11th February 2010 - Army of Two: The 40th Day is EA Montreal’s studio sequel to an average co-operative FPS shooter that debuted on XBOX 360 and Playstation 3 early last year. This time round the Playstation Portable also gets its own version so you can play with a friend whilst on the go as well. With a new morality system and further refinement of the co-operative FPS model Army of Two first introduced us with, will this sequel provide us the experience that its predecessor unfortunately lacked?
Army of Two: The 40th Day offers your standard story mode, multiplayer versus and the bonus Extraction multiplayer mode that was an exclusive unlock (for one month) for those who pre-ordered the game through EB Games.
The heart of the game is its co-operative campaign, which can be played either offline or online though for those without a buddy the computer AI is a passable replacement. Those expecting a plot will be surely disappointed, it merely comprises of the main theme of “get out of Shanghai” over and over again. As with the first game throughout the game you will keep encountering set pieces which require co-ordination with your partner, either through sniping targets in a co-ordinated fashion, opening doors together, doing the step jumps etc. At times this “team play” does feel a bit forced but is much more subtle than the first game.
Carrying over from the original game is the agro system, where one player creates “agro” where attacking enemies causes them to target and focus on you. This allows your partner to flank enemies and dispatch heavily armed enemies, which may have explosive items handily located on their back or side pockets. The concept and system works fairly well as a whole and the agro meter is easily visible (not to mention your character glows red to indicate they have massive “agro”). Losing agro feels a bit too easy though, you simply need to stop shooting and let your partner kill someone or just feign death.
Controls for Army of Two: The 40th Day is fairly good, although the context sensitive actions are clunky and slow causing some frustrations. One prime example is when you need to rescue your wounded partner. A timer counts down and you need to somehow focus on your team mate to bring up the context action to “drag” your partner to safety then you can hold X down to revive him. Much frustration occurs when your partner dies near a switch causing you to struggle to bring up the correct context action to rescue your partner and not use the switch. Other times when your partner goes down near you, you will have to focus on your wounded partner, wait, then press X when the rescue context action pops up else you will keep lunging forward (since the X button is normally for rolling/evading or running forward).
Another carry over from the previous game is the ability to customize your weapons, putting different stocks, barrels, clips and even paint jobs which all affects their different weapon parameters. Although the customization menu has been sped up in this version (i.e. loading times are no longer atrocious) only one player can customize at a time and in a co-op focused game, you cause your friend to sit around waiting for you to upgrade. The variety of unlockable guns is commendable although it didn’t feel there was much difference between guns. For good measure you can unlock more grenade slots and if you like a bit of bling, you can throw diamond encrusted grenades too!
A new gameplay twist added to this sequel is the concept of morality choices. Littered throughout the game you will get cut scenes that force you to choose either a “good” or “bad” option. After you have chosen you will get comic book cut scenes which shows the result of your actions. In some scenarios either option results in a bad outcome but overall, it is an interesting take on how your actions affect the people you encounter during the game. The second type of “morality” choices involve saving hostages. You will encounter set pieces where you can choose to rescue hostages or not and there are a variety of ways to do so if you choose to. Effects of your morality come in weapon unlocks, some story NPCs may penalize you for your sins by not giving you new weapons.
Your characters can carry three different weapons, a main weapon, secondary handgun and a special gun such as a rifle or rocket launcher with limited ammo. As you kill your enemies they will drop a lot of money, ammunition and sometimes weapons which you can pick up as your temporary weapon. Annoyingly, mid-story cut scenes causes you to lose your temporary weapon and switching weapons causes you to drop your temporary weapon as well.
The online multiplayer (Versus mode) has a few game modes: Control (hold the point kind of game play) Warzone where you get different objectives each round (kill VIPs, defend an item, protect a point etc.) and Co-op Deathmatch where you fight against other online teams. A good feature though is you can play split screen co-op online as well. There doesn’t seem to be a big variety of maps but the main killer is that although it boasts 400+ players online, I only saw games with 0 – 1 (red) bars. As such I couldn’t test out the multiplayer aspects since the game seems to jerk awkwardly around and the sound cuts in and out.
Army of Two: The 40th Day features some open air environments though most your time will be spent in corridors and tunnels as you escape the building destruction happening all around. Shanghai is rendered well although after the first episode, the amount of rubble all about probably won’t bear any resemblance to the Shanghai that we know of. Rios and Salem are rendered very nicely with fairly smooth animations and you can definitely see the scars and tattoos quite clearly. Frame rate is generally smooth even in local split screen co-op modes and only on occasional gun fights, does it slow down. The morality cut scenes are graphic with a very dark comic book edge to them, often depicting gratuitous acts of violence. Salem and Rios animate smoothly and their melee attacks are varied and look quite good. Enemies die with some nice rag doll physics.
The one downside of the offline co-operative mode is that your screen is divided vertically, causing you to lack peripheral view which is sorely needed in a FPS game as you can’t see where the enemies are. I wished there was a way to move it to a horizontal split (like Gears of War 2) since you don’t need to see the sky but you really do need to see what is to your left and right. Tracking enemies then becomes quite a bothersome task as it feels you like you are playing an FPS with blinkers.
The final annoyance is that cut scenes can't be skipped. These can be quite lengthy as well and since it only takes one death to end the game for both of you, replaying certain sections can be quite annoying.
Sound mostly comprises of bangs and explosion noises though both Salem and Rios do chime in from time to time to alert you of RPGs, mounted turrets and scary people with armor and shotguns. During “boss” type enemies they do shout out hints but it is quite hard to hear them over the big booming explosions and gunfire.
Background music is fairly muted and low key, listening to voices can be quite difficult because it is quite soft and of low quality, mimicking the quality you’d get from radio transceivers. Often it’s these voice over’s that give you direction so it can be difficult to understand their directions as you are busy shooting the place up. Voice actors perform generally well, walking past TVs and listening to the radio logs you can hear the Chinese news reports.
Army of Two: The 40th Day is a fairly average game overall. Its core emphasis as a co-operative FPS game is hampered by the split screen co-op setup, making it very difficult to play. The plot itself isn’t that exciting and it lacks a compelling reason to keep pushing forward. You could probably finish the game in about 10-15 hours with only 7 chapters in total with each chapter feeling about a 1-2 hours long. There didn’t seem to be many people from Australia playing Army of Two 40th Day online so don’t expect that much. Although there isn’t much competition in the co-op FPS genre, some recent releases such as Borderlands might be a good alternative.
Army of Two: The 40th Day is a disappointing package, the visuals are pretty good and the base co-operative gameplay elements are more refined and natural than the original game. It is always fun to be able to play with a buddy and this day and age, local multiplayer is fast disappearing with the advent of playing over the internet. For those that have to play it solo, your AI buddy isn’t that incompetent this time around. The plot is pretty non-existent and doesn’t provide any incentive to progress in the game unfortunately. The morality system is one of the few highlights of this game, it was one of the aspects that I looked forward to, finding out what the consequences were from my decisions and the comic book style was used to great effect. Online multiplayer was not so flash and there is a one month lock out period before we use the extraction mode if you did not pre-order this game. This is a competent FPS game and its co-op focus is commendable, it just isn’t that fun or compelling to keep on playing.
AAG SCORE: 6.5/10
+ Textures and character models look very nice and are detailed with smooth animations
+ Morality system and the cut scenes are very good
+ Computer AI is improved over the previous game and enemies will revive each other.
- Local split screen needs options to configure how the screen is split.
- Online modes not friendly to Oceanic connections. Finding random online player to play co-op mode is very difficult.
- Frame rate slows down in busy fire fighting scenes.
Reviewed and Written By Danny Yee