safe location. There are currently four maps, where each map contains so called “intelligence”, which if picked up will get you extra money.

It has to be said that the art direction in Army of Two is simply some of the best you’ll ever see. The environments are packed with believable detail and the many reactions enemies have when being shot are realistic. The cut scenes are some of the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen with such an eye for realism at times I had to question whether they inserted Salem and Rios into actual film footage. The story is also pretty good, incorporating 9/11, private security contractors who have been so prominent in the news since our involvement in Iraq, and other “ripped from the headlines” ideas that are refreshing to see in a video game.

Army of Two is one of the best co-op games out there. While it may not hit every note perfectly, it makes for a resounding tune. The multi-player aspect is a lot of fun, as is the aforementioned co-op. The single player also gives you an enjoyable experience. EA was right for delaying the game a few months to polish it up. They’ve got a hit on their hands and I’m already anxious to see where its inevitable sequel will take us.