EA had a choice to make with Army of Two - they could get Salem and Rios even more drunk on testosterone, inflate the swagger further and play it for laughs, or they could get them to turn up to work in downtown Shanghai wearing sensible shoes. They chose the latter, and it was probably the right decision, but despite everything, when you get to grips with the game you can't suppress a slight longing for them to go full-on Team America - charging into a controversial warzone with their ineffable bonhomie, clown masks, several nukes and a couple of catchy musical numbers.
Thing haven't changed too much though. "That bravado is still there, it's the same characters. They're not different people but for lack of a better word, they've grown up a little bit. They're a little bit more gritty, and a little bit more down to earth," explains Matt Turner the game's producer. So it's essentially Army of Two: The College Years then? "Yeah, yeah! But you can still do all the fist-pumps, the high fives... and we've got the rock, paper, scissors mechanic too - seeing who's going to do something. I think what made people take it the wrong way last time was that we even trained you in the tutorial about how to high-five! This time it's just there."
The game kicks off in a deserted alley in Shanghai, with pedestrians visible wandering through nearby streets and road traffic rumbling overhead. Salem and Rios, again either you and a real-world buddy or an AI cohort, are here to meet their contact JB as part of their ongoing mercenary concern TransWorld Operations (TWO, get it?). Sadly though their travails are about to be interrupted by a disaster of epic proportions: the invasion of Shanghai by a group known as The 40th Day Initiative is soon to kick off, and the city is about to collapse around TWO's ornately designed masks and glistening golden weaponry.
"Rios and Salem have nothing to do with it," explains Turner. "The story is them escaping, so the player sees the disaster while it's happening. It's optional to find out about it, finding the collectables and back-story stuff, but the story is also told through these big bombastic moments that happen as you move through the city. Planes crashing, skyscrapers crumbling... There's not just one moment in the game where it's all 'crazy-crazy-crazy!' then all the gameplay afterwards happens in a destroyed city. The place gets progressively more destroyed as you move through it. You're seeing all these events and you're seeing the impact of the invasion and the effects on the people."
As if to emphasise this point the game is booted up and I'm presented with Shanghai Zoo as a passenger jet spewing trails of smoke descends and crashes further on into the tourist spot. It's an instantly engaging location simply because it looks so different from similar scenes in other games. Ignore the fact that it's a zoo and you'll be taking cover behind an ice-cream stand; simply the Asian-style design on show (from the vibrantly coloured signs on the walls to the cartoon drawings of lions and tigers hanging from banners) provoke immediate interest if you're an untraveled and western type such as myself. EA has played the cultural difference card to great effect.
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