Nearly a decade has gone by since 9/11, but I still found the images of buildings being blown up right in the middle of a large urban area very jarring. I may be biased because of family ties (my brother was working a block away from the Twin Towers when they were brought down), but scaling down the side of a building while others blew up around me took me out of the game experience and into a mental realm that had very little to do with entertainment.
If you aren't lucky enough to have a willing partner, you’ll be forced into the companionship of an AI buddy. This was the guy who ate paste in mercenary kindergarten. In theory you can direct his movements, but most often you will find that this is an exercise in futility. My advice is to keep him off aggro (meaning he’ll only fire when fired upon, not on sight) and make sure he stays next to you. If you need to flank, tell him to hold position as you sneak around. Set him up for aggro on any of the harder difficulties and be prepared to race back to his side and revive him--which won’t be easy because by then he’s surrounded by at least twenty terrorists.
You do eventually escape that scenario and visit more exotic locales, like a zoo run by a bizarre puppet master in which you’ll need to take cover behind the bullet-riddled carcasses of elephants and other large mammals. Call me crazy, but I can snipe a thousand terrorists in the head without caring, and then I’m forced to cower behind Dumbo as he absorbs grenade blows and I’m all torn up inside.
Questionable scenarios aside, I've said it about the original and I'll say it again: co-op (in this case, bro-op--someone please tell me how I can trademark that) is one of the best gaming experiences you can have with a buddy, online or on the couch. Hitting a high-five with your pal or punching him when he misses a shot is priceless. If you communicate well together, you can run a tight Ghost Recon-esque operation with none of the choking seriousness.
Despite this coddling, my partner managed to light himself on fire. Multiple times. No, we’re not talking hiding behind an explosive barrel--hell, anyone can make that mistake. We are talking running directly into a raging fire, then screaming and running towards me, lighting me on fire in the process.
He responded to my request to man a mounted gun, but couldn’t manage to flip it around so that it faced enemies. Instead, he grimaced as his back was made into swiss cheese, oblivious to the fact that with one button press a human player can flip mounted guns 180 degrees.
When I asked him to help set up electronics equipment (something both mercs are needed for in the tutorial), he agreed. Then he proceeded to run past the equipment, slide down a ladder, run to another ladder, climb back up, and finally find his position next to me. Instead of walking two feet to the right, he went about a quarter-mile out of his way to do a little loop-de-loop.
So no, to answer your burning question, partner AI has not improved in the sequel.
But that doesn’t mean we’re not having fun. On the contrary, I found these minor speed bumps to be entertaining, not frustrating. I don’t think you can grant points for B movie charm, but I would if I could. At worst, they were tiny distractions from a grand old time.
The weapon variety is plentiful and keeps you motivated. You’ll be able to carry a pistol, primary, and a special weapon (RPG, sniper rifle, etc.). At any time during play (yes, right in the thick of battle, unlike the original game) you can enter a weapon customization mode which allows you to switch out and modify your weapons. This gives you an almost unfair advantage. Though you’ll find that you have enough cash for what you need to get through the game based on what you receive from completing mission objectives, don’t be surprised to find yourself looting enemy corpses for $40. Just $99,960 more and you can afford the gold and diamond-encrusted grenades!
Though distracting at first, the addition of in-mask GPS and infrared make your kills much more manageable. Activated by pressing the back-button, the GPS will display the direction you need to move in to reach your next objective with the handy neon green arrows on the floor that you may remember from the last game. New to the sequel, this mode will also pop an icon over enemies, whom you can then tag for your partner to kill. They then appear in all orange when in the VISR-ish mode. My only complaint is that this mode grays out the middle of your center of vision, but when I made the transition to relying on tagging enemies, I found it useful for illuminating their orange silhouettes. Again, this mode is totally optional, but it does come in handy when the palate of your environment (black, gray, red) matches the enemy uniforms, making them blend in to their surroundings.
Now you have the option to engage in more co-op scenarios, like mock surrenders that end in you drawing a weapon on surprised would-be captors. Other times, the two of you will approach a group of enemies with civilian hostages, and you’ll need to think together to decide how (and if, for that matter) you plan on freeing the civilians. These can be performed with AI partners as well.
Adding a bit of art and class (weird, right?) to the game are moments in which you’ll be forced to choose between two options, one moral and one immoral. You may choose to assassinate a target because you are ordered to do so, or you may spare his life because he’s a genuinely good guy. Whatever you do, you’ll be greeted with a comic book-style scene that plays out the repercussions of your choices. The artwork looks sharp and fresh, and the drama is real and captivating. I found myself eagerly heading for a second play through so I could choose the opposite paths and watch the new scenes. The only real problem I have with these is that the choice at the very end of the game leads to two equally unsatisfying outcomes. This is more of a problem with the game’s overall story than with the way the comic artist chose to portray the outcomes of these choices. Again, not willing to spoil anything for you, but those of you who have finished the game: can I get an amen?
And then we come to multiplayer. I could’ve pretended it wasn’t there and submitted this review before Lost came on, but my DVR will carry that burden while I remain your dedicated servant. And like any reviewer worth her weight in discarded Fuzion Frenzy 2 discs, I’m only going to tell you the truth: it’s not that great. It’s a clear afterthought with the game modes you have come to expect. Playing as either TWO mercs or FDI terrorists, you’ll go through the motions in deathmatch, king of the hill, horde, and objective-based varieties. The only innovation I have to give credit to is that you’ll be paired with a partner who you’re responsible for. You’ll engage in a gentlemen’s agreement to watch each other’s backs, but none of that is mandatory or enforceable. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with someone you can work with who won’t leave you bleeding out in a stairwell without any ammo. For the most part, multiplayer is worth a look (and a chance to show off your custom mask), but you’ll be back to Modern Warfare 2 faster than you can say "Ambiguously Gay Duo."
If you’re got a good friend with you that you can just let loose with, popping in this game and blasting “Straight Outta Compton” while you lob pimped grenades over a giraffe at a gaggle of confused terrorists is pure, goofy fun. For that, EA easily has my $60. If you are playing by yourself, it’s easily worth at least a rental. And if you’re here for the multiplayer…well…any chance you’re an AI co-op partner?
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.