Army of Two: The 40th Day PS3, Xbox 360 Review
Army of Two: The 40th Day is best described as a series of little changes, as almost everything about the opinion splitting formula of the previous game has been rejigged in some way. The core cover-based action gameplay remains though, and most will still easily tell it is an Army of Two game from a quick glance at the TV. However, even through all its advancements, changes, and alterations, the result is still a flawed game – particularly when measured up against the heavy hitters in the genre.
It starts with the little things. Firstly both of the main protagonists seem to have been forced in front of a focus group this time around to discern what the public at large think they want from them. This means many of the zanier elements of their character have been toned down, and instead of acting cuntish at almost every opportunity – talking about the Wu-Tang Clan and other forced Americana references – their personas now seem slightly more human.
This is reflected in new gameplay choices as well, as there are now hostages to be rescued. There are two options available when dealing with their captors. One is to go in guns blazing and let the hostages die, or if you like, go in quietly and try to take down the guarding soldiers and keep the hostages alive. This new gameplay trait does breakup the incessant shooting a bit, but it is more of a thinly veiled choice, as being good gives you more money, whilst being bad just punishes you by giving bad morality points. This means there is little reason to play the heartless bad guy in any of these scenes.
Other moral moments keep this theme going throughout, with each level boasting a chance to perform a heroic or evil move to trigger a certain cutscene. One choice leads to you getting more ammo or money if you do a bad thing – like shoot a tiger – whilst playing the good guy in these situations usually gives you nothing in return (other than a warm feeling inside!). Just like the hostage situations, these options are ultimately far too one-sided to illicit any response from the player.
The rest of the game plays pretty much like the last, with the targeting now feeling somewhat tighter, and more in line with the genre norm. Where the game really shines though is during the scenes where you are directly interacting with your partner – either AI or human. Using your buddy as cover as he holds a riot shield and marches into oncoming fire is top-notch fun. Performing a mock surrender in front of certain enemies, and having your partner sneak up behind them and take them out is great too. Then there is the intermittent use of slow-mo scenes where Rios and Salem stand back-to-back and take out all enemies that have surrounded them. This is what the Army of Two games are best at, as such moments are truly unique to the series. It is just a shame everything else that surrounds this feels a bit pared down.
Storytelling is another facet that sees a change, with the game now boasting Bioshock-style audio logs – or in this case simple radios – to find and collect. These fill in a bit of the back-story, which is a needed addition, as the normal cutscene based storytelling is a bit thin on the ground. The main protagonists have even seen a small transformation themselves, with one of them (I cannot tell them apart – sorry!) now voiced by Nolan North – making an appearance in yet another game.
It is these characters that are the key to the story, and not the main plot itself. If you think of a movie where the interaction between the main characters ends up being more important the main overarching plot – something like Rush Hour perhaps – then you got what EA aimed for, and apart from a few jokes that miss the mark they succeed.
One niggling complaint about the overall series is that the Army of Two games do little to mask the fact they’re repeating the same trick over and over. The above mentioned morality moments are the only real breaks you get from the shooting norm, but even they start repeating a bit too much later on. Both vehicle sections, along with the parachuting missions which were on show in the original do not make an appearance in The 40th Day – which is welcome, as they were quite awful. However, that also means there is even less to break up the six or so hours of constant run and gun gameplay. A redesign of these sections would have been more welcome than seeing them removed outright.
A notable good aspect of these ringing changes is that the games cover system is now much more refined. You still don’t press a button to take cover – like in Gears of War and others – you instead take cover automatically when you approach certain objects. This automation is nice, but without a button press I instinctively never felt safe in cover. Alongside that, this system does have a fair share of more technical flaws, as it is very easy to slip from cover if you do not want, which is quite the annoying failing for a cover based third-person shooter.
Partner AI is a bigger standout problem when playing alone though. Credit where credit is due, your buddy is quite good at attacking and holding his own at the shooting game while his orders are to be aggressive, but when it comes to defensive play many of his decisions come dangerously close to knocking any kind of immersion out the window. Also, if you end up getting shot down, and have to be rescued by your partner, even more annoyances come to light, as it is a 50/50 if he will decide to drag you into the line of fire before he kindly heals you.
Ultimately, I came away from The 40th Day feeling pretty much the same way I did with the original. It’s a decent game overall, one that’s not going to offend anyone with what it does, but also one that’s not in any way remarkable. The long list of fixes on show tidy up the messy nature of the first game, and as a result make The 40th Day a better title than its predecessor, but in turn this also leads to the game feeling like a series of fixes to a broken formula instead of a quality piece of entertainment.
To play The 40th Day in single player exposes a multitude of flaws the core game has, with AI mistakes particularly running rampant throughout. Co-op does a lot to mask these annoyances, but it is still not enough to push the game into the realm of a ‘must buy.’