Army of Two: The 40th Day Review (PS3)

The first Army of Two was a tricky game to measure. On one hand, it was merely a Gears-style third-person shooter starring two meat-head protagonists who fought through identikit Middle Eastern villains while high-fiving and knocking their heads together. Then, on the other hand it was also a no-nonsense, perfectly serviceable third-person shooter that sadly lacked any real ideas or identity of its own.

Army of Two: The 40th Day is definitely a better game than its predecessor, although those very same problems remain, bar a few gameplay tweaks and added narrative cogency. But, those same bugbears remain including enemies with incredibly dumb AI that somehow aim with unerring accuracy, an unreliable, skittish cover system and occasional glitches that serve in spoiling what is otherwise an infinitely playable and fun shooter.

Mock surrender is one of the coolest new features for The 40th Day. You can go for your gun and take out everyone in the room in slow-mo if you're fast enough.
Tying enemies up grants positive morale, whereas killing them results in negative. Shooting hostages or making wrong decisions at narrative junctures means Extreme Negative Morality. Choose with care.

Worse still, the checkpoint system is such that it forces you to endure unskippable cutscenes whenever you die, which on the game's tougher difficulties can be an all too regular occurrence. Thankfully, the game's fundamentals prove strong enough to prevent the frustration factor from spilling over into the red zone and if you find yourself playing with a friend, the experience proves doubly enjoyable regardless of the game's issues.

Playing alone with an AI partner might all be well and good, but you still can't beat playing Army of Two with a proper human being. Online and offline splitscreen modes are supported, although you're restricted to playing through the game in vertical splitscreen, which massively limits your peripheral vision. It would have been nice to be given the option to switch the view to horizontal splitscreen a confusing omission given the fact that games like Left 4 Dead manage to grant you the choice without any problems.

And that's really the best word to sum up Army of Two confusing. We're confused as to why EA Montreal thought it acceptable to make you have to sit through cutscenes over and over again, or why they thought it would be a good idea to incorporate a dual morality system, only to then penalise you for making the wrong choices. For instance, why should we lose out for making an innocent young child run out into gunfire to help us out with sniper fire? It forces you to play the good guy, as the alternative is just consistently unrewarding. There are no grey areas, everything is just black and white.

The 40th Day encourages positive moral choices with rewards like currency to purchase new weapons, gun parts and paint jobs for your bespoke arsenal. Weapon customisation is actually one of Army of Two's strongest aspects, enabling you to create your very own loadout of pimped out weapons, finished in gaudy silver and gold if you so desire. For sheer audacious waste of accumulated in-game funds, you can't beat the gold, diamond encrusted hand grenade though. $100,000 flushed down the toilet in a shower of flying limbs and sparkly diamonds.

This is what Army of Two is all about. Standing back to back with your buddy and pumping round after round of hot lead into the faces of your foes.
Riot shields return, but now there are more options at your disposal. You can tear doors from the wall, pick up large tribal masks and so on.

Again, the gold grenade is another excellent way to sum up Army of Two as a whole. It's loud, gaudy and stupid, but a good laugh while it lasts, which isn't very long. It goes off with a bang (we're still talking about the game here, not the grenade), and it is a genuine spectacle, running through Shanghai as you watch it being destroyed around you.

That's right. The 40th Day centres around a terrorist attack in Shanghai, which is tearing the entire city to pieces and that's about all you need to know. Planes plummet out of the sky, skyscrapers topple like falling dominoes and events unfold that place Salem and Rios in increasingly precarious situations. As action games go, Army of Two pours on the set pieces like a Hollywood freight train perhaps a bit too much sometimes in fact, throwing countless enemies at you, only occasionally allowing you to pause for breath.

40th Day is at its best during the slower paced moments, where you and your buddy grab a makeshift shield and steadily pick off bad guys one-by-one. Or where you diffuse a tough hostage situation by creeping up on the highest ranking officer, holding up the others before tying them up to neutralise them. You can mock surrender in certain scenarios where a gunfight appears hopeless, dropping to your knees and then executing a slow-motion state in which you can take out your would-be captors with quick, efficient shots.

These new elements are seamlessly integrated into the game rather then shoehorned in like the various set pieces were in the first Army of Two. Standing back to back with infinite ammunition was ludicrous in the original Army of Two and still is, but at least it doesn't happen as often as before and feels like it belongs in the moment.

Be forewarned - 40th Day is proper annoying at times. EA Montreal seem to have compensated for the rubbish enemy AI by throwing fifty million billion bad guys at you.
Army of Two's cover system has been vastly improved, although it's not without the odd bug or irritating glitch.

Once you've expended the possibilities that single-player and co-op have to offer, you'll be glad to know that multiplayer has been considerably bolstered for the Army of Two sequel, with Co-Op Deathmatch, Control and Warzone modes complemented by a bonus Extraction mode, which takes its cue from Gears 2's Horde, tasking you with clearing waves of oncoming enemies in preparation for well, extraction. Hence the title. It's all good fun and a genuinely worthy addition that adds a little extra longevity to the game outside of the narrative.

EA Montreal's efforts in improving Army of Two in virtually every conceivable department is to be commended, but there's no escaping the numerous irritations that plague the game and spoil what would have otherwise been a really excellent and effortlessly entertaining third-person action shooter. As it stands though, The 40th Day is just far too inexcusably frustrating to heartily recommend, but if what you're looking for is a hefty serving of disposable, bombastic fare, then this will be right up your street.

Top game moment:
Stomping a dead terrorist's head into mush and then stopping for a nice, civilised game of rock, paper, scissors.

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