I’d been looking forward to EA’s Army of Two: The 40th Day since it was announced. I enjoyed the first game for what it was, and despite its flaws, had a pretty good time with it. After hearing about the endless list of improvements EA Montreal was making to the sequel, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game. When I did finally sit down to play The 40th Day, it was clear I built up too much hype in my head. While this follow-up is certainly better than its predecessor, Army of Two: The 40th Day isn’t quite the game I’d hoped it was.
The 40th Day once again puts you in the shoes of Salem and Rios, two self-employed private military contractors with a penchant for masks and crazy guns. This time around, the duo are on a small job in Shanghai when the city is attacked by another private military group, The 40th Day. At least I think that’s what happens. It’s not really clear, and it’s not supposed to be. The developers set out to create a game that was about surviving moment to moment, where the only clear purpose at hand was to live long enough to escape the insanity. To a point, they succeed. For some reason, at the very end of the game, they try to put a face on the madness, and give you a proper antagonist, but it feels very tacked on. Furthermore, the rest of the events in the game hold even less weight thanks to the out of nowhere reveal of the mastermind behind the fall of Shanghai. Thankfully, the game’s action moments are plentiful, and worth taking part in. Despite how short the roughly six-hour campaign feels, you’ll never find yourself at a shortage of explosions or shoot-outs. That said, the game’s checkpoint system is absolutely atrocious. You’ll be forced to repeat lengthy portions of the game over and over again, sit through unskippable cut scenes, and be forced to customize any weapons you created in between saves repeatedly, until you manage to make it to the next autosave.
Regardless of whether you play with a friend or not, Army of Two is all about co-op. When playing alone, you’ll be able to issue simple commands to your AI partner, and even though the computer AI isn’t fantastic, it’s certainly serviceable. Improved as it may be, computer partners are no substitute for the real thing. One day, some developer will implement really great intelligence for a computer assistant, but that time is not here yet. Returning from the first game is the Aggro meter, a scale that indicates which one of you is currently drawing the attention of the enemies you’re fighting. Drawing aggro away from your partner frees him up for flanking maneuvers to clear an area quickly. Cooperative sniping also makes a return appearance, albeit slightly improved. Salem and Rios’ masks are now connected to a GPS system, which has a limited charge. Activating it not only provides intel on what type of soldiers you’re currently facing, where to go to reach your next objective, or what friendlies are in the area, but it also allows you to tag enemies for sniping. Once you’ve tagged the soldiers you’re going to shoot at, you can initiate a three-count so that you both fire at the same time. It’s interesting to say the least, but often there are way too many enemies in an area to snipe without getting noticed, so it’s just as easy to run in guns blazing.
New to the game this time around are a handful of interesting mechanics. Mock surrendering adds an interesting twist to low intensity combat situations. Occasionally, there will be sections in the game in which you will be given the option to surrender to the enemy forces. A small meter pops up on the bottom of the screen that shows you how long you have to follow the enemy commands like getting down on your knees, or putting your hands behind your head. While this is happening, your partner can attempt to eliminate the enemy as he approaches you, or wait for you to quickly draw your pistol on the foe, which will send the game into a brief slow-motion shoot-out. While both of you could mock surrender together, the timing is different for both players, so it’s tougher to coordinate the reversal. Another major new aspect is the ability to capture enemies, and force them into surrendering. Like I mentioned before, the GPS can give you intel on the enemies you can view. That intelligence includes what rank the soldiers hold. If you’re able to find a commanding officer and sneak up on him, you can hold him hostage, and either force the surrounding soldiers to drop their weapons, or use him as a human shield. Should you force a surrender, your partner can come in and either tie the other soldiers down, or kill everyone else in the room once they put their guns on the ground. Non-lethal capture will result in positive morality, while shooting unarmed enemies will promote your negative moral tendencies. Both of these new combat tactics go a long way in adding variety to how you’re able to approach any given situation while you’re in Shanghai.
Weapon customization is back, and is as fun as ever. Some of the options aren’t terribly deep, and you may find yourself relying on the same features for guns over and over again, but there’s something strangely appealing about creating a solid gold machine-gun with a scope, bayonet, and plate-shielding, then shooting someone with it. Customization requires cash, which can be earned several different ways in the game. Finding it on the battlefield after clearing an area of enemies is the easiest, but you can also earn money by saving hostages, finding it in enemy supply caches, or from the game’s moral choices. Scattered throughout the game are key moments where you’ll be asked to make a decision with two possible outcomes: positive morality or negative morality. Positive moral decisions, like not killing your local contact, won’t earn you any money, but they will unlock weapons, whereas negative decisions, like killing innocent security guards, have huge payouts, but no weapon unlocks.
The biggest issue with the game’s morality aspect is the choices don’t really carry any weight. It’s almost as if the developers threw in morality because it was the trendy thing to do. To make matters worse, no matter what side of the moral compass you choose, the resulting cut scene (drawn by comic artists Jock and Chris Bachalo) makes little sense. For example, should you choose not to shoot your local contact during the first mission of the game, he escapes Shanghai, and heads off on an island vacation. Of course, the moment he hits the beach, an assassin rises from the surf, and shoots him in the chest. In sparing the man’s life, you still end up killing him tangentially. I have no problem with adding a twist to the story, but every decision you make in the game features one of these turns of fate, leaving you empty from the experience. By the second or third moral choice, your decisions will never come down to how you feel about the given situation, but how badly you want extra money for pimping out your shotgun.
Outside of the story-based multiplayer, you’ll find that the competitive online features some decent variety. The game's Deathmatch and King of the Hill variant are fairly standard, but returning mode Warzone, where teams fight for varied objectives like protecting/eliminating the VIP or stealing the enemy computer, offers a good amount of variation, and is likely where you'll be spending a great deal of your time. There's a new mode, Extraction, which is Army of Two’s version of Horde mode, but that's only available to people who pre-ordered for the first month. You can’t bring any of your custom weapons into the online modes, and instead will have to choose from a handful of preselected weapon sets. You should have been able to bring your weapon set into Extraction, but for some reason you’ll be forced to rely on the weapons dropped by your enemies. I’m not saying they should have given you infinite ammunition for that tiger-striped HK-MP5, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have been able to start the game mode with a gun you worked so hard for in the campaign. There’s supposed to be a partnership system, where you and a friend can enter a game together, but every time I tried it, we ended up getting separated once the game started. Cooperative play is a major focus of the online as well, and team tactics will always prevail over lone wolf tendencies. Of course, when the person you’re supposed to be partnering up with doesn’t even get to play with you, it’s tough to find the motivation to stick with a stranger. There’s not a whole lot the game does different, or better, than other online third-person shooters, but if you’re looking for a slight change of pace, this game will certainly provide it.
Army of Two: The 40th Day certainly looks better than the game that preceded it, but manages to be graphically inconsistent segment to segment. There’s a ton of urban destruction, but there’s virtually no destructible cover. Even when the action-intensive cut scenes occur, none of the mayhem looks natural. The main characters are pretty well rendered, but something just seems off for all the rest of computer denizens you interact with. Weapons look great, although you may find yourself chuckling at the ridiculousness of having a huge gold gun strapped to your chest during some sequences. One of the more entertaining aspects of the game, the buddy interactions like fist bumps and rock, paper, scissors, would have been great were they not hampered by the obstructive camera angles. If the camera had just been pulled back another few feet when you went for a high five, this element would have been much improved.
While it’s true The 40th Day didn’t live up to my expectations, I still had a pretty good time playing through the game. It has some issues that at this point in a generation are pretty much unforgivable, but if you are willing to look past them, you’ll find there’s a decent cooperative shooter there. Like the first game, Army of Two: The 40th Day puts forth some interesting ideas that just never get off the ground, and despite needing some more polish, it's a great way to spend a weekend.