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Review: Army of Two: The 40th Day
Army of Two's main selling point was its two player co-op. In the interim years, EA realized that this feature isn't all that uncommon. With sequel Army of Two: The 40th Day, they've introduced a few new gimmicks to liven things up but the game just can't outrun its competitors.
The first Army of Two's campaign spanned continents and years but The 40th Day depicts one very long day in Shanghai, China. Mercenaries Salem and Rios are in town on a routine job but are waylaid by a mysterious army that has taken over the city. With only each other to count on, they attempt to escape the city.
Based on photos I've seen of Shanghai, the developers did a good job of recreating it. The destroyed cityscape, covered in ash and red pamphlets dropped by "The 40th Day Army," can be very haunting at times. Much of the campaign takes place in locations that might look pretty much the same in any city, though, like a hospital or harbor. Saboteur's campaign took players on a sort of tour of Paris, with important plot points taking place at famous spots such as the Notre Dame Cathedral or the Eiffel Tour. I guess I was hoping for a similar experience with this game. At one point players get to see the Oriental Pearl Tower explode in the distance, which is supposed to be a "wow" moment but was just disappointing. I wish there was a level set inside the building. I think Shanghai's a promising setting but it's just underutilized here.
It's not like they couldn't have worked the Oriental Pearl Tower into the plot. 40th Day's story is one of the loosest in memory. The basic setup is interesting and poses an interesting mystery: why would an army of mercenaries attack a city and attempt to level it? However, the reasons behind the 40th Day Army's assault on Shanghai are completely ignored within the game up until the ending sequence. There are audio recordings that give some story details but providing players with a pile of sound files is a lot different than telling a story during the actual gameplay. Other games that employ the audio tapes technique - BioShock, Dead Space - use these tapes to flesh out the plot. You'd still have a decent idea of what's going on without listening to them because the story is embedded within the game. With 40th Day, I get the sense that they made up the story after all the maps had already been created.
In case you're wondering, the 40th Day Army's reason for attacking Shanghai don't make a whole lot of sense. Considering how little story exists in this game, even stating the reason is a pretty major spoiler but it's too outrageous not to mention. If you want to save yourself the surprise, skip the rest of this paragraph. Jonah, the leader of the 40th Day Army, tells Salem and Rios this city is to teach modern society a lesson. Apparently we're too selfish and greedy for his tastes and blowing up a city is going to...change this? Some indication of how Jonah settled on such a batshit plan and how he thinks it's going to work would've been appreciated. I think the idea is that this invasion creates chaos and it forces people to show their true selves (selfish or otherwise). Toward what end, though? This isn't a learning experience for the people of Shanghai - they're just getting killed left and right by these mercenaries.
To connect the story's moralizing to the actual gameplay, EA presents one moral decision to you per chapter. In one such scenario, Salem and Rios find a weapons locker in an abandoned building. They begin to take the weapons when suddenly a security guard shows up and demands that they stop. Do they take the guns anyway or let the hapless working man do his job? If you've played most role-playing games, you should be familiar with the formula: there's an evil choice with a short term benefit and a good choice with smaller, or perhaps nonexistent, rewards. What's interesting about 40th Day is that after making your choice, you're shown a hand-drawn cutscene outlining the consequences of your actions. They're entertaining to watch because they tend to employ very weird twists. To give a fictional example: you decide to save an old man buried under rubble...and he turns out to be a child molester! Would I replay each chapter to try the "other" option from these scenarios? Maybe. Depends how long it takes someone to put all the shorts on YouTube.
I guess there is another moral element to the gameplay but there's less player choice involved. Periodically you'll encounter mercenaries who have captured civilians and are about to execute them. EA will argue that players could choose to simply charge in and blast away at the mercs with no regard to the civilians' safety. Why would you, though? That would make these scenes into conventional shooter action like the rest of the campaign. You'd also miss out on money and equipment rewards. To me, the decision is clear: save the hostages.
There are two strategies you can employ in these situations. The first and riskiest is to simply split up targets with your partner and try to take them down simultaneously. Salem and Rios' hockey masks have scanners similar to Batman's in Arkham Asylum which, when toggled, highlight enemies and friendlies in different colors. Therefore it's pretty easy to plot out a plan of attack beforehand. The scanner also shows you the rank of each of the mercenaries, which gives you a second option: sneak up to the commanding officer, grab him, and force his subordinates to surrender. You can then tie them all up or execute them, though attempting the latter usually leads to them attempting to fight back. Whichever strategy you choose, you need to do it quickly because the mercs are generally on the verge of executing the people they captured.
Another mechanic that breaks up the traditional shooter mold is called "mock surrender." At a couple points in the game, enemies will ambush you and you have the option of throwing up your hands. After getting on your knees, you can then quick-draw your pistol in slow-mo. Like the hostage situations, this is best coordinated with your partner, who will be hiding nearby and waiting to strike. Speed is also a factor here, because these enemies will usually either have hostages or equipment crates nearby. Enemies will remotely lock these crates and deprive you of their goods if you don't kill them swiftly.
The mock surrenders, hostages, and equipment crates are really the best feature that the sequel adds. They add a sense of urgency and strategy that's lacking throughout the rest of the game. Performing a swift takedown of a trio of mercenaries and saving a helpless hostage was so much fun it made me want to go dig up my old SWAT 3 disc. They're the exception rather than the rule when it comes to this game, though. 40th Day's a bit like cookie dough ice cream - the hostages and mock surrenders are the bits of cookie dough and the rest of the game's just regular old vanilla. You end up wishing you were just eating cookie dough.
The rest of the game's a pretty standard third-person shooter with a heavy emphasis on cover. While there's some corridor combat, each chapter has about two or three large open areas where most of the fighting takes place. The game feels very padded out during these moments, with the game tossing multiple waves of enemies at you. New waves will spawn even if you don't move forward (and recoil is so minor) that you can sit in the same spot for a good five to ten minutes and just pick off enemies as they approach. Half my deaths were the result of me getting impatient and charging into a wave I didn't know was coming. The other half was from the awkward cover system. Like Saboteur, 40th Day doesn't have a "snap to cover" button; you nudge your character against a waist-sized obstacle and hope he ducks behind it before the enemies gun him down. Sometimes you need cover immediately - low health, sudden onslaught of enemies - so this button-less cover really isn't working for me.
Luckily, your companion can drag you to safety and revive you if you're downed. It's worth noting that playing the campaign with an A.I. partner really isn't a hindrance. You can issue basic orders with the directional pad (regroup, move ahead, hold position) but it's not really necessary because he's pretty competent. Though I definitely killed more enemies than he did, he certainly died a lot less than me. I'd still recommend playing with a human partner, though, through off-line or online co-op. The game displays a kill count periodically through the chapter to give the action a competitive side. It helps to have a human when you encounter the boss-like characters in the game, too. While the vast majority of the enemies are assault rifle-wielding grunts, you'll occasionally encounter a heavily armored guy with a grenade launcher, flamethrower, or minigun. To beat them, one player generally draws their attention while the other flanks them and shoots the ammo/fuel packs on their back (highlighted with the mask scanner). The key is to watch the Aggro Meter, a bar at the top of the screen that measures which player is drawing more enemy attention. It varies depending on factors like how much damage you're causing to the enemies and how loud your weapons are. I managed to get through these fights with an A.I. partner but it was a lot sloppier than it would've been with a friend doing it.
One of the few ways in which 40th Day really beats other shooters is weapon customization. When you're not in combat, you can enter a menu that allows you to buy new weapons and outfit them with different parts to vary their damage, precision, or loudness. You can also give your guns a custom paintjob if you're so inclined. You can switch back to any weapons you've previously purchased for no charge through this menu, too. It's a bit suspect, though, that you can't purchase ammunition through this store. On the whole it's a nice system though because it means you don't have to waste time scavenging the battlefield for a better gun.
The campaign is only about five hours long, give or take, but there's also a number of standalone multiplayer modes. They're all tiny variants on the modes you've played numerous times elsewhere. Co-op Deathmatch is Team Deathmatch except with five teams of two. Control is a 5v5 "capture the territory" type except that you only fight over one territory at a time. Once a team has held a target location for a long enough period of time, they get a point and a new location is designated. Warzone, also 5v5, is exactly like a mode of the same name in Killzone 2. Teams compete to accomplish a series of random objectives, such as stealing intel from the enemy or killing a VIP on the other team. Even with the low ceiling for players, I rarely encountered a full game and that's unfortunate because 10 players isn't a whole lot to start with.
It seems like most of the players are playing Extraction Mode. Extraction's probably the best of the bunch and that's unfortunate because only pre-order customers have access to it at launch. Everyone else has to wait a month. Extraction's like Gears of War 2's Horde mode, with four players fighting off successive waves of enemies. The "few versus many" core premise is always compelling but Extraction always feels borderline broken. The maps are so small that enemies can overrun you within seconds. The lack of diversity in the game's enemies means that in order to ramp up the difficulty, the developers can only boost their health or give them better damage. They also throw the occasional rocket launcher-wielding enemy at you, who must take at least 100 bullets to kill but can one-shot you. If you die, by the way, you have to wait until your team finishes the set of five rounds (or dies trying) in order for you to respawn. Plowing through four rounds of enemies and then getting owned by the Terminator with the rocket launcher wears thin pretty quickly. If you're reading this, though, you didn't pre-order the game so you won't have to worry about Extraction for a month anyway.
The 40th Day has a lot of new features that the original Army of Two didn't so in theory it seems like a proper sequel. However, there are plenty of problems still present from the first game, such as the short length and uninteresting enemies. EA should've tried to fix them rather than simply paper them over with a mixed collection of additions.
Players: 1-10 Players
Platform(s): Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3
Developer: EA Montreal
Publisher: Electronic Arts
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