July 27, 2007 - A few years ago it would have been unthinkable for EA to produce a game like Army of Two. That's because a few years ago, EA's Larry Probst was very publicly refusing to countenance the development of M-rated videogames. And Army of Two looks very much like it'll be an M-rated videogame. The first time you see it in action - the first time you witness the two beefed up, super-butch protagonists leaping out of cover into intense, high-octane firefights that splatter the screen in blood while they exchange curse-filled banter and bark manly one-liners at each other - there's no doubt that this is a game that's aimed squarely at the mature player.
As you'll know by now if you've followed any of IGN's previous coverage, the concept behind Army of Two started out as a desire to do a co-operative game of some kind - any kind. It wasn't till the team had played around with various co-operative game mechanics in a test bed that they decided to make it a contemporary third-person shooter. And boy is it contemporary. Sure, if you just want to sit back and enjoy the buddy-movie banter, you can do that. But you'll also be soaking up some pretty subversive political commentary focussing on the way military contractors are used in today's conflict-ridden world.
"The big thing is that it's a co-operative game," says Chris Ferriera, the game's fast-talking lead designer. "We went through iterations where we were like, 'Should it be cops? Should it be thieves? Should it be this, should it be that?' And we decided that the hot topic right now is the politics in the Middle East and the wars that are going on. It's something that people can relate to - it's not a stretch of the imagination to believe that this exists. We also thought that we can tell a very politically charged story based on the world of private military contactors and what's going on overseas."
That politically charged narrative casts you as one of two operatives working for a private military contractor (or PMC). It starts out simply enough, as you complete a series of contracts, but as the game progresses, a plot twist sees your boss pushing forward his own agenda - and from that point on, the story starts to explore the pernicious side of the political system that supports PMCs by allowing them deniability and immunity from prosecution. Combined with the fairly generous amount of mature content in the game, it will no doubt be grist for the mill of conservative politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. But it's also likely to tap into the popular groundswell of frustration with governments that have irresponsibly led our countries into war.
Or not. Like we say, you can always just sit back, enjoy the banter, and blow stuff up, which, at EA's recent producers day, could be done across three playable levels. The first: a gunfight to get to a machine-gun emplacement and then extraction. The second: a parachute drop (one player steers while the other aims) into a mountain enclave. And the third and final level: a bit of a boss battle inside a cave network in Afghanistan, against a super-armoured enemy who can only be injured from the side or rear - and therefore requiring a bit of the co-operation that Ferriera is so keen to emphasise.
Over all three of the levels on display, it's pretty violent stuff, with blood splattering the screen as you dish out destruction with powerful ranged weapons and high-impact melee attacks. And in case you were in any doubt about that whole politically charged thing, there are suicide bombers thrown in for good measure (and a bit of swearing too, just to give the moral majority what for). But Ferriera defends this unflinching portrayal of combat: "We didn't do violence for violence sake," he says. "We want to show what's going on. We do no worse than what you see in news footage, and we do no worse than what you've seen in modern films like Black Hawk Down and stuff like that. We don't glorify it. We don't tell you that these guys are heroes, we tell you that they're there working for money. It's a real world topic that we're comfortable with because we want to open people's eyes to what's going on in the world today. As far as the political stuff goes, we're not afraid to tell a story out of it. It's not a matter of opinion, it's a matter of fact what's going on in the world today."