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

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<em>Army of Two: The 40th Day</em> Review (Xbox 360)

Developer: EA Montreal
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

It takes two to make a thing go right

Videogames, much like French kissing, ping pong or tandem bicycles, are usually best enjoyed with a friend. Fortunately that’s pretty much the entire premise behind Army of Two: The 40th Day, a game whose single-player campaign is moderately entertaining, but earns bullet-riddled props as a cooperative multiplayer experience.

As a sequel to EA Montreal’s original Army of Two, the fist-bumping follow-up once again puts players in the size-nine combat boots of Rios and Salem, a pair of guns for hire who just happen to look like the steroid-popping love children of Jason Voorhees and Rambo. This time out we find our two trigger happy BFFs taking on a mission in Shanghai, only to find the situation quite literally blowing up in their faces when the city is overrun by an army of private military contractors. With the two masked mercs outnumbered and outgunned, their only objective is to get the hell out of Shanghai in one piece. Of course, in typical videogame fashion any deeper narrative is buried under slew of wince-inducing Hollywood one-liners, with the plot (such as it is) taking a back seat to a series of Michael Bay-style set pieces in a graphically stunning environment where seemingly everything and anything tends to explode…like, a lot.

In terms of overall gameplay, The 40th Day makes some vast improvements to the occasionally flawed mechanics of its predecessor. For starters, there’s a much improved cover system and the clunky AI has, for the most part, been a little more finely tuned. Aggro, one of the primary gameplay components of the original, has also been given a much-needed polish, with players once again essentially manipulating enemy reactions by royally pissing them off, allowing for a bit of tactical creativity during firefights. The typical cannon fodder mentality of enemy soldiers is also given a unique twist, with downed grunts able to revive wounded comrades if they aren’t dispatched quickly enough.

In terms of new features, one of the most ambitious may be The 40th Day’s introduction of a morality system, with players now forced to make a number of on-the-spot decisions at key points in the game (such as saving a hostage or allowing them to be killed). Unfortunately what could have been an interesting narrative component comes across as a little ham-fisted given that the outcome of player’s ethical decisions never really seems to carry over to subsequent missions, either in terms of the plot or gameplay elements.

As a single-player experience The 40th Day is a much improved update of the original, but hardly groundbreaking in terms of the well-worn shooter genre. As a cooperative multiplayer experience, however, the game manages to pull a few aces out of its blood-soaked sleeve. The first is the refinement of “co-op moves,” an element from the original Army of Two in which Salem and Rios could pull off unique tactical manoeuvres. Unfortunately, the original co-op moves tended to be highly scripted and could only be performed at specific triggered locations. The 40th Day, on the other hand, offers a series of cooperative moves which are taken directly from a playbook-style list and can be carried out any point during the game. Players can pretend to surrender to enemy forces only to gun down their would-be captors at the last second. The result is a number of interesting scenarios that also lend some significant replay value to what might otherwise be a number of cut and dry firefights. Players looking to satisfy their frag-lust in a more competitive online environment will also be happy to learn that The 40th Day features a variety of new multiplayer modes. The focus, however, is once again on cooperative gameplay, with multiplayer death matches essentially boiling down to two-player teams battling for objectives over a variety of maps. It’s a welcome inclusion and one that plays almost entirely to the cooperative strength of the franchise.

In the end Army of Two: The 40th Day doesn’t offer much in terms of reinvigorating the third-person shooter genre. That being said, it’s still an entertaining and graphically impressive triple-A title that’s managed to correct a number of the problems which plagued the original. Players looking to go solo and run and gun their way through the game’s single-player campaign will find it to be generally satisfying—albeit somewhat shallow—experience, with the game really more about embracing its cooperative multiplayer nature. Think of it as I Love You, Man, with customizable automatic weapons, cheesy banter and brain-splattered headshots. Who said bromance is dead?