I’m as much a fan of the old action movies as anyone. Movies like Lethal Weapon, and Die Hard, and Dirty Harry are timeless treats. The popcorn flicks today, however, are often a pale imitation by comparison. For some reason, the charm of watching an ordinary cop caught up in the extraordinary hostage situation when international terrorists take over an office building is infinitely preferable to watching that same cop slam a vehicle into a helicopter and dodge a fighter jet by taking a 60 foot leap of faith.
The fact is, in those old action gems, the fun was watching a very normal person or group of people do their best to survive and outwit their enemies in extreme circumstances. If you ask me, and of course you would, the outrageous action set pieces of today are better left for the console scene. For action fans or anybody who just likes a good explosion, Army of Two: The 40th Day is going to be a treat.
Army of Two originally told the story of two former career soldiers, Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios. After years of serving their country, the fellas struck out on their own and to find adventure and fortunes around the world. They join a PMC that, of course, ends up screwing them over and they spend the rest of that initial outing figuring out the why. The game, as is often the case with the action genre, was criticized for some basic flaws. That fact that Rios and Salem were often spouting ‘Rush Hour’ style one-liners in the midst of combat didn’t sit well with many critics. Still, the core “two guys against the world” gameplay mechanic was solid and gamers liked the level of customization that allowed them to make weapons their own.
In Army of Two: The 40th Day, the world’s least anxious private military contractors have set out for a nice relaxing vacation in Shanghai (I um… think). And wouldn’t you know it, just as they’re off the bus, terrorists attack in a big way. As you start the game the initial cutscene plays through the lens of a tourist’s camera on a guided bus tour through town just before the destruction kicks off. These opening sequences are a bit confusing, but they’re pretty cool nonetheless. There’s a scale in ‘The 40th Day’ that eclipses the first game. Skyscrapers topple, 747’s slam into buildings, and explosions clear entire plazas, and that’s just for starters. These action scenes really set the mood and bring you right into the game as you scramble to make sense of the destruction. And by ‘make sense of’ I mean return the favor.
‘The 40th Day’ brings back a lot of the initial features from the original Army of Two and even improves on them. The aggro system, for instance, returns as your best tactical weapon. For those new to the series, ‘aggro’ is the term Developer EA Montreal uses to describe aggressive actions. Using your partner’s movements and attack patterns, you can shift focus from Salem to Rios, or vice versa in order to best engage your enemies. For instance, in one level, as you scramble to escape a crowded building, your partner stands on one ledge as you make your way across another. As enemies engage you, your partner can draw their fire or snipe them to make room for you to advance. It’s a strong system, even when you play with the games AI-controlled partner, and it’s one of the best and most unique things about the series. Much of this system’s success hinges on the games AI. Enemies prioritize players who are currently advancing over players in cover, players who are firing over players who aren’t, and so on. Enemies are much less likely to simply run out of cover to attack you and often will make moves that are downright smart (pressing the advantage when they have you pinned, using mobile shields to flank you, etc.).
The level layouts are very well done. There are plenty of points to snipe, cover, and flank your enemies. To EA Montreal’s credit, The 40th Day’s level design is topnotch and only feels more potent because of the strong visuals. For as detailed as some of the character models are, and as many effects, particles, etc. that accompany your many future firefights, I didn’t notice much pop in and the frame rate remains pretty constant. At points throughout the game, the load times seem longer than average for a game on this generation’s consoles, and it doesn’t help that you can’t skip cutscenes; they will replay over and over when you die. I found myself trying to avoid enemy fire just so I didn’t have to sit through the same briefing again. It sounds kind of funny, but that really shouldn’t be a reason not to go out and pull your partner to safety.
Team Tactics are still valuable and can be used incredibly effectively at some points. At other times, solo players will definitely miss a real-life partner as they struggle to coordinate the computer’s attacks with your own. As a general rule, Army of Two: The 40th Day is made for co-op. When you come across enemies who have taken hostages, things are a bit easier. You can order your partner to take a commanding officer hostage (or take him yourself) as you tie up his soldiers or use your mask’s GPS to tag enemies and then snipe them together. Not so tough.
Some of the other tactics, fake surrender for example, are a lot tougher to execute and time on your own. The game’s partner commands are already tough to employ in real time as you try to dodge enemy fire, but when you consider that your enemies are still coordinating their attacks as you feign defeat and try to tag all your enemies and aim your gun, things can get hectic, fast. Now, it’s very likely that you will survive these moments with ease, but the fact that the game slows these “quick draw” moments down and it’s still difficult to get a few clean kills is frustrating. I imagine in real life pulling a maneuver like this off would be just as hectic, but it’s still no fun to reload from a checkpoint just so you can get into the weapons locker behind your foes.
From what I’ve seen the story and the main characters, are a bit more palatable this time around and, without giving anything away, there are some really cool moments that allow you to choose how the world will see you and your partner. These are accompanied by watercolor-style comic cells that seem to tell little epilogues for the characters involved in these decisions. At least I think so, they go by pretty fast, and there are no words to accompany the cells, but it still looks cool.
All the major draws of the original Army of Two have found their way back, weapons customization, partner tactics, aggro, etc., and many have been improved. The controls are familiar to fans and accessible and natural to anyone who’s played a shooter on a next-gen console. All in all, EA delivers a solid, not groundbreaking, action experience for its fans. If you like to shoot stuff, and your friend does too, you’ve got a winner.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 5.0 Graphics
Pretty awesome character models, animations, and effects, without many issues. 3.0 Control
The scheme is familiar, but newbies will take some time to learn to coordinate more complex maneuvers. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The effects are solid and cutscenes are cool, but darned if I know what they’re saying over those comm. links! 4.0 Play Value
Play it with a friend; play it on the net; just play it. You won’t be sorry! 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.