Army of Two: The 40th Day Review
Army of Two has, unsurprisingly, become a hit for Electronic Arts. It is essentially the only thing that best captures the feel of a Gears of War game and is multiplatform. Sony may have Uncharted 2, but it's action and gunplay isn't quite in the same league of craziness and over-the-top absurdity that Gears is. On the other hand, Army of Two is up there, complete with the requisite hulking and muscular protagonists who curse a lot, carry giant guns, are decked out with crazy protective gear, and...use tampons.
Yep, tampons. The tool that only the manliest of men use when blood comes pouring out from a wound. Gun shot? Stabbed? Shove a tampon in that hole and let it absorb the red liquid. And now that I've grossed you completely out by using an ambiguous and questionably worded sentence, allow me to explain what makes Army of Two: The 40th Day a worthy sequel, but still just an average shooter that gets rather boring after only a few short hours.
So simply put, if you've played the first game, or really, even if you've played a Gears of War or Uncharted game, you'll likely feel right at home with Army of Two's simplicity, as it's surely a step back in terms of complexity. But, what the game lacks in depth, perhaps it makes up for it with its non-stop balls-to-the-wall action. I mean really, there is hardly a moment where you aren't surrounded by a bunch of enemies, unloading dozens and dozens of bullets every minute. Army of Two: The 40th Day just keeps the action pouring, using largely the same gameplay techniques that Gears of War made so popular.
The third person camera can be toggled to either shoulder using R3. You'll use L1 and R1 to aim and fire, respectively, and R2 will throw a grenade. Crouching is done by hitting L3, meanwhile hiding behind objects and walls is done automatically when you're nearby them. Unfortunately, the automatic system still isn't very good, as I've often found myself desperately trying to get the game to realize I'm trying to take cover, all to no avail. When I see the game refusing to co-operate with me, I just manually crouch down...or feign death behind the object I'm trying to hide behind. I must say, it gets pretty annoying having to do this often. So, a word to the developers: next time, just give us a damn button to take cover.
Gameplay is completely linear in progression, as are the environments. There are the occasional areas where instead of approaching combat head-on, you can flank and surprise attack from the sides, while your partner charges head-on like a bull, but in the end, you'll still have to go through a designated path to continue. The stealth attacks are very cool, but not quite as responsive as I'd hope for them to be. Still, diffusing a situation and rescuing civilians can feel rewarding, and best of all, you get to either subdue the enemies you've just apprehended, or kill them. Fun times.
Then there's the morality system, where every once in a while you'll be given a choice to make an adjustment in your story based on the choices you've made during these segments. Most of the segments occur during the game's cut-scenes, and most of them include either sparing or killing someone, good or bad. Based on your decision, you'll get a different conclusion to that cut-scene. Morality also comes into play when you've approached a hostage situation and you need to plan carefully so that innocent civilians aren't killed because you thought it'd be effective to just barge in guns blazing. So for that, the game has an enemy tagging feature where you enable your GPS and information display (by pressing Select) aim at an enemy and press Circle, tagging each enemy you've glanced at. When you're in position, as soon as you fire at one enemy, your partner will fire at the other simultaneously.
Now, all of these enhancements and new features are great, but unfortunately, the core gameplay suffers from a bad-spell of being far too repetitive. Where as games like Gears of War, and especially Uncharted 2, were able to diversify the action, Army of Two: The 40th Day doesn't quite achieve that very well. By about the third or fourth hour, you'll begin to realize that you've been doing the same thing over and over again. And if that sort of game is your thing, then you'll enjoy this. But if you're looking for some variety as opposed to non-stop mindless shooting, then you may not. The one thing I do believe that Army of Two: The 40th Day would've benefited from is a proper online experience - the co-op is absolutely great and a ton of fun, there's no question. But I can't help but feel that perhaps these solid game mechanics are being wasted without a larger multiplayer effort. The game is good for up to 10-player deathmatch, Control, Warzone, and Extraction modes, providing a good deal of fun, but never conveying that sense of epicness or scale, so The 40th Day is unlikely to be a game you keep coming back to for the multiplayer like Modern Warfare or Killzone 2. And speaking of replay value, while the overall story isn't that long, there are still other bits of gameplay content to experience, so the game provides a hearty amount of value, even if it's extremely repetitive.
Visuals have been improved, as you'd expect. Texture detail is sharper, framerate is a bit more consistent (but still far from perfect), and this time around, the environment around you completely crumbles right before your very own eyes. But allow me to clarify on that, actually, because 40th Day doesn't have interactive environments that you can destruct. But rather, because the story focuses on the destruction of Shanghai, you actually witness the entire city come crumbling down through real-time cutscenes and such. The destruction is pretty damn epic, and certainly one of the more impressive displays of scale we've seen this generation. But beyond that, you may not find too much else to go crazy over, as the game is an adequate looker, with average texture details, and character detail that could've been a bit better. And while the lighting may look nice at first, you'll quickly notice how shadows degrade in quality when they're about a two feet in front of you, and then become smooth when you're directly in front of them - it's a really annoying effect considering how heavy the lightning work is.
The audio is largely the same as it was in the first game, with two men yelling and cursing, a lot. There is the on-going banter during gameplay that you'll hear every so often, in addition to the voices of others through your head pieces. There are plenty of cutscenes to hear the voice acting in, and even though the voice work is pretty good, the script still leaves a lot to be desired. Furthermore, the soundtrack in the background gets repetitive very quickly. Thankfully, the gun audio is good enough to make you forget about the crappy stuff.
So, the foundation remains solid, but the execution also remains a bit dull. Sure, you're going to have a great time with the game for a few hours, but that'll quickly wear thin on you. Though I do suggest this: if the fun begins to wear thin, finish playing the story in co-op, or hell, play the entire story in co-op mode. I still firmly believe this would've made for an amazing full-blown multiplayer shooter, but alas that's something we may have to wait for in the inevitable third game. Army of Two: The 40th Day is a solid action shooter that makes many improvements over the original, but it still needs to diversify itself to be a real stand out.
1/18/2010 Arnold Katayev