Monday, April 7, 2008

The new new face of freedom... Kind of looks like the old face of fascism...

The gamer-wife Mike and I finished Army of Two last week and were pleased overall. Developed and published by Electronic Arts for both the PS3 and the X-Box 360, this game is heavily focused on two-man cooperative play. Utilizing Unreal Technology 3 in the third-person shooter format, the game has you taking the roles of a mercenary duo as they travel the world killing ethnics for cash. Play this game and you get to live the dream!

Beyond a standard game that you can simply play with your buddy; titles like Gears of War or Halo 3 for example, Army of Two has put in a series of special two-man manoeuvres in hopes of enhancing the cooperative spirit between partners. Indeed, some of these abilities are vital to completing the levels and in that way treats co-op as a different genre of game rather than an alternate mode as presented in predominantly single player titles. These special moves tend to work in making the game original and they do so by setting up a precedent that carries through the experience; there are roles to play, you must play those roles when they come up, and these roles will switch at any given moment.

The best way to illustrate this is to describe the Aggro and Stealth game mechanic. If one player is shooting at enemies effectively they will earn the Aggro; meaning their character glows red and becomes the target of choice for the enemy. While this is happening the other character automatically enters Stealth; which means they become transparent and even enemies that are nearby will ignore them. This allows that player to flank the enemy or move through the map to a safe place. Aggro, Stealth, and the lack of either are three states the player will find themselves in and it can change with the placement of but a single bullet. While in Stealth if you take out a couple guys with their back to you then Aggro will be your reward. Your role suddenly changes and you must react effectively, in this case by playing the aggressive role. Your partner’s role also changes the instant yours does and they must now work off a different strategy as well.

This back and forth game mechanic adds new weight to the quickly concocted plans, trash talk, and demands for immediate assistance that creates the bond of camaraderie which makes co-op games so enjoyable amongst friends. In this way Army of Two succeeds; the addition of new rules enhances the co-op experience. The other half of the game; its polish and presentation is mixed bag. Personally I liked it and liked what it said, including the subtext. Others may fairly have a different opinion entirely.

Army of Two is undoubtedly the most American game I’ve played in a while. It assumes that heavily armed Yankees have a place and role in other people’s countries so even when they parachute in uninvited it’s for the greater good. There is much talk of terrorism of course, and arms dealers, and hostage taking, and all the other things that quicken the news media’s pulse. There is also much jocularity amongst the mercenaries while they work; head-slapping, high-fives and air guitar between bouts of destruction. Inappropriate? Perhaps. Fun after three or four beers? Absolutely. Army of Two may not be in good taste but it tastes good.

One place this game literally shines is the weapon upgrade system. With your hard earned wages you can buy and upgrade weapons to a delightful degree. New barrels and grips, extended clips, grenade launchers and more can trick out your gun including a ‘pimping’ of it’s appearance; to plate the whole thing in gold or silver and jazz it up with all manner of trim and filigree. More than making the weapon worthy of a rap video this appearance alteration affects the stats of the weapon. When you tote around a Stinger Missile System that’s been decked out to look like a pirate cannon you of course draw attention to yourself, and therefore Aggro. Mike and I spent much time in the shopping menu, too much time.

Army of Two looks pretty good overall, graphically it gets the job done. The same can be said for level design, story, dialogue, and music. These aspects of the game are passable and it’s the two-man manoeuvres plus the weapon customisation that make it worth trying out. If you and a buddy have the same console then this game is worth you going halves to get a copy. I hope the game does well enough to merit a sequel, I want to see the two-man stuff expand beyond basic training because I think the developers are on onto something.

I’m at least mid-way through a game called Dark Sector so I’ll write about that next. As for news I’m not finding much that’s interesting…

On the paper trail that lead to torture…

This is an in-depth Vanity Fair article on how and why torture became common practice at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I haven’t finished it, I’m finding the play by play record keeping of the tortured subjects to be quite off-putting.

Iraq Attack – Green Zone is the new End Zone

The Sadrists are still giving the Americans hell, shelling the fortified Green Zone, killing three soldiers and wounding a couple dozen over the weekend. Meanwhile in Basra the militias continue to control the port city, repelling Iraqi forces to the point where around 1,000 newly trained troops fled the field of battle, going AWOL rather than fighting their own kind. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki has been soundly trounced over this and any illusions that remained as to his effectiveness or strength have been shred away.

Presidential hopeful John McCain has been downplaying these outbreaks, stating that Iraq is returning to a state of normalcy. It seems the Republican talking point is to set the stage for America to remain in Iraq indefinitely no matter how much tension their presence creates. Plus, just to be different, they’re going to lie about it the whole way through.

Cause and effect rules all, don’t you think? Operation Iraqi Freedom has a much lower body count then the Viet Nam war for many reasons, not the least of which is the strategy of troops remaining in their fortified bases in order to avoid casualties. Doing that gave the streets to Iraqi gangsters however and guys like Moktada al Sadr was able to increase their influence by taking over governance of the neighbourhoods. Once that control was established his militiamen could then shell Americas’ biggest fortified compound for days and the troops have not yet been able to stop them. It just goes round and round.

There will be no troop reductions. Surprise – surprise!!!

That America needs every troop they can spare in Iraq is nothing newsworthy. This article goes a bit deeper though in outlining the direct and close relationship the President has with the four-star general in charge of Iraq. It circumvents the chain of command, which is strange in itself because that’s heresy in military organizations. It’s weird to read the quotes of a national leader who says things like "I said to the general: 'If you want to slow her down, fine; it's up to you.' " Sounds like the stage is set to pass the buck when the shit hits the fan, if you ask me.

Could I fit anymore clich├ęs in a single sentence?

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