Army of Two: The 40th Day is a massive improvement over its predecessor as it’s no longer a silly dudebro action game but it still has a few flaws. Amazing action scenarios are coupled with slightly repetitive battles and the story is still a bit loose even by Hollywood action movie standards. Salem & Rios have matured greatly and the game shows that through important game refinements but there’s still a few key things missing that make Army of Two: The 40th Day from becoming a truly great and amazing co-op action game.
Shanghai looks gorgeous and EA Montreal did an excellent job at setting the tone through the visuals which never miss a step. The actual shooting mechanics are fun now since they no longer feel loose and the action as a whole has more of a tense feeling. While not exactly groundbreaking the Morality Moments do a nice job at trying to make the game more than just a mindless shooter.
The story is still a mess and ends in a somewhat ridiculous manner which takes a bit of the overall impact away a bit. Boss battles are boring NES style “Shoot the red spot” type affairs which don’t require a lot of skill. The multiplayer is good but some may not like the lack of options and overall variety it offers. For being a game about co-op action there aren’t a whole lot of unique co-op scenarios.
Two years ago we witnessed a special friendship between two men. Not only were they friends on and off the battlefield but they were also dudebros. When you have a friend that you can fist bump, high-five and chest bump with after you kill 50 generic terrorists then that indeed is a special bond. These two bro-tacular soldiers are Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios, the stars of EA’s Army of Two. When Army of Two premiered two years ago it was somewhat unique as before there hadn’t been an action game to aggressively focus on co-op play, both with an A.I. partner and an actual buddy playing alongside you. This co-op concept was sadly wrapped in a somewhat forgettable action game package whose bro-ness was at times a bit overwhelming. Now Salem and Rios are back for the inevitable Army of Two sequel, Army of Two: The 40th Day.
Like any sequel AoT: The 40Th Day is bigger, more aggressive, slightly darker, and more intense than its predecessor. But instead of giving us a sequel that is immensely better than the first installment like “The Dark Knight” or “Uncharted 2” we’re treated to a sequel that’s more along the lines of “The Matrix: Reloaded” and “Devil May Cry 2.” The game does some nice things both conceptually and in terms of gameplay but it’s still lacking in some very important core concepts.
The 40th Day starts off rather promising but then slowly falls into a pattern of action clichés which leads up to the ending which is the definition of being an absolute tease. Salem & Rios have started up their own PMC organization and are out of the “game.” By “game” I’m referring to taking on contracts involving killing people as we all know “the game” is buzzword to use in movies and video games when referring to ones questionable past. The pair finds themselves on a simple mission in Shanghai that starts a bit rocky and ultimately ends with them witnessing the destruction of downtown Shanghai. By using the word destruction I don’t mean that lightly as every major skyscraper in Shanghai is soon resorted to being nothing more than rubble or a former shell of itself. The actual destruction of Shanghai is quite breathtaking in a Hollywood movie sort of way and I’m a bit surprised the Chinese government hasn’t issued a silly complaint of some sort since the city is almost leveled in a matter of minutes, something that I’m sure they’re not too pleased to see.
From there Salem & Rios find themselves on a mission to get the hell out of dodge as Shanghai becomes overrun by a new PMC faction led by a mysterious man. That’s the basic rundown of the plot which in theory should be good but is still a garbled mess from a narrative standpoint, but I’ll talk about that later.
The overall progression through each level is better than the original AoT since all the action is set in Shanghai but at times the progression from level to level is slightly off in a way since you’ll find yourself in a Zoo in one level and then in the next level you’re in a dust ridden alley, something that can be a bit jarring at times. The actual variety in the environments is exceptional as you no longer find yourself wandering through a somewhat generic looking terrorist compound or mountain base. Instead players are treated to a version of Shanghai that while stylized in a way is still filled to the brim with details that makes it extremely believable. Well, at least believable in the way that it looks completely devastated after being barraged by missiles.
Shanghai is an absolute beautiful mess to wander through with fire, dust and flies buzzing about rotting corpses all lending a hand in creating a world that almost is unlike what we’ve seen in the past and is light years ahead of Army of Two’s design which looks like a student project by comparison. Each section has its own identity that still feels cohesive in the overall world instead of feeling like it’s simply following the level appropriate theme. And the visuals as a whole have gotten a nice upgraded along with the new gritty art direction which no longer has that sterile look that was present throughout the first Army of Two.
One thing that is greatly improved and is jacked up to the next level is the action. The first Army of Two featured some nice action and co-op scenarios but was hampered a bit by aiming controls that never felt right and were a bit wonky since aiming your guns sights on an enemy made you think your character tipped back a few too many drinks at happy hour. Thankfully Salem & Rios must’ve addressed their problem as the gun controls are extremely tight and lining up a shot whether it be the always safe headshot or a simple body shot is extremely easy and the issue of shaky aiming sights is a thing of the past.
All the mayhem you can cause with your gun not only feels tighter but once again you can trick out all your guns with a variety of add-ons. There are standard upgrades like new grips, barrels and scopes but there are more inventive ones such as using a soda can as a silencer. I’m just bummed out you can use a cat as a silencer ala Postal 2. Customizing your weapons is easy and can be done at anytime unlike the previous game where it was relegated to being accessible prior to the start of a mission. The upgrades you have for your weapons are nice but they don’t really improve your weapons as much as you would think they would. But being to customize your gun with a gold paint scheme named “Pimp” or wearing a user-made face mask emblazoned with the likeness of Darth Maul almost makes up for the somewhat weak weapon upgrades.
I was honestly surprised at how entertaining some of the action scenarios and scripted events are in the game. The 40th Day doesn’t limit Salem & Rios strictly to standard structures as the pair will find themselves in a building, then said building will crumble whilst they’re still in it and to top things off the two eventually fight on a side of the building that has collapsed to make a tilted bridge to another building. If that wasn’t enough to get your action appetite wet then perhaps seeing a massive airplane crash in a zoo (something that is almost a casual event by that stage in the game) and then later seeing the results of that crash in a section of the zoo you later walk by should get your action meter hyped up. But the best thing about the action and the scripted events is that they actually don’t feel too scripted or obvious. When I was in the collapsing building level I had no idea that was going to happen and when it did I literally said “WTF” since I couldn’t believe I just saw what happened. The unique action scenarios never get boring and I wish there were more of them.
Amidst all of revamped action The 40th Day offers the somewhat infamous “Back to Back” mechanic returns. If you didn’t play the first game the “Back to Back” mode is when Salem & Rios literally go back to back so they can both cover the almost never ending wave of enemies that are attacking from all sides. This time the “Back to Back” mechanic is used rather sparingly and when it is used it’s extremely badass since it usually bookends an already exhilarating action section and there’s nothing better than blasting fools in slow-mo. The “Aggro” mechanic also returns which allows players to flank enemies if your ally has all the attention focused on them. Thankfully EA Montreal has slightly toned down the look of Aggro as players no longer become nearly invisible when they’re flanking or look like they’re The Human Torch when they’re unleashing bullets upon enemies.
I must say my hat is off to EA Montreal since the intensity the action offers and the diversity of the set pieces really helps the game through a few of the rough patches and short comings it has of which there are a few. Despite the action being fun and rather intense it eventually gets a tad boring which leads the later stages to become nothing but a mass blur of explosions and gunfire instead of feeling like a cohesive battle with a unique identity. The enemy A.I. does a good job of keeping you on your toes as they’re rather formidable in huge numbers and so are the unique “bosses” you come across such an armored foe who wields a Gatling gun and another with a flamethrower.
All of the mini-bosses have unique designs and nice introductions and as a whole almost verge on Metal Gear Solid levels of absurdity. But all of the boss battles fail due to following the somewhat dreaded and “classic” game design mechanic of “shoot at the red weak point until they go boom.” The boss battles still put up a certain level of challenge but once you or your partner gets the proper amount of cover or diverts attention it’s all pretty much wash, rinse & repeat. To make matters worse the game throws these mini-bosses at you throughout the course of the game which almost takes away a certain spark since it’s slightly boring and you know how to tackle the battle, thus making it a bit run of the mill.
The other slightly disappointing thing about the game is that there aren’t a whole lot of cool co-op moments. There are times where the players are split apart for a period of time which is nice, especially in an early stage where you can see your buddy progress through a destroyed building, but other than that everything is pretty standard. The game doesn’t offer any cool moments like the parachute sequence in the first game nor are there any scenarios where both players need to take down a target at the same time. Ultimately the game doesn’t suffer from the exclusion of more unique co-op action scenarios as it’s more of a missed opportunity.
Perhaps the most erroneous thing in the game is the story. While the narrative is a bit more mature as it no longer has the constant over-the-top barrage of high-fiving it still feels a bit incoherent as if there was content that was cut or the more likely case being the writing was just bad. Now not all the story aspects of the game are lacking since the game has a new morality system that works wonderfully. Along the way Salem & Rios will encounter certain people and find themselves in a situation where they need to make a tough decision. Things like deciding whether or not to kill a fellow Merc or have a child grab a gun during a battle are just some of the tough moral choices that you’ll have to make and they do a perfect job of illustrating the morally grey world that Salem & Rios occupy.
Whatever moral option you choose is shown via a graphic novel style flash-forward that often ends in a shocking manner. This addition to the game is really nice as it manages to tell small self contained stories in a course of a level or in a few minutes and they’re mostly captivating. Besides that it also adds some nice replay value since you may want to see what the other outcomes were.
But the one narrative aspect of the game that completely fails is the actual story of Shanghai being attacked. While the reason for the attack isn’t clear at first and is hinted at throughout the game via radio messages the actual payoff is just silly and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Basically it turns out that a former military veteran turned Hollywood film producer goes crazy and decides to “clean” the population by getting rid of the weak. The thing is all of this is revealed in the final chapter and you don’t come face-to-face with the villain until the very end of the game in a somewhat unsatisfying encounter. Up to the ending the story is somewhat suitable, if a bit loose, as it has grit and realism to it but the finale and the reveal of the villain totally takes away any impact the story has and even the somewhat nihilistic ending is lacking the punch that it should’ve had. Really, a soldier turned movie producer turned PMC mastermind that is trying to channel his inner Lenin? The silliness of the story isn’t that surprising considering Justin Marks (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li) was responsible for crafting this pile of non-sense.
Topping the experience off is The 40th Day’s effort at translating the co-op PMC exploits of Salem & Rios in an online experience. To my surprise the game has some decent albeit simple online modes that are worth checking out if you enjoy the single-player campaign. All the standard multiplayer modes are present such as death match and zone control with various destroyed sections of Shanghai being the battlefields for the multiplayer shenigans. The customizable options are rather limited in the mp mode since all you can do is choose your weapon load-out and customize your PMC gear if you want to have an identity amidst the clone soldiers. Shooting people and getting into PMC battles is fun but at times the online performance is a bit laggy and the modes as a whole don’t offer that rich of an experience compared to other games on the market. But if you’re a gamer who doesn’t obsess over the metagame that some games such as Modern Warfare 2 offer then you may enjoy The 40th Day’s somewhat simplistic and old school approach to online play that despite being straightforward never feels barebones.
Army of Two: The 40th Day has definitely made some nice improvements over its previous installment as the whole package feels more mature. Gone are the days of Salem & Rios cracking insistent one-liners and instead we see the two men go on a ride that literally beats the crap out of them and by the end leaves them slightly broken. EA Montreal has made some nice improvements to the series but it’s still lacking a certain depth besides being just another 3rd person cover based shooter. The co-op play is still solid as the A.I. partner is terrific most of the time but there aren’t enough unique scenarios to make it surpass the other games on the market that are jumping aboard the co-op bandwagon. Even though Salem & Rios may not enjoy their time in Shanghai those who play The 40th Day should enjoy their experience as it’s a solid shooter that while hampered by a sloppy narrative is still entertaining despite not reaching its full potential.