There was something fun at a very base level about the original Army of Two, and I’m not just talking about the whole “frat boys killing for cash” milieu it presented. While the game’s setting and characters managed to offend a whole bunch of people, it was still enjoyable to sit down with a friend and fist-bump your way through the game’s summer popcorn flick story line. Add in a fairly in-depth if somewhat excessive (gold plated guns?) armament-upgrade system and you had a decent co-op shooter that got lost in 2008 thanks to poor critical reception and negative word of mouth.
Now, nearly two years later, EA Montreal once again attempts to thrust us into the brahsome world of international guns for hire Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios as they fight their way out of a man-made disaster in Shanghai, China. Why you’re in Shanghai isn’t exactly clear, but there are plenty of greenbacks to be made and our men are all over it.
In the first iteration of the series, Tyson and Rios were lambasted for being a little too callous about the damage they were inflicting along their campaign, and some efforts were made in the sequel to change the dynamic duo into a more intriguing pair of mercs. This is accomplished through a new morality system where, at some points during your escape from Shanghai, you’ll run across opportunities to either play the hero or screw someone over for a few bucks or some weapon parts. If you’re playing two player co-op, then whoever makes the choice first decides for both, which doesn’t exactly enforce the term “co-op”. Once you’ve made your decision, for good or ill, you’re then treated to a comic book style vignette showing the consequences of your actions. Playing the hero will net you a few rewards in the end, but looking out for yourself yields the quicker return. You can also actively affect how much Tyson and Rios like each other during the game by either playing a little grab-ass or giving your partner a kick in the nuts. It doesn’t change any of your co-op maneuvers; it’s just there for a little something extra.
Speaking of something extra, the weapon upgrade system makes a return from the first game with a few modifications. Instead of having separate parts for each weapon, you now have access to a pool of alterations and can apply them in any combination to your gun. It sounds neat, but slapping the barrel of an AK-47 onto an M4 just looks very strange, like the artists didn’t take the time to alter the models to make sure they’d fit together naturally. Of course any gun nut would tell you that you can’t fit the barrel of an AK onto an M4 receiver, but some extra work could have gone in to making it look better in game. The choice to add gold and silver plating to your firearms is back with the addition of being able to paint your guns a variety of colors. It’s a nice option, but the decals are applied so sloppily that the guns end up looking like rather embarrassing toy weapons than actual pieces of ordnance. After playing Modern Warfare 2, where a lot of care went into the gun alterations, the selections in Army of Two seem a little slap dash.
The actual combat of Army of Two: The 40th Day owes a lot to its various third person predecessors like Gears of War, but the development team probably could have taken a few more queues from Epic. Like Gears of War, Army of Two features a cover system where you can huddle behind various barricades and pillars and lean out to fire. Cover works OK most of the time, but you have to manage which direction your character is facing at all times, otherwise you’ll be backing your rear end into enemy fire whenever you want to take a peek out of the opposite end of your location.
Control frustrations don’t stop with the shenanigans of cover, however. A lot of contextual commands are crammed onto the A button (X for PS owners), and this can lead to some severe headaches. For example, the command to sprint and slide into cover is mapped to A, and so is reviving your downed comrade; the button is also used to vault low obstacles. When your partner goes down and you’re sprinting to resuscitate him and end up hurtling over the wall he’s hiding behind directly into the maw of shotgun, this will have you cursing the control scheme. Thankfully, the shooting itself is rather well done, and the guns make very satisfying sounds this time around instead of the “pew pew” noises from the first game.
Even though shooting itself is improved, the AI in the game is unfortunetly very thick, and will avail itself of every opportunity it has to charge you in the open, guns blazing. The AI also has the tendency to not quite hide behind cover correctly meaning you can let loose a barrage of bullets and manage to take a few down fairly easily. Even the tougher enemies are pretty dim-witted; large foes often appear carrying heavy weaponry and it’s a simple matter of getting around their backside and shooting them in the gas tank or the grenade pouch.
While the game is meant to be played cooperatively, the computer-controlled teammate works fairly well and the partner commands mapped to the D-pad are simple to use and effective. Admittedly, my co-op partner got frustrated with the game’s controls and bland presentation and quit around the fourth chapter, leaving me to finish the title by myself; this is something I wished to avoid as the partner AI in the original was frustrating beyond measure. It stands as a testament to how much work went into at least this aspect of the game as finishing off the seven-hour campaign with the AI at my back was not that aggravating.
At the end of Army of Two you’ll be feeling sort of empty as the game doesn’t come to a satisfying conclusion, not that surprising given the sever lack of exposition, or indeed, a plot. The 40th Day strives to make improvements in a lot of areas, but it all feels half done. The gun system, the cover mechanics, even the environments all speak of a development that couldn’t quite attain the level of polish needed before release. It’s fairly strange to watch a city crumble around you, but you can’t do anything to the geometry of the levels besides chip away at cover to a mild degree. The graphics even suffer from a drop in frame rate when the action gets too heavy for the engine to sustain, and the side-characters don’t have the level of care that Salem and Rios received, meaning that the gun-toting pair looks like a little out of place amid the ruins of Shanghai.
If you’re starving for co-op action or are waiting for the bigger releases of this year, then Army of Two: The 40th Day will serve as a mildly entertaining weekend rental: something to pass the time, but nothing you’ll want to come back to.
Alright, that’s how I felt about EA Montreal’s third person bro-fest, and I’m wondering what you think. Have any of you played the game, and how many are still willing to give it a shot after reading my review? Sound off!
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