I have to begin this review by getting something out of the way right from the start. Being that I’m a sucker for good marketing, I felt as though I was duped into buying the original Army of Two. I think I actually cringed when I heard that a sequel was in production. Now, after playing through Army of Two: The 40th Day (AOT: TFD), the series has for the most part completely redeemed itself. It won’t go down as a classic, but it sure as hell was fun. It may be light on the story, but at the same time really heavy on the action and entertainment. I mean really, what were you expecting from a title whose cover has two juiced up guys in bulletproof hockey masks holding giant machine guns? It may not be Shakespeare, but it may just be the best action movie you’ve ever played.
The story opens up in Shanghai with every one’s favorite odd couple/mercenaries-for-hire: Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios. The duo makes the acquaintance of another mercenary in the city in order to carry out a mission of planting mysterious beacon devices throughout the city. This is the game’s opening level and also plays as a tutorial of sorts as you’ll learn all of the tactics you will need to survive in Shanghai. Once the final beacon is placed (this may sound cliché) in usual video game form, all hell breaks loose.
Shanghai comes under an attack of what appears to be ballistic missiles of some sort, leveling most of the downtown area. Private Military Contractors (or PMCs) take control of the city and place it under complete lock-down, trapping and threatening the lives of all of its inhabitants. The attackers are following the orders of a terrorist idealist who we only know by the name of Jonah. And while he has plans for Shanghai and its people, it’s more your job to get out of there than it is to stop him. This is a story of surviving through the night and day – and night again – just to get yourselves home in one piece.
As cool as the setup may sound, it isn’t really pulled off as well as it should have. Story is usually the department where shooter games lack depth, and unfortunately AOT: TFD isn’t any different. The main problem being that there just isn’t enough explanation as to what’s going on and why it’s going on.
One thing that plagued the original was that the two protagonists were always trying to be funny and clever by slapping each other over the head and fist bumping; but that got old and once it wasn’t entertaining anymore the games flaws began to shine through. In the 40th day, the tone is much more serious (although there is some comedy sprinkled in), yet we don’t get enough characterization or story.
Instead of characterization in the traditional sense we get these “co-operative choices” where you and your partner are forced to make moral decisions that affect gameplay. You can choose to do what’s good for you, or choose to do what’s good for others. Either way, whether you choose honor or glory, you are treated to a motion comic book-like sequence that shows the repercussions of your actions. It reminded me (exactly, even down to the art style) of the moral decisions that had to be made in Sony’s inFamous last year. It’s a cool touch, but adds little depth or substance to the story. It probably affects you more on a personal level than it affects the story line of the game. Okay, so maybe you don’t play these games because of the story. Maybe you just want to shoot stuff and see big explosions. Well if that’s the case, then look no further as AOT: TFD has got you covered. Right from the start, (don’t worry I wont spoil it) the second level has one of those memorable holy **** gaming moments. Let’s just call it a whole new level of destruction in a game.
Just like its predecessor, AOT: TFD’s weapons customization system is the definition of over-the top. Want an M4 with a shotgun attachment, increased muzzle flash, a 50 round clip, zebra camouflage paint, and a screwdriver bayonet? You’ve got it. Did I just say screwdriver bayonet? Yes, yes I did. That’s just a quick example of how robust the weapons customization feature really is.
As far a gameplay goes, the title doesn’t do anything that reinvents the wheel in regards to “stop-and-pop” shooters. Just like all of the others in the genre, AOT: TFD is focused on using a cover system as a means of survival against the computer controlled AI. One of the things I did not appreciate about the title’s cover system is its lack of smoothness. This is because unlike other popular shooters, AOT: TFD does not use a designated button to lock in and out of cover. In other words, you just rub up against a wall and hope that you’re in cover. And because the camera feels like it’s more ground level than over the shoulder, it’s pretty hard to tell whether you are or aren’t in cover; which in most situations can be the difference between life and death.
The computer controlled AI, whether it’s the enemy or your partner, is for the most part just average. This is unfortunate as it is something you look forward to – especially in a game with so much emphasis on action. The problem with the enemies is that instead of making you feel as though you’re in a combat situation (i.e. flanking, retreating, moving forward), there are simply given marksman-like accuracy, all the while shuffling from left and right, with an up and down whack a mole shooting gallery style gameplay.
There are bigger and badder enemies, which are refereed to as “heavy armor”. They carry shotguns, Gatling guns, grenade launchers or flame throwers, and usually come right before an important checkpoint. Facing off against these bad guys is pretty fun as it gives the title a mini-boss like feel and provides for probably the most tense moments in the game.
Your partner’s AI has it’s own issues as well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like he’s a complete waste of space and for the 1st level or so you’ll probably find them doing the brunt of the work. However, once the game really get’s going and the firefights get more and more intense, your partner quickly turns into a mental midget. Here’s an example of what I mean: At one point I remember breaching a room full of enemies. However, before entering the room like superman, I put myself into cover on one side of the door. I had become a little too cocky and peeked out more than I should have and the enemies quickly pumped me full of lead and had me on the floor within the blink of an eye. I pressed the button to call for help from my partner who was on the other end of the door frame. He quickly came to my aid and decided to drag me to safety before giving me some health, problem being I was already in cover. So instead, my AI teammate dragged me in front of the exposed door and got us both killed. Smart, I know. Let’s not even get into the time he dragged me over an open flame and tried to heal me while we were both on fire. Long story short, if you can play this game with a friend then do so to save yourself some aggravation.
One great standout in the title is the use of sound. If you have a 5.1 setup, you’re going to want to turn this one up. The ambient sounds as well as the gunfire and explosions all sound as they should. Too many times I’ve played other shooters that the guns sound like toys. That is not the case here. The gunfire is heavy and rich with bass – so much so that if your subwoofer had a mouth it would thank you for it. One thing to point out is that some dialogue can get lost in the mix as there’s so much going on at times. Makes me wish that when played in a 5.1 setup, dialogue would remain in the center channel regardless of the in-game camera orientation. It may sound like I’m nitpicking but I’m sure there are other audio freaks like me out there who appreciate those kind of things.
There have been upgrades made to the games online component. Games can now have up to 12 players in a match (up from 4 in the original). And there’s also the addition of an online, four-player co-op extraction mode. The modes are each pretty fun in their own right, but probably not enough to carry this title to the elite status of other popular shooters already on the market. However, there are online achievements/trophies, which is always a plus. Considering that the main story mode clocks in around 6 – 7 hours, the online upgrades are a very welcome addition, as they should add some replay value to the title.
In closing, I have to say that the original Army of Two left a really bad taste in my mouth. It was full of great ideas for a shooter game based on co-op play, but in the end lacked the polish necessary to elevate it to premier shooter status. I’m sure there are many out there that feel the same way. However, let me be the one to say that Army of Two: The 40th Day pretty much makes up for everything that went wrong in the original and added things that should have been there to begin with. I gave it a strong 3, and recommend it as rent. Although, if you were a fan of the original then this one is a no-brainer and a must buy.
Oh yeah, and did i mention: Screw. Driver. Bayonet!
- Title: Army of Two: The 40th Day (PS3, 360, PSP) Please note: PSP Version Not Reviewed
- Developer: EA Montreal (PS3, 360) Buzz Monkey (PSP)
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Release Date: Available Now
- Review Copy Info: A copy of this title was provided by the publisher to DualShockers Inc. for reviewing purposes