Games 3/5/08: Army of Two, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition (PS3)

Army of Two
For: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
From: Electronic Arts
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, strong language)

Never mind that “Army of Two” looks like another realistic war shooter, or that it takes place in war-torn environments ripped straight from the headlines (and Miami). If you want to enjoy this one, you absolutely must remember one thing: It’s just a game.

That’s because, on so many levels, “Two” is simply busting with contrivances that, for sticklers for realism, will be immensely difficult to brush off.

The chief selling point behind “Two,” as indicated by the title, is that you’re fighting alongside a fellow mercenary at all times. You directly control one soldier, and either a friend or the computer handles the other. If you play solo, you can issue commands that dictate your partner’s movements and level of aggression, which allows one soldier to draw fire while the other flanks the enemy and finishes them off.

The system works, and “Two” makes absolutely sure you see that for yourself. Some soldiers, for whatever reason, can only be shot from behind, which means you’ll have to flank them. Cover is conveniently located, because you either have to use it or die. Enemy soldiers sometimes completely ignore you simply because your partner is firing, and there are sequences in which you can clear out a room, either by standing back-to-back and firing away or by achieving overkill, which grants you temporary invincibility.

This is the tip of “Two’s” iceberg of gimmickry. But if EA proves anything here, it’s that contrivance isn’t a bad thing at all if there’s a good reason for it. “Two” absolutely believes in what it is, and why not? It’s fast, explosive and tons of fun. The levels are masterfully designed, enemy soldiers attack ruthlessly (if not always intelligently), and EA locks down everything from firepower variety to squad management to “Gears of War”-style shooting controls with extreme satisfaction. Realistic or not, “Two” is a ton of fun to play.

Though “Two’s” A.I. is strong enough to make flying solo fun in its own right, the game naturally shines when a friend assumes your partner’s shoes instead. As should be expected, EA includes support for both local and online co-op play. “Two” also supports competitive multiplayer via, fittingly, two-on-two matches that utilize many of the same elements found in the campaign. It’s not quite as satisfying as teaming up in the campaign, but “Two” is such a co-op game at heart that this isn’t so much a gripe as a predictable observation.

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Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
For: Playstation 3
From: Capcom
ESRB Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild language, violence)

In case you miss 2007, Capcom has done its best to bring it back, porting “Lost Planet: Extreme Condition” to the Playstation 3 a full 13 months after it debuted on the Xbox 360.

Happily, for those who couldn’t enjoy it the first time around, “Planet” still feels fairly fresh, able to both captivate and aggravate on the same level it always has.

Despite the surprisingly heavy (and almost completely forgettable) infusion of storytelling, “Planet” really is about one thing: Shooting stuff. Sometimes you shoot stuff on foot. Other times, it’s from the womb of a giant mech. Sometimes, that stuff is people — specifically, the agents and snow pirates who comprise much of the sparse human population on E.D.N. III, a snow-covered wasteland straight out of “The Day After Tomorrow.”

Mostly, though, “stuff” refers to bugs — big ones, huge ones, enormous ones, “oh my god!” ones and the nests from which they spawn. “Planet” isn’t quite as visually groundbreaking one year on, but some of its battles — featuring screen-sized insects that challenge you to keep your balance, never mind survive — remain a treat to experience. The innovative creature designs, incredible special effects and sheer activity scream “blockbuster,” and a unique health system allows you to take full advantage and live pretty dangerously.

Even when “Planet” does its best to frustrate — and camera issues, tons of cheap enemy attacks and an inconsistent checkpoint system ensure it often will — it rarely ever bores.

“Planet’s” mix of heavy weaponry, fast action and mechs makes it an ideal candidate for fast, accessible multiplayer gaming, and that’s precisely what we get here. Capcom doesn’t try anything crazy, and the modes of play are pretty standard fare. But the sheer mindlessness of the action makes tearing up E.D.N. III quite a lot of fun, and “Planet” doesn’t commit any serious technical gaffes that would spoil the mood.

Multiplayer also is where PS3 owners reap, however slightly, the rewards of patience. The bonus multiplayer maps Xbox 360 owners had to pay extra for are available out of the box here, and the cast of playable multiplayer characters includes some very cool selections (Megaman!) for fans of Capcom’s other games. Some brand-new maps or perhaps some new single-player content would have gone a much longer way toward making “Planet” feel new again, but the semi-budget ($40) price tag probably is a better trade-off.