Innovating in the Wrong Direction
Army of Two: The Fortieth Day is EA Montreal's 2010 sequel to it's 2008 co-op focused third person shooter. The original had its entire gameplay built around a co-op experience and a serious dose of frat boy "bro-ness." This was both its greatest strength and weakness as playing with a friend could be a real blast but playing solo could end in a buggy mess due to co-op focused level design and dumb teammate AI. Another major sticking point was the game's timely involvement of themes of both the War on Terror and the rise of Private Military Contractors. The story itself was fine as a muscly action movie but it brought up some sensitive issues it then handled in a rather clumsy way involving conspiracies and betrayal.
The Fortieth Day fixes the story problems by simply throwing reality out the window. Placing the setting in Shanghai, China in the midst of a major attack the story is almost non-existent. For most of the game's ten or so hours you're simply following Salem and Rios as they move from location to location shooting people who shoot at you first with very little idea why they are doing it. Along the way you'll save some civilians and stop various nefarious deeds from occurring while perpetrating some nefarious deeds of your own. Which brings up one of the major sticking points of the game.
In order to bring some involvement into the game EA Montreal has included a quasi morality system. At least once in every chapter you'll be given a situation which will require one of two choices. Now, this could have simply been a cookie cutter "good" and "evil" choice but EA Montreal has thrown in a twist by showing you the long term repercussions of your choices. This is where the problem arises. More often than not something is revealed in these animated cut scenes which makes your seemingly just choice seem downright stupid or almost criminal. Everything from sparing a woman who turns out to be a baby killing assassin to sparing a man who is then killed in a ludicrous manner. It cheapens the whole choice system and makes just about any choice reprehensible. This is especially apparent in the confusing and cryptic ending to the game.
As for the gameplay the basic concepts of the original still hold true. You can draw "aggro" to Salem or Rios to allow your other teammate to get a flanking advantage or draw fire from a wounded teammate. While for most of the game standard grunts don't really require much strategy "Heavies" which appear periodically will require one team member to draw fire while another shoots them in the back. You'll also be able to grab a shield and follow your teammate, go back to back, boost one another over obstacles, and take human shields. These are all situation specific however and will be used uncommonly leaving most of the game to be standard cover based shooter fair. There's also a visor based "GPS" system that allows you to tag opponents and see their rank but its charge is incredibly limited and you can probably play almost the entire game without using it.
By far the most robust feature of Army of Two: The Fortieth Day is the weapon customization. There are a couple dozen weapons which you can then customize in just about every way imaginable. Money earned from mission actions and drops from enemies can be used to purchase barrels, stocks, scopes, magazines, barrel attachments, and even paint scheme which can then be used to create the ideal weapon for your play style. Want an AK-47 with an M-4 barrel, a rusty stock, a screwdriver bayonet and zebra stripe camo? Done. Your weapon purchases and rewards from the campaign will carry over to future playthroughs to allow you to purchase the ludicrously expensive top tier weapons.
Finally there is a standard multiplayer suite. You've got most of your standard modes and an additional "horde" style mode called Extraction which was only available as a pre-order bonus. This is a strange choice as those modes are usually very popular and it hasn't yet been made available to all other purchasers. Regardless eight months after release there are very few people playing the game online. Perhaps the only really interesting feature of the online is that you can go to the Army of Two website and create your own custom mask. There's even an achievement/trophy for doing so.
Overall Army of Two: The Fortieth Day is a solid third person shooter which can really shine when you have a buddy to play co-op with. However its story is nearly non-existent and won't last you more than ten or so hours depending on difficulty. EA Montreal is moving slowly in the right direction with the gameplay but also taking weird missteps in their efforts to make the story and characters more involving. If they can concentrate on making the overall story more involving and focus less on the incredibly frustrating moral choices they could have a real winner on their hands. As it is be aware of what you're getting into before firing up Army of Two: The Fortieth Day and you'll have a good time.