The return of the fist bump
The first Army of Two had some issues trying to find its tone. On the one hand all it wanted to do was bro-out, offering fist bumps, air guitar and “pimped” out golden weapons to fire. While on the other side of the spectrum it dealt with seedy private military corporations in real-world conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some oddly-placed conspiracy theories about 9/11 and America’s reasons for going to war in the Middle East. The two sides never really gelled, and the co-op gameplay got repetitive far too quickly for Army of Two to ever really sustain any interest. Army of Two: The 40th Day, has toned down on its frat boy protagonists and kooky conspiracies for a much more focused campaign, but it remains to be seen whether the gameplay has seen the required improvements to elevate the franchise to a higher tier.
This time around events are moved to Shanghai as Rios and Salem quickly find themselves caught in a large scale terrorist attack that decimates half of the breathtaking city. It’s an interesting premise, and the destruction of the city is spectacular, with explosives and aircraft knocking down some of the tallest and most impressive skyscrapers in the world. However, the story quickly takes a backseat to the action as you’re shunned into the unknown. Your antagonist doesn’t reveal himself until the very end of the game, and the only way to gauge what’s happening is to collect radio logs spread throughout each level and listen to them in the pause menu. It’s a poor way of storytelling, but the narrative is easy enough to ignore if you just want to focus on the action-heavy combat.
Though there are still some issues with the tone of the game as it once again struggles to find any sort of consistent identity. The story is fine - taking a simple, linear path with its typical action fare – but on each mission you’ll come across a few moral decisions. They seem out of place with the rest of the game, but offer certain rewards depending on your choices. For example, towards the beginning of the game you can choose to execute an ally you’ve just worked with for some extra cash from your employers, or you can let him go for free – since you’re supposed to have formed some kind of bond in the 10 minutes spent with him. If you choose the “good guy” option your reward will come later on, but for some instant gratification you’ll have to kill him then and there. It never really works as intended since you normally have more than enough cash and weapons to never need to go down the dark path, though if you choose the right path the outcome always has a negative conclusion so there’s little incentive to swing that way either. The message is clear, but it’s a flawed system, and when it brings up controversial issues like rape and child murder, it doesn’t work when the rest of the game deals with playing rock, paper, scissors and discussing how Rios has sex with endangered pandas.
Luckily this moral compass doesn’t have an effect on the gameplay since the shooting is The 40th Day’s strongest aspect. There’s a nice range of weaponry available with pistols, assault rifles, sub-machine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles and so on. And, once again, you can customise each weapon you buy or find with a range of attachments and improvements, whether it’s swapping out new barrels and grips or adding a laser sight and silencer. There’s a hefty rate of gear in each category so customisation is high on the agenda, and in the end it all factors into the returning Aggro system. Like before, one player can attract the attention of all enemies by firing a large, loud weapon, allowing the other person to flank around the sides for some easy kills. It works well, built on teamwork between two players, or one player and the AI, though it’s not always required since you can down most enemies in one or two shots. The only exceptions are the heavies, who you’ll need to flank in order to hit the weak spot on their backsides.
It’s a competent shooter, best played with a friend. The AI does its job, earning a decent amount of kills and generally staying out of your line of sight, but it does have its flaws. Oftentimes when you’ve gone down he’ll drag you into the open before trying to heal you so there are some unnecessary deaths. And I found that sometimes he’d wonder into the open himself and get killed even when ordered to hold his position. You see, you can give him three specific orders, to regroup, advance and hold position. For each of these you can also render him passive or aggressive, tying into the Aggro meter. It’s easy enough to make him advance or hold his position on aggressive, allowing you to flank the enemy positions with a silenced weapon, virtually unseen, while he gets all the attention. It works well and is probably the best way to play with the AI.
The downside is you’ll be performing this manoeuvre over and over again throughout the campaign’s short five hour runtime. There’s no real variation to any of The 40th Day’s seven missions; each one funnels you down a linear path as you engage in one shooting gallery after another. It looks good, particularly in the character models, but past the opening destruction of Shanghai the rest of the missions look like any old war-torn environment with the zoo being the only exception. When there’s no variety to the gameplay, and relatively little inspiration in the environments, it begins to get repetitive way before the miniscule five hours are up.
It’s just a shame that the solid fundamentals laid out by the original Army of Two couldn’t be built on in this sequel. The story is an improvement only in its “less is more” execution, but the gameplay has remained mostly the same with no improvements to the systems already put in place or the design of its missions. It gets far too repetitive far too quickly so Army of Two: The 40th Day should be viewed as a rental at best. With a friend it can be fun for a while, but anything else and it outstays its welcome.