Thursday, July 5

Army of Two: The Ties that Bind

Army of Two has been a long time coming, and it wasn't until this week that we knew all that much about the game, thanks to 1up's week long cover feature. Army of Two is developed by EA Montreal and was designed from the beginning as a completely cooperative experience. Whether playing with realistic AI or an actual human, with Army of Two, EA Montreal is set out to reinvigorate the cooperative shooter.We've discussed cooperative games before, in an overview, really, of what they're all about. EA Montreal's main goal was to create a game that required players to play cooperatively. In the 1up preview, Senior Producer on Army of Two explains their premise:
Gears has a really cool co-op experience, too. But what we've been really looking at is 'How do we take what those games have done' -- and I don't want to take anything away from those guys; they've done a really cool job, but it's always just been the add-on -- and figuring out 'How do we make a game where co-op is the focus?
Their solution is a game where in two players take control of two soldiers, named Salem and Rios, working for a private military corporation (PMC). The setting and story is actually really interesting and definitely worth reading about in 1up's various previews and interviews. The point, though, is that the two soldiers (players) must work together to make it through the game. How has EA achieved this requisite realiance on the other player? Well, a big part is something they've designed called the Aggro Meter. Aggro isn't new to games by any means. You'll find it MMO's most prominately, where monsters will swarm players who happen to cross they're path. But Chris Ferriera isn't kidding when he says we've never seen Aggro in a shooter before. This is how it works: players share an Aggro Meter that is displayed across the top of the hud. Its called a meter because thats exactly what it is, just like a speedometer or ticket meter. During the game, the meter pin will swing left or right towards one extreme or the other, each end capped by an icon representing either Salem or Rios.
The meter will swing based on a number of things, but primarily how angry the enemies are. The more attention a player draws to himself, the more aggrevated the enemies will act towards that player. If players blatantly run and gun towards the enemy, naturally, the enemy isn't going to be happy and will start focusing their fire on that character. The other player, meanwhile, may be more reserved in his approach, obviously the enemy will not be as concerned about the player that is seemingly less of an immediate threat, and will focus on fire on the other player. As a result, the pin on the Aggro Meter will swing towards the more aggressive player. Drawing the enemy's attention away allows the other player to, as an example, circle around and shoot the enemy from behind. Alternatively, both players could play aggressively and run guns blazing into the firefight. In this case, the aggro meter may be centered and the enemy fire will be focused on both players. In game, as a player becomes more aggro'd against, his character will glow red. As a character aggrevates an enemy less,on the other hand, he will become slightly transparent. This allows players to differentiate between the two characters' aggro state without looking up at the hud.

Their have been coop games before. But what EA is trying to do is make this a cohesive, neigh, central feature of Army of Two. The aggro meter is EA's answer to cooperative gameplay. The aggro meter is affected by more than just making enemies angry, Army of Two has a big customization system that plays into the meter as well. The game allows players to outfit and customize guns and equipment to great extent, just how the players customize their weapons is what effects their aggro draw, shall we say. For example, if players outfit a gun with a silencer, then shooting at enemies will draw less aggro than it would have without a silencer. A counter example, if players bling out their guns with gold plating, then the enemies are gonna get angry more easily thanks to the player's blatant arrogance. But thats good. For you see, players will have to communicate before each level to decide who will be taking what kind of equipment. One player may want to play stealthily, the other may want to play haughtily. And customizing characters to draw more or less aggro, on average, allows player to strategize about how they're going to cooperate later on, and eventually form their play experience.The aggro meter is a clear design choice that allows players to cooperate at their best. Players will constantly be balancing aggro by drawing and retreating from fire. Aggro allows players to manipulate the enemy to take them out. Working together and using aggro properly will be completely necessary to win each stage. I think that EA Montreal has a fine looking cooperative shooter on their hands, it will be fun to see just how well the aggro works come game time.

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