Saturday, March 16, 2013
Army of Two has carved itself a neat little niche in all-out explosive action over the years, with the first two games boasting a pretty brainless story and a pair of “dude-bro” protagonists named Tyson Rios and Elliot Salem. They were decent, guilty pleasures, but a little rough around the edges.
This time around, Salem and Rios are out, and new heroes Alpha and Bravo are in, as the action moves to the Mexican drug cartels. Bizarrely, the new central characters and T.W.O. operatives are even more one-dimensional than their forebears, but the insane action is still front and centre, and the cartel stuff is an attempt at bringing some extra edginess to the series.
With a greater emphasis on action and destruction, powered by DICE's increasingly ubiquitous Frostbite engine, we talked to Producer at Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel dev, Visceral Games' Montreal studio, Greg Rizzer, to talk all about how the shooter series is changing things up a bit, and how it's striving to stay relevant in a market swimming with shooters.
What did you feel was lacking from the previous Army of Two games that you’ve looked to address with this new one?
First of all, we can talk about the story and I think that there’s no doubt that people always comment about the first two Army of Two games and say that we were dude-bro to the extreme, with the air guitar and ass slapping and all that kind of stuff. It was over the top and some people really liked it, but there were also definitely people that were not into it at all. So we wanted to keep the buddy cop feeling of the game, but we wanted to improve the humour that we feel could appeal to a broader audience. We worked on doing a good story, so that was one thing. And the other thing too was obviously the visuals.
Moving to Frostbite 2.0 was a really huge deal for us and it gave us the opportunity to take a level of destruction to the next level. You play the game and you see the world, just little bits and pieces chipping apart, but then you go into Overkill and you see just how much of the environment is destructible. It’s just phenomenal. I’m still amazed. I’ve been working on it for a year and I’m still amazed. So we’re able to up the level of destruction, which again I think was a really big one for us, and overall I think there was - with the previous Army of Two game - there was a lot of mechanics that weren’t done to a level of polish.
And that’s one thing that when you’re making games you start off just doing a few things and doing them extremely, extremely well, so this time around we said OK, what’s the core of the game? The core of the game is shooting. So let’s make this Overkill system that feeds directly into playing co-operatively shooting together, create an elegant feedback loop of: play co-operatively, earn Overkill, trigger that and watch shit blow up. And it works. And again the Aggro system, it’s there, it rewards you for doing things like flanking and sneaking. The Aggro system is still there, we just felt that we didn’t need to display it so prominently. And also this around it has a much bigger payoff, in the form of Overkill.
So, stuff like the back-to-back set pieces for instance, have those been dispensed with?
We're still doing plenty of co-op stuff, like we’re still doing the shield, and other co-op moves. But the co-op moves that we’re doing this time are really unique depending on the levels. We wanted the levels to have these split co-op moments, like where you’re playing and you have to make the choice, shall I do this or should my partner do this? So again, we’re doing unique co-op stuff in the fact that we’re actually splitting the players apart this time.
Was it a hard decision to change-up the protagonists this time, going with Alpha and Bravo rather than the old guys?
Yeah. It’s funny, Salem and Rios are still very much a part of the game, they’re in the plot. There’s a great story that will be revealed there along the way, but we’ve rebooted the franchise and we felt it was a good opportunity to tell a different story and not have Salem and Rios’ characters just all of a sudden change overnight. Alpha and Bravo was a just chance for us to introduce these new characters so - new technology, new team, new engine.
The enemies in this one, the Mexican drug cartels, that’s a topical thing at the moment. So did you guys have to go away and research a lot of that?
It’s interesting. Obviously there’s been other games that have dealt with Mexican cartels and they got really slammed for being all really stereotypical and not even being factual in any way, so we’re fully aware of that. We definitely wanted the locations to look authentic and we wanted to have Latino actors doing the voices and you know, we did a lot of study into the Mexican gangs and the tattoos and... at the end of the day too, we shouldn’t be afraid of using that as the backdrop to entertainment. The film industry does it all the time and we’re not killing any innocents in this game at all. No civilians are being shot, you’re going after the bad guys. Again, we can’t really be afraid to say that it’s something that we want to pursue.
Do you find the shooter a tough genre to innovate in? Is it difficult to keep things fresh?
The way that you do that is that you create a curve from start to finish. You want the players to feel that excitement and it might start dropping a little bit so you want to give them something new. Look at any game... you start getting texture fatigue, or you start getting gameplay fatigue, it’s just a natural component of playing video games that are long, that take hours and hours to beat. So what we need to do is we always need to know how we introduce something new and exciting. So whether it’s a new set piece, or unlocking a new gun, or maybe there’s a new plot point to drive the story on. We have multiple ways of piquing someone’s interest and it’s not always just making bigger and bigger set pieces. There’s other ways to accomplish that.
When the game was shown at E3 and Gamescom last year people were saying that it’s quite brown and grey. Is that something was taken on board and you actively looked to address?
Well you saw the level today, it has a much more richer colour palette and everything like that. And unfortunately yeah, there’s a lot of brown and grey, but we are in Mexico and in the landscape and everything, desert tones are very much a part of that. But today we wanted to show a different time of day, we wanted to show interiors, we’ve got the catacombs which has got different lighting and all that stuff. It just shows how important press events are, because you show one level and people are gonna say “Oh, cookie cutter. Same colour tones as other game.” And you just have to keep going, so we take the feedback and that was just one of the levels, but here's some of the other stuff we have too.
Is Army of Two's competitive multiplayer being ditched this time around?
There’s no multiplayer. We’ve always been about co-op. If you wanna play competitive multiplayer games there’s plenty out there to play. Battlefield for example. They do that and they do that really well. What Army of Two does really well is co-op campaigns, so I just don’t want it to be a bullet-point on the back of a box. I’d much rather be focused on what our strengths are and not be concerned with what our weaknesses could be.
Would you say the game has much replay value then?
Yeah. We have the ranking system in the game and there’s a lot of weapons, and there’s a lot of things that are only available at certain levels. You know if you’re into guns and gun porn, then this is the game you want. We have difficulty levels, so if you finish the level on hard then you unlock insane. And we always have rewards and achievements for people that wanna achieve finishing the game on extremely hard. We also have these things called Contracts which is a mode where you try and stay in Overkill the whole time. It’s a real arcade experience. Stuff like that will keep people playing.
Army of Two has always been about very over the top action too. What were your primary influences movie-wise, would you say?
Without a doubt the Michael Bay experience is in full effect. Bad Boys, films like that, that are really over the top. Fast & Furious. Some of the action in Fast & Furious 5 or whatever. You know, like the really, really big blockbusters. I just watched Expendables 2 on the way over here and God, have you seen it?
Well, we wanna be like that.
RIght, OK. You guys share a studio with the Dead Space guys, right?
No, Dead Space is in Redwood Shores, California. We’re based out of Montreal. So those guys were obviously busy doing Dead Space 3 and we’re over here in Montreal doing our thing. We talk to each other a lot. Some of their guys are helping us out, pitching in.
That’s going to be really cool for our company going forward, with games all being on Frostbite. In the past, EA has always had a situation where people from one studio can’t necessarily jump in and help out another, because there’s different tech. But as we move forwards it’s going to help us make big games because we’ve got resources all over the world.
So what are the key final things that you’re nailing down on Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel?
Right now it’s all about polish. We’ve just got to really really hone in and put as much shine on it as possible. I think there’s plenty of game there and it’s a good game, and we can just really nail the experience that we wanted and right now it always comes down to polish.
What’s your recommended tactic for going in co-op?
For me, without a doubt, it’s always flanking. I’ll just have somebody hold and somebody flank. We have environments that are set up like that where you keep moving forward, flanking, and it feels very badass.
Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel is out on March 26th in North America and March 29th in Europe.
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