Before Army of Two came out, I was having trouble making sense of the reviews I had read. Invariably, the game lost a certain quantity of metaphysical "points" for its Single Player experience, and was redeemed to a great extent by its multiplayer modes, both adversarial and cooperative. I’ve never considered it anything other than a multiplayer game, taking the name of the game in question as a helpful suggestion.
This is what I was trying to discern: would the game have fared better as a purely multiplayer affair? Judging by the bulk of professional reviews, the single player portion is only there to make the rest of the game look nuanced by comparison.
Not that it’s especially nuanced, of course. This is a game where you can have gold plates affixed to your machine gun, where every rational or introspective thought is shouted down by some omnipresent idiot chorus. I don’t hate the game, but I do hate the people we’re playing as: belligerent, vile psychopaths whose response to murder is to bump fists. One of them is an especially schizoid monster: he’ll go from hushed tones about a global conspiracy immediately into "I won a new car" levels of ecstatic pleasure at the thought of killing for cash, which makes me wonder if his conscience was an afterthought - something added while the game was in progress, to make these animals something akin to human beings.
How is the game? In cooperative mode, it’s "alright." I could write more, and others certainly have, but I’m not paid by the word. Like any game where you can play with friends, it has the potential to generate close calls and had-to-be-there moments. The lack of System Link support, enshrined by Halo on the original Xbox, is a stupid oversight - but it’s really more of a black eye for Microsoft, either for shunting it through cert or for not responding to competitive pressure on the subscription multiplayer issue - you pick. The game itself is often strange in its pacing, leaping to unnecessary cutscenes of the characters opening doors, constantly drawing players out of whatever engaging moments the game manages to generate. Every event these clips wrest from the player was an opportunity to reinforce camaraderie with actual gameplay.
Gabriel is entirely finished with the game, and probably the budding franchise in its entirety. I like to speak in declarative terms here in this space, but I always operate under the assumption that I’m wrong about virtually everything. I’m ready to be impressed by the remaining third of the game. I took a tour of the maps and gametypes of the multiplayer mode last night, and was surprised by the novel multiplayer concept - it pits the campaign’s two-man teams against each other in a live-fire environment with a third unaligned aggressor. Having had incredible experiences both in PC games with upwards of sixty-four players all the way down to Splinter Cell’s four, I think huge numbers of players per server is a nice bullet point but it’s no indicator of potential amusement. The game is typically EA in its polish, with no lobby to return to after matches, necessitating another round of invites and joins each round. But the pace of the gameplay is incredibly fast, with teams racing for objectives around themed maps and delivering high levels of enjoyment.
Everyone has read the comments about the entirely theoretical Call of Duty MMO, I’m sure - but I’m pretty sure Call of Duty 4 already fits the bill. Character persistence, customization, equipment, experience, and quests are all in place. Once you start to apply the template, it’s hard to see the individual rounds we are accustomed to in the genre as anything other than instances. Plus, if you’re playing it on the 360, you’ve even got the monthly fee. This lends an air of authenticity.