Army of Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
Army of Two: The 40 Day Review
Xbox 360, PS3
Review Taken From My Blog: http://numbthumb.wordpress.com/
Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios were introduced to us in 2008 as two indestructible best friends who had a dark slanted humor, a penchant for destruction, no qualms whatsoever in showing off their ‘bro-ness’ and who happened to be two Private Military Contractors. While the first Army of Two danced around some very real and very serious elements of war, it also managed to be a rather fun and explosive experience with some great ideas, even if they didn’t all come together perfectly. EA seems to have taken two steps forward and one step back with the sequel, dropping all elements of real world relevance in favor of a more rebel without a cause feel. The results are a mixed bag, full of diamond encrusted grenades.
Salem and Rios find themselves in the middle of a Terrorist attack on Shanghai, China and for the purposes of the story want nothing more than to escape. Along with their handler, Alice Murray, they navigate the chaotic city blasting terrorists – because no escape can go unopposed -- while making moralistic choices that affect the few inhabitants they run across. If this sounds like an incoherent, contrived or thinly veiled reason to host an action game, that’s because it is. It took until the 6 chapter of 7 for either character to make a choice that directly impacted the story or made them participants in it. Only after that decision is the story clear and it’s not enough to justifiably keep your interest. But perhaps that isn’t the point.
Army of Two, as its name denotes, is about two mercs relying on each other to survive impossible odds. You can play the game by yourself with an AI partner or co-operatively online or on a single system. It’s in this area the original game sparked some interest from gamers and it’s here again where EA has improved the formula. It’s obvious to state why a game like this is far better with a human partner, but for those choosing to use the CPU to play with, know this; there’s been a vast improvement in the AI’s performance on all fronts.
The AGRRO system is back and seems relatively unchanged from the first time out. One partner makes a scene, shooting with a loud and large gun while the other player slips through the ranks unnoticed to flank the enemy. It’s here that the AI seems to be more finely tweaked, because I never had any issue with getting them to do just that. Simple controls to tell your partner to stay where they are, advance, or regroup are easy to manage and almost always responsive. Press either action once to keep the AI passive, or twice to make them pull aggro. It’s a system that seemed buggy before but never became a frustration in The 40 Day. Issue’s plagued the last game in areas where you might be gunned down or need assistance to higher ground, but they’re gone here. The CPU is responsive anytime you need assistance and doesn’t pull your wounded body for longer than he needs to get you healed and back into the action, something the first game never could figure out properly.
Gone are the times of lifting a partner up just high enough to cap a couple enemies or scout the next local, in its place are hostage encounters. These simple events require you to only kill or tie up the kidnappers before they knock off a hostage or two. What you do with the hostages is up to you but there’s no incentive to kill them. There is, however, reason to choose between good and bad when it comes to the games ‘morality choices’. These moments come to you as black and white; Kill this guy and stop him from raping a poor girl, tell this kid to stay out of harm and lose a weapon, or kill this caged animal for some weapon parts. The choices are pretty stark, but the results are a much thicker shade of gray. Little comic movies play after each choice to show you the result of your actions, and these little clips range from surprising to just silly. While I congratulate the team for attempting to give the game a varying appeal of choice, and it does add some replay factor to the equation, it totally distracts from the ‘bro’ obsessed action that has forgotten its social commentary from the first game. It’s as if they acknowledge the story doesn’t matter but they want to pretend they still had something to say. Later in the game your actions can come back to haunt or help you, while it’s a nice touch it’s nothing but window dressing.
The 40 Day manages an easy combat system beyond the aggro and teamwork, at least in terms of gunplay. The weapons feel powerful, aiming is precise and changing gear is quick and easy. The fully customizable weaponry is done to satisfying ends, allowing you to pick and choose virtually every part for your weapon. Movement, however, isn’t as smooth because charging, cover, rolling and other actions are all mapped to a single button. It can become disorienting and frustrating at first, but does subside once you learn to be selective with your movement.
EA has also allowed for the community to develop their own masks for the two Mercs, along with a decent set of default gear to choose from. It’s a small touch, but the option is nice.
Online play is rather run of the mill and nothing worth a true distraction from other online power-houses. In one of the stranger moves I’ve seen, an included mode Extraction (you battle progressive waves of powerful enemies) isn’t accessible to anyone that didn’t pre-order the game. Supposedly this will be unlocked for everyone after a month. Why you’d do this when it could be a make or break element to co-op play for people deciding to buy the game is beyond me.
Army of Two The 40 Day has improved a lot of the AI elements that killed the first one, making for a much more streamlined and easy to play action fest with decent customization to warrant some appeal. At the same time it’s also dropped any coherent narrative that helped make Salem and Rios likeable characters in a very real world situation like the first Army Of Two. You end up with two guys with no direction, and some weak morality choices that don’t really impact anything beyond replay value. It’s not that The 40 Day isn’t fun because during large set pieces it can be a great action game, but it won’t stick with you very long after the rather short 5 hours it takes to finish the game.
The World: Shanghai is a beautiful city, and the developers angle the story as if you’re two merc’s playing out a Cloverfield type of survival story in China. It allows for a few diverse locations but the scope of the project falls short of feeling like anything truly unique. 7/10
The Story: There’s a good rule in storytelling, that the protagonists must choose to take action against or with events they’re presented with. Doing so allows them to change and course of events, for good or ill. That moment comes three quarters into the story here, and it’s one of the weakest, easiest outs possible. If there’s an excuse for a story somewhere, it’s likely sitting on a developer’s notebook and not in this game. 4/10
The Action: No longer bogged down by piss-poor Ai the game never falters, elevating the action as you progress and making for some good, solid and challenging moments that require some strategy to attack. Minor movement and cover issue’s aside, it’s all pretty fluid and almost always fun. 8/10
The Online: Standard team death match, control point matches and warzone. While it wasn’t hard to find a match it also isn’t an overly fun or deep multiplayer experience, comparatively speaking. I can’t say anything about Extraction mode, but that’s EA’s fault here. Why force players to pre-order for what could be your best online element? It should be unlocked, but you might as well wait. 6/10
The Package: Customizing is a neat touch, including downloadable masks. Menus require poor loading times between multi and single player. Graphically this isn’t top notch, but not awful. The action sounds fairly good, but I don’t remember a thing about the soundtrack or score. Game length is only about 5 or 6 hours, though there is some incentive to replay for morality choices and unlocking all weapons parts. 6/10