STAFF REVIEW of Army of Two: The 40th Day (Xbox 360)

Thursday, January 21, 2010.
by Ken Laffrenier

Army of Two: The 40th Day Box art Who among us has not had the opportunity to visit a new place, to soak in the culture of an exotic land, to meditate on the vast opportunities given to our foreign neighbors? And as with any ?vacation?; it?s not long before you dream of escaping the traffic, the noise, the distractions, of simply returning home, to just feel safe in familiar surroundings. If any of this embodies personal experience then you know what Army of Two: The 40th Day is all about. Of course in this situation Shanghai is being blown to bits?if this still resembles life experiences, then you have more serious issues to contemplate than the enjoyment of this game.

Army of Two: The 40th Day has been published by Electronic Arts. Electronic Arts is most notable for a couple of distinctions; the first being the production of a massive slew of games (with ratings from good, to mediocre, to abysmal), for virtually every medium. And since their inception in 1982 EA is also famous for their propensity for acquiring game development studios. Because of these issues, the second installment to 2008?s Army of Two could have been another in a line of forgettable sequels. However, Electronic Art?s latest offering comes to us courtesy of EA Montreal which is one of only a handful of ?created? rather than ?acquired? studios. And EA Montreal clearly wanted to follow up 2008?s 'Army of Two' release with a focus on a gamer feedback title; they seemed to have heard many of the concerns surrounding Army of Two and have tweaked the entire experience to showcase Canada?s ability to create outstanding titles and, for the most part, they have delivered.

Army of Two: The 40th Day tries to present a suitable story and while the story seems to have been created after the game design, it?s the games nuances that drive the gameplay. Our rock/paper/scissors champs Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios are back, along with operations chief Alice Murray, to offer the unique justice that only Trans World Organization(T.W.O.) can; mercs for hire, willing to do almost anything to make a few green backs. We are not privy to much of the back story of the characters, so unless you have played the first installment, you won?t have any reason to feel a connection to our heroes. The game throws you into the action and you quickly go through a ?Cole?s Notes? version of a control tutorial while wrapping up a mission in Shanghai, China. Suddenly, if conveniently, the city goes to hell as fire rains from the sky (okay, its tactical missile strikes but ?fire rains from the sky? sounds cool). As the city crumbles around you, the task is simple, get out of Shanghai alive?that?s it?initially you start off interested in just getting the team?s proverbial butts to safety. As the game progresses it becomes clear as to the who, what, why and you eventually find yourself willing to save the day but, the key ambition in the game is the promotion and propagation of our ?anti heroes?. Honestly, I didn?t find myself terribly interested in the story as a whole, it comes off as an afterthought and you are far too compelled to live in the moment to worry about anything else (the firefights and the fire come at you almost nonstop).

The gameplay is where this title begins to shine. The nuances, as mentioned earlier, are offered in ?Morality Moments?; unique choices that, depending on your decision, have varying scenarios and consequences. The game stumbles, only slightly, in this regard. Many of the choices you make have no real bearing on you or the game (other than achievement points). While there are a couple of minor consequences (you take the weapons rather than obey the security guard), the true genius in these moments play out in comic panels which showcase the ramifications of your actions. Additionally there are morality moments in the handling of hostage situations, these are affected by your own personal gamer style; are you a shoot first, ask questions later hothead or a more precise, subdue the lead officer type of gamer. Regardless of your style this offers a tremendous amount of replayability to the title (although I?m usually a contentious gamer it?s nice to see how the other half lives; hahaha, devil be damned).

Another of the nuances comes courtesy of the return of the customization tools. Throughout the game, players accumulate vast amounts of money (scavenging from enemies, completing specific tasks, even stealing from enemy supply crates). This money can be used to add to, or augment, the player?s arsenal. There is a great variety of weapons that, as they are unlocked, make you feel as though all you?ve been using is a pea shooter in comparison. The add-ons?the glorious, over the top, garish and seemingly endless add-ons; customizing your Scar-L to include a soda can silencer, an extended barrel and topping it off by coating it in solid gold (although I prefer the Vegas paint job) goes a long way in drawing extra attention to you and in laying waste to the enemy. Hint: as soon as you get the chance, attach the screwdriver as a bayonet to any weapon; nothing says tough like the rifle/screwdriver melee attack. The weapon customization is for more than just aesthetics; how you customize will assist (or hinder) the accuracy, damage and the aggro attributed to your weapon. The replayability factor is once again raised through customization as you find ever more creative ways to approach and irritate your foes. The aggro enhancements further develop gameplay by allowing for you to sway the focus of the enemy between you and your partner.

Further customization is featured through the use of the Army of Two: The 40th Day website. Players can create custom designed ballistic masks that can be used both in solo and multiplayer rounds. Having the link between the website and your gamer profile is a great addition and, with luck, EA will add other elements to customize. The masks all work as electronic GPS units, showing directional and environmental guides and allowing you to 'tag' enemies for your partner.

The aggro system in the game allows players to use the ?buddy system? to eliminate threats. If you?re busy doing all the shooting (and generally being a pain) then your aggro will increase and the enemies are going to focus on you. This will allow your partner to move around and flank your targets, catching them off guard.

The enemy is relatively similar to what we?ve all seen before; a few generic soldiers (snipers, grunts, etc) with the occasional super soldier (armor wearing, shotgun using, turret firing, etc) and virtually every level features a super, duper soldier (big, mean mother#%*ers). Many of the soldiers, even among similar classes, can be tricky to take down but once you find their soft spot it becomes about, simply, lining up the shot (but seriously, wearing your extra grenades in satchels around your waist, now that?s a big target). Take advantage of some of the later heavies but picking up their weapons after you kill them; the flamethrower is immensely satisfying.

The look of the game is outstanding at the very least. A lot of work has been put into creating a brooding, devastated and downright frightening environment for the player to work through. The cutscene animations of buildings being decimated are impressive but having buildings and towers crumble and slam into one another in the background as you?re fighting off the enemy is truly impressive. I would have liked to have seen more variety in the look of the bad guys, but you really don?t have much time to consider it as you?re playing the game. The customization works very well in game and you can?t help but chuckle as you fire off rounds from your Zebra striped Shotgun.

The game isn?t all sunshine and roses (now that would be a neat paint scheme for a shotgun). The game does have its issues. While the buddy style gameplay is a great idea, the actual implementation is a whole other elephant (subtle game reference there folks). While in solo mode your partners AI is not what you hope for; while you instruct him to advance he may be quite happy to shoot from where he is regardless of whether or not he?s attracting any attention. I?ll admit that in this reference, part of it is my fault; the game insists you keep a close eye on your team mate at all times. Assuming that he?ll always do what you ask him to, when you ask him to, will only lead to disappointment.

The controls are detailed and varied but I found that some of your movements were left to assumptions. For example, you use the ?A? button to run, roll, slide and vault; so when you are running at a low obstacle you may slide to crouch in front of it (giving a clear shot for your pursuers) rather than vault over it and make your escape. You?ll find taking cover is not the straight forward ?push toward cover? as promised in the short tutorial, but taking the time to maneuver into position is well worth working out. The games controls offer a new twist for the 3rd person shooter genre; by pressing down on the right directional stick the point of view snaps between being over the left or right shoulder. At first this was a cumbersome and weighty task to bear; as gamers we are used to the POV adjusting to accommodate the flow of play, this quickly was adapted to become barely noticeable. In many situations, having this option became as useful as looking left or right.

I didn?t spend much time with the game in multiplayer although I do look forward to the experience. The time I was online was sluggish and a bit glitchy (I?m sure this will be addressed in a future update). Playing co-op through the campaign with a friend and having a choice of multiplayer modes online will certainly help to extend the in tray life of the game.

This is a truly stunning sequel to a very unique game. While most of the issues from the first offering have been addressed, it?s the additions in this game that really drives it over the top. There are a lot of options, twists and turns?you?ll find great ways to showcase your individuality and the game opens itself to downloadable content more than any I?ve played in quite some time. 2010 is already shaping up to offer a record number of 360 titles to gamers and everyone should start the year off right with Army of Two: The 40th Day on your shelf.

Overall: 8.9 / 10
Gameplay: 9.1 / 10
Visuals: 8.8 / 10
Sound: 8.8 / 10


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