Army of Two: The 40th Day Review
Written : Tuesday, January 12, 2010
By: Dan Webb (GT: Webb x360a)
If you take a minute to look back over the video game industry’s relatively short but celebrated lifespan, it’s plain to see how many iconic characters have sprung up in such a short time. And we’re not necessarily talking singular characters here either because we’ve had just as many dynamic duos throughout that time as well. You know it’s true what they say though, right? Behind every successful man is a great woman. Tweak that slightly to, behind every successful video game character is a great partner and I think you're right on the money there. For instance... Sonic and Tails. Mario and Luigi. Lara Croft and those infamous breasts of hers. EA don’t tend to have many strong duos though and so all the reliance falls on the unlikely pair, Salem & Rios.
Whilst the first Army of Two was a hit-and-miss affair, drawing people in with the co-op and pissing everyone else off by region locking said co-op, the sequel, The 40th Day, looks to right a few wrongs. EA Montreal have a point to prove on a franchise that many thought would never see the light of day again.
Salem & Rios, as unlucky and pissed off as ever.
The 40th Day picks up with our original duo, Salem & Rios, as they take to the streets once again to fatten their wallets with a routine mercenary job in Shanghai. Let’s just say, the faeces hits the fan and our pair are caught in the middle of Shanghai whilst the whole city is being brought down around them. Being the helpful citizens that these pair are, all they want to do is get out the city alive and put the horrible mess behind them. The 7 chapters will have you fighting through wave after wave of mercs in a whole host of various environments that include a zoo, a mall, a hospital and even a sacred temple. The “story” is a pretty loose affair and essentially plays the role of linking a series of high octane, intense set-pieces into one another without being too heavy on the plot.
From a presentation standpoint, The 40th Day is a huge improvement over the original with the Salem & Rios' character models showing some seriously impressive detail. It’s a shame that this attention to detail couldn’t make it across to all in-game characters, but that’s forgivable seeing as they still look pretty decent. For a game that has many explosions as well, the explosions themselves aren’t exactly groundbreaking but EA Montreal have done a fine job of animating a crumbling city as you fight through the rubble and decaying buildings of the once majestic Shanghai. Mix in the great chemistry of the gruff voices of Salem & Rios and a decent musical score that can rise and fall to match the action, and you’ve got a solid presentable package. A little repetitive at times in terms of the actual score, but you won’t feel inclined to mute the TV any time soon.
If there was ever a title built from the ground up to be a co-operative experience, this is it. You can’t fist bump in Left 4 Dead. You can’t high five in Borderlands. You can’t play Rock, Paper, Scissors in Gears of War. All this and more can be done in EA Montreal’s latest co-op third person shooter and it’s a good indication that the title never tries to take itself too seriously. That much can be seen in the extremely extensive and easy to manage weapon customisation system that allows you to attach a whole array of scopes, stocks, barrels and more to your existing guns as well as new ones. Want to attach a silencer? Feel free. Want to attach a grenade launcher attachment? By all means, be my guest. How about attaching a screwdriver to the end of your rifle? Errr, if you must, you can. What about painting it gold or with heart shapes all over it? Okay, you’re going too far now. The thing is, all this is possible and more and it makes combat that much more of a joy because of it. The best thing is that you can now do that with your friends anywhere in the world as the region locking is no more.
Guys? Guys!! You can stop shooting now, I think he's dead!
The whole camaraderie between you and your co-op partner is easily the game’s biggest selling point and if you want to goof around whilst Shanghai takes a hiding, that’s more than acceptable. The co-op isn’t there for just messing around of course, it can play a tactical advantage as well, whether it’s the co-op snipe – whereby you both line-up enemy targets and shoot on a countdown, the usual co-op moves – that involve step jumps and lining up behind a riot shield, and our personal favourite, the mock surrender. A move that allows you to approach enemies with your hands up and pretend to surrender before you and your co-op partner quick draw and take them down before they’ve had chance to say Pikachu.
The co-operative relationship even plays a big part in your story and progress in the title as well. Throughout the game you’ll come across a few scenarios that demand your attention and more importantly, your teamwork. The situations involve working together to save hostages for a monetary award and to make key decisions that affect your rewards from the storyline. The problem, or should I say the beauty, of these story decisions is that whoever presses the button first during a decision making event makes the decision for the team, so if you’re not in tandem with your co-op partner, you better be quick on that button if you want your own way. Either way, whatever choice you make you’re presented with a morality cutscene illustrated by renowned comic book illustrators, Chris Bachal and Jock. The cutscenes actually paint some really intriguing and thought-provoking sequences that actually over-shadow the story that the game’s trying to tell. Whether that was the intentional, who knows, but it sure feels that way.
The aggro system also makes a return from the first title – a system that determines who the opposing forces will concentrate their aggression on. So if you’re stealthy, with a silencer from afar, you’re going to attract far less attention than someone who charges in with a shotgun with a grenade launcher attachment. It’s a necessary tool in combat, but truth be told, it’s a system that can be easily exploited, although, you get the feeling that’s the whole point of it... well, maybe it wasn’t intended to be exploited this easily. Maybe the aggro seems exploitable because of the extremely dense enemy AI... and that’s me being polite. Thankfully when you’re playing alone your partner AI isn’t too bad and thanks to a simplistic command scheme, you can get him to do what you want. Still, despite that, you’re advised to tackle it with a friend because it makes the game that much more enjoyable because the camaraderie with an AI driven partner isn’t exactly very satisfying. It’s like feeding one of those pesky Tamagotchis... I really need to stop with the small fictional creature references!
Unfortunately, that’s where The 40th Day takes a slippery trip down from being a great game to just a decent game. You can’t help but get the feeling that the title was rushed out by EA to avoid the crazy Q1 rush. There are so many rough edges and design flaws, that you have to question whether the game actually went through any extensive testing whatsoever. The game is prone to the odd bout of crashing, frequent co-op partner disconnections, plenty of clipping issues, a stodgy frame-rate at times, having no subtitles, relentless load times and worst of all, inconsistent checkpoints and the inability to skip cutscenes. But wait? Who’d want to skip a cutscene? Well after dying against a boss more than 5 times, you kind of get really sick of seeing his intro. And the checkpoints? Who in their right mind places a checkpoint for a boss behind a group of men that you have to fight through, so if you get killed by the boss, instead of restarting the showdown, you jump back 10 minutes and have to fight your way to him again... and then you still have to watch the cutscene.
There are also moments when you’re trying to heal a team mate by holding A, but because sprint is also on the A button, you end up charging out of cover and either dying or not getting to them on time. Throw in the ridiculous amount of recycled bosses and lack of enemy variety, and you’ve actually got the makings of some hugely frustrating – but not game breaking – design choices, or as we suspect, non-design choices.
Salem & Rios Lesson #101: How not to use a shield.
Once you’re done with the 10 hour campaign, you can take your new budding partnership online to see what the game has to offer. In all there are 4 game modes: co-op deathmatch, warzone, control and a bonus mode, extraction, which is available for those that pre-ordered, with its general release coming later to everyone else (for free we’ve been told). Co-op deathmatch is self explanatory and involves 6 teams of 2 duking it out against one another; warzone is a team based objective game involving 2 teams of 6 who must work together to diffuse bombs and such; control is essentially “king of the hill”; and last, but not least, extraction is the posh word for The 40th Day’s take on the “horde” mode and supports 4 players. There seems like plenty to see and do online, but we weren’t able to give it a full run out because as it is pre-release, the online arena is a desolate place. Truth be told though, you won’t be buying The 40th Day for its competitive multiplayer... it’s more of a distraction than a selling point.
The achievements are neither here nor there and if you’re looking to take down the full 1,000 points, expect a lot of grinding. For instance, there is a “kill 6,666 enemies in the campaign” achievement and you’ll probably kill around 1,000 in a single playthrough (when played with a co-op partner). The game effectively needs two playthroughs minimum as well – choosing to make all good moral choices and choosing to make all bad moral choices. There are plenty of kill achievements, weapon achievements, co-op achievements involving co-op snipe and mock surrender and so on, and unfortunately, there are a ton of multiplayer achievements that were hidden as secret achievements too (why the hell they did that I’ll never know) but they’re all quite easily attainable, which isn’t too bad. Despite the grind and forcing multiple playthroughs, the list isn’t bad. Far from being good, but not bad.
Although The 40th Day is a huge improvement over its predecessor in terms of gameplay, visuals and delivery, it does too much wrong to just put them down to trivial faults. Simply put, Army of Two: The 40th Day is both fun and frustrating in equal measures. Despite its bugs and annoyances we truly hope that EA Montreal gets another crack at the whip because we feel that with a few more months spent polishing and ironing out these drawbacks, The 40th Day would have been a much more enjoyable experience. Truth be told, it felt like a Pandemic game at times... and we all know what happened to them.
A solid performance from the cast, especially the dynamic duo, Salem & Rios. The game has a very tongue-in-cheek feel to it and that shines through with the score to the off-the-cuff one liners.
Salem & Rios themselves look fantastic. Their character models demonstrate a great use of textures and an obviously high polygon count. The rest of the world is fairly plain though and the impressive visuals don’t expand past the characters.
An easy to control third person shooter with an intuitive and well crafted cover mechanic. I’d go as far as to say that it’s one of the best cover mechanics on the console to date.
A 10 hour co-op campaign and a fairly extensive multiplayer mode with 4 game modes (well, depending on how you class extraction). All’s good in the world, right? Wrong! You couldn’t be further from the truth. The 40th Day seems rushed and is plagued with issues from start to finish. A real shame.
The 40th Day’s achievements are, how do I put this... so-so. Plenty of variation but too much grind. Two playthroughs minimum is needed, although I suspect that it’ll be more like 3.
Army of Two: The 40th Day is a huge improvement over its predecessor and EA Montreal should be commended for the work they’ve done. Unfortunately the praise will be short lived as you’re constantly bombarded with bugs and minor annoyances that are with you from start to finish. Not enough to break the game, but enough to hamper the experience. The 40th Day is a fun co-op shooter with a great cover mechanic, but it’s as frustrating as it is fun. So just be warned.