Salem and Rios started their careers as U.S. Rangers. But they got talked into working for a corporation as mercenaries, doing contract killing for the U.S. administration. Unlike government soldiers, their post-9/11 battles are bloody lucrative.
And so, video games — from "BlackSite: Area 51" to "Tom Clancy" titles — continue to make political statements. "Army of Two" is the latest, not the greatest, battlefield outing to chime in on how America conducts itself militarily.
If you’ve paid any attention to real-life events, "Army of Two" immediately reminds you of how America has signed up private contractors to carry out all sorts of missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The privatization of the real Iraq war has led to women being raped without recourse, the physical loss of billions of dollars in cash, and sundry deaths of nonmilitary Americans.
Salem and Rios, on the other hand, are superskilled guns-for-hire, bent on doing the right thing for their nation, as long as they collect big cash. They gripe about how they don’t get credit for killing enemies, while government grunts take the honors.
The tone of "Army of Two," created by EA’s Canadian offices, is mostly anti-corporatization. Occasionally, Salem and Rios hear heavy-handed news reports of how Congress is considering replacing the armed services with corporations.
"To fear the military industrial complex is to fear progress," a U.S. muckety-muck tells the media. Some call this profiteering, he says, but "I call it ‘progress.’ "
None of this commentary likely will matter much to gamers, except to provide basic story lines, character development, campy dialogue about kicking butt, and intermittent film cuts of beefy guys chatting at each other.
What matters, of course, is the gaming, and it’s a good and solid entertainment of shooting many enemies crossing desert terrain and caves and such.
The best thing about "Army of Two" is its strength as a cooperative game. You can play solo. But you’re better off teaming up with a gamer friend in your living room for a split-screen experience, or online for a full-screen game.
This style of two-person team-gaming has dwindled over the years. "Army of Two" revives and evolves cooperative mode by making it seamless and smooth.
If you get shot, you press a button, and the other guy comes running to pull you to safety and pump you with some kind of magical first-aid potion that brings you back to full health. You can do the same for him.
You help each other climb tall walls. And you press your backs together to fire bullets at baddies when they circle-ambush you with gunners, while suicide bombers run at you.
If you’re playing solo and you team up with the game’s autobot, he will not kill many people for you, and you’ll do most of the heavy hitting with rifles, revolvers and sniper rifles. Also, my PS 3 copy freezes, making me reboot.
And even your weaponry is impacted by capitalism. In other shooters, you earn points to upgrade guns. In "Army," you get paid for killing people, then use that money to buy better machine guns and rocket launchers.
That seems only as far-fetched now as current privatization efforts would have seemed 15 years ago. Is "Army of Two" fantasy or future?
("Army of Two" by EA retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3 — Plays fun. Looks great. Challenging to very challenging, depending on which settings you choose. Rated "M" for strong language, blood, intense violence. Three stars out of four.)NEW IN STORES "Condemned 2: Bloodshot" brings on more action-adventure of shooting in dark places. As serial crime detective Ethan Thomas, you use smarts and punches to solve murders and track down your disappeared partner. The game retails for $60 for PS 3 and Xbox 360. It’s rated "M" for blood, gore, intense violence, strong language, use of drugs and alcohol. "Sega Superstars Tennis" gathers Sonic and the usual Sega suspects to play very, very fast cartoon tennis in odd settings, with super powers to make the ball fly fiery over nets. And extreme-tennis minigames offer such wackiness as knocking down zombies with balls. The game retails for $50 for PS 3, Xbox 360 and Wii; $40 for PS 2; $30 for DS. It’s rated "E 10+" for mild blood, mild fantasy violence and mild suggestive themes. — By DOUG ELFMAN