Electronic Arts released "Army of Two" in March, 2008, following a delay from holiday '07 to tighten things up. It sort of worked, and the result was a passably entertaining game made better by co-op. Now, EA Montreal is back with a sequel, "Army of Two: The 40th Day," and they've sharpened their focus a bit. Where the last game saw your two-man team of mercs taking on a random helping of warzone jobs for pay, this one confines the action and story to a single, fateful visit to Shanghai, China.
Tyson and Rios are once again the stars of your own, personal buddy comedy. They arrive in Shanghai for an easy assignment, when things suddenly go terribly wrong. Missiles rain down from the sky, buildings crumbles, civilians die in the thousands -- as a Ghostbuster once so eloquently said, "mass hysteria." Another PMC (we all know what that is by now, right?) has attacked the city, and our two-man army is caught right in the middle of it. Fleeing becomes a problem too, when, amidst the chaos, PMC unfriendlies move in to hold the city.
The straightforward narrative works much better in "The 40th Day" than the original's more haphazard approach. Tyson and Rios make for an entertaining pair, but they play much better against the unrestrained chaos of a city in ruins. One particularly memorable segment in a Shanghai zoo sees them trading quips over radio with a deranged security guard who possesses a strong sense of honor.
Without spoiling too much (beware though), "The 40th Day" presents players with occasional decisions to make regarding the fate of one NPC or another. Whichever choice is made, a comic book-style flipbook then plays out, detailing what the consequences of your decision were. These are clever bits of writing, best left to be savored in the unveiling.
Gunning With Style
The weapon customization features return from "Army of Two," and they're much improved. There are more guns, more attachments, more skins (including the ever-popular "bling"), just plain more. There's also a browser-based facemask creator that can be linked to your EA account and, thus, used in the game. Plus a fair range of pre-loaded mask patterns.
Fighting For Fun
The dynamics of combat are much improved in "The 40th Day." It no longer feels like every enemy on the field has superhuman reflexes and accuracy. Couple that with effective use of Aggro -- an in-game meter indicating which player the enemy's fire is most focused on -- and you're left with some intense firefights.
Same Dog, New Tricks
The change in narrative structure also means that your mercs aren't taking on as many paid assignments during their sojourn in Shanghai. Your cash flow will instead come primarily through rescuing hostages and stealing from enemy supply crates. Both actions require a certain amount of stealth and coordinated effort, or the money is easily lost. There are of course also some story-related payouts and the occasional stash lying out in the open on the ground. Those are fun.
It's Over Already?!
Six chapters, six to eight hours of play. I beat the game in a day, before nightfall even, on the normal difficulty setting. That's not a whole lot of game. There's online multiplayer, but...
Weak Online Play
In addition to the expected online co-op, "The 40th Day" features a trio of competitive multiplayer modes, as well as Extraction, a cooperative survival mode. (Extraction can be unlocked with a pre-order code until 30 days after the game's release, at which point it will become available to all.) Get four players into an Extraction game and there's a moderate amount of fun to be had, as long as you can put up with some repetition. The competitive online modes also work fine with a small group of friends, but jump into a public game -- which we did a day before release, when the servers were hardly bogged down -- and be prepared for frequent lag that's so bad it renders the game unplayable. Hopefully this will be tightened up in a patch by or sometime after release.
While the character models look generally solid, the backgrounds -- particularly the distant backgrounds and scenes of mass destruction -- feel... off, somehow. The textures are frequently lacking in detail and the physics, particularly in the case of crumbling buildings, are unconvincing.
Pressing the Back or Select button on your controller of choice brings up an overlay that casts tagged enemies in red silhouette and throws a green trail on the ground to indicate where you're supposed to be going. While the GPS is a welcome addition, enemy tagging is practically useless. Marked enemies only stay that way for as long as your GPS overlay is active, a limited amount of time dictated by an on-screen battery meter. What's more, tagged enemies aren't shared between partners during co-op play.
Poorly Placed Cutscenes
This is a really simple thing, something that could've been caught and addressed in QA. Developers: if you're not going to allow us to skip your cutscenes, at least set your auto-save points to after those cutscenes play out, mkay? Thank you.
The best that can be said of "Army of Two: The 40th Day" is that it improves on its predecessor. And yet, for everything that works in the game, there are three other things that don't. "The 40th Day" is a fun, simple sequel with limited replay value and a few downright problematic issues. Don't run out and spend $60 on it, but definitely consider it for a rental or a future budget buy.