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New 'Army of Two' has split personality

Jan 22, 2010

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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It's difficult to argue the immense popularity of co-operative gameplay these days. It's being added to seemingly every other title, spanning what feels like every genre there is.

Army of Two: The 40th DayWith that in mind, it's actually a little surprising that there aren't more co-op exlusive games available; games that have to be played with another player, whether it's a buddy, a random person online, or an AI partner.

Maybe it's simply the logistics and headaches involved with building an entire game around two people. Either way, the pickings are slim, but one of the first ones there in the current generation of consoles was Electronic Arts and its new IP Army of Two back in 2008.

In the original game and its sequel, 'The 40th Day', mercenaries-for-hire Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios travel the world, making money by completing jobs that those in the headlines can't - and 'completing' usually means 'killing'.

Like its predecessor, the plot of Army of Two: The 40th Day revolves heavily around current world issues, namely, terrorism. Rios and Salem are in Shanghai on a mission to earn some quick dough, but it's nary a few minutes before missiles are toppling entire buildings and it's up to the two anti-heroes to find out what's happening and put a stop to it.

EA says that the new game has been built from the ground up for a stronger co-op experience, and though that is certainly the case, that doesn't mean the game itself can stand on its own merits. Just because you're standing alongside a friend, doesn't make what you're doing anything particularly special.

'The 40th Day' is a third-person shooter that puts a strong emphasis on cover mechanics, much like 'Gears of War' popularized years ago. The problem is, there's a very fine line between 'sticking' to objects to gain cover. It's all too easy for the player's character to latch onto objects too much, or not enough. In The 40th Day, the systems falls under the latter category.

Army of Two: The 40th DayIt's a neat idea having players not have to press any buttons to duck behind cover - just walk up to a wall, fence, or whatever, and you'll take cover - but it's all too easy for things to get mixed up. The character will stick when he's not supposed to and, more often, not take cover at all, resulting in frustrating deaths.

One gameplay mechanic that's unique to the Army of Two series, and one that works well, is the idea of 'aggro'. It's quite simple really - while one player shoots, throws bombs and otherwise makes himself known by the enemy, a meter at the top of the screen will fill up under his name. As his aggro meter fills, enemies will pay less attention to the other player, who now has a chance to sneak up on and flank the bad guys.

Using aggro to your advantage can really help players out in sticky situations, and makes for some interesting ways of clearing rooms. It's just too bad this idea wasn't expanded on for the sequel.

There are other cool mechanics in the game as well, such as being able to pull off 'mock surrenders'. Walk into a room with guards and keep your guns holstered, and you can press a combination of buttons to make it look like you're surrendering. You can then talk with your partner (in real life) and unholster your weapons at the same time and take out the unsuspecting about-to-be-victims in slow motion.

Army of Two: The 40th DayUnfortunately, these events don't occer enough in the short campaign. More often than not, especially in the last couple of chapters of the game, there is no sneaking or flanking or anything interesting involved with getting further; just shoot wave after wave of bad guys (many of whom spawn at the cheapest of places) until they're all gone and you can move to the next room.

It's also confusing figuring out if this game is trying to be serious or not. For every child that is shot, ally that is double-crossed and innocent person that is killed as you make your way through the panic-stricken Chinese city, you'll hear just as much wise-cracking from Rios and Salem. Heck, they bring up beastiality while walking through an animal corpse-ridden zoo at one point. It really takes away from what could have made the game's atmosphere a lot more engrossing.

And since Rios and Salem are still for-hire mercs, they'll be earning money as they go along. This money can be used for upgrading and 'pimping out' weapons, but it's a so-so system at best. Of course it helps to add things like silencers and extra grenades, but we still finished the game with a ton of money left over because the process of upgrading is so cumbersome. And whatever you do, don't spend five or ten minutes upgrading a weapon right after a badly-placed checkpoint (most of them are badly-placed), because the game won't save the changes if you die before reaching another checkpoint, meaning you and your partner will have to repeat the whole process over again.

Army of Two: The 40th DayBesides the relatively short campaign, The 40th Day adds a competitive multiplayer aspect, full of the usual suspects like deathmatch, control and a Horde-like mode for up to four players. Sadly, that last mode ('Extraction') is locked for the first month to anyone who didn't pre-order the game, so we can only comment on the limited other modes available.

Suffice to say, they aren't anything writing home about. There's nothing here you haven't seen before. There is a system where you can be 'paired up' with players on your own team if you save them, or put up against 'rivals' who kill you repeatedly, but we're not quite sure what the hook is.

Army of Two: The 40th Day does some things quite well, but it's a flawed affair nonetheless. There are some sort-of watercooler moments here and there, but for the most part, the title's core gameplay mechanics need some work.

EA Montreal is on the right track with this series. 'The 40th Day' is certainly an improvement on the original game, but by taking a few more risks, this series could very well become a force to be reckoned with.

 

Army of Two: The 40th Day
Format: Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Montreal
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Official Site: http://www.armyoftwo.com

Rating: 6.5 / 10

 
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