Giant Bomb Review42 Comments
Army of Two: The 40th Day Review3
by Jeff Gerstmann on
The 40th Day streamlines in spots, but it ends up feeling like a very straightforward and somewhat bland shooter.
Army of Two: The 40th Day attempts to add a layer of strategic considerations to co-op based third-person shooters. Considering the bulk of the shooter genre rarely gets more complicated than "aim reticle at face, pull trigger," getting you to do a bit of thinking as you shoot is a welcome concept, much like it was in the first Army of Two game. But the rest of the balance is off. Most of your enemies go down so quickly that as long as you utilize cover and are a decent shot, it's way faster to just aim the reticle at an enemy's face and pull the trigger. The core of The 40th Day feels decidedly hollow as a result, and this short shooter is a mostly mindless and repetitive experience.
The game is built to point you directly at the action. Though you'll get a little bit of radio chatter as the two mercenaries talk with their handler and a few other characters, the story--the reason why Shanghai is getting blasted apart--is mostly relegated to the pause menu. Once paused, you can dig out some radio recordings that are collected along the way to sort of piece together the identity the game's lead villain and maybe even a few of his motivations. Considering how poorly justified the game's activities are by those recordings, maybe it's for the best that they take a back seat to the shooting. Still, the game opens with what could have been a great hook--the absolute destruction of Shanghai. Buildings all across the skyline are ripped apart, if not by bombs, then by helicopters or planes crashing into them. The first chapter sets up some incredible-looking chaos, but there's no followthrough. Once the initial destruction is over with, the game's environments just look like any other war-torn part of the world. By the end of the game, when you finally confront the man responsible for the attack, you won't even be sure why you want to stop him so badly. Heck, I managed to get through something like 98 percent of the game without even learning the guy's name.
In what must have been an attempt to humanize the characters of Salem and Rios a bit, the game presents you with one moral quandary per chapter. It starts when your initial contact for your first mission turns out to be on your shadowy employer's hit list. Do you kill the guy that helped you get through the early part of the game for a little extra cash, or have you become attached to him in the game's first five or ten minutes? When these moments hit, you're given two button presses that choose which moral path you'll take. After that, the game cuts to a series of static, comic book-like images that extrapolate your actions into some sort of eventual conclusion. In the above example, killing the guy shows a few shots of his face and his ID, attempting to drive the point home that you killed a man after you've just spent the last few minutes gunning down plenty of other men. If you let him live, the sequence shows your new best friend sitting on a beach... where he's killed by an assassin. The "good guy" choices too often end with this sort of "oh, well, he died anyway" or "the person you thought you saved was a bad person" twist, which makes the whole system a little ugly because it's constantly hitting you over the head with the notion that no choice is the right choice.
For the most part, the gameplay in The 40th Day hasn't changed too much over its predecessor. It's still a co-operative shooter that places some level of importance on drawing or avoiding the enemy's attention. This is illustrated via an on-screen aggro meter that sways back and forth between Salem and Rios. The player doing the most shooting, typically, is deemed the biggest threat by the game's opposition. This sets up opportunities for the other player to flank around the side of enemy positions and take them out while their attention is elsewhere. You can also influence the amount of aggro drawn by your antics by upgrading your weapon. Silencers and camouflage patterns make your gun seem like less of a threat than a big, loud rifle with a 100-round drum attached to it. As in the previous game, you can also buy a "pimped" design for the gun that decks it out in gaudy gold. I can't blame the game's enemies for wanting to blast a guy coming at them with a big gold gun. If you're feeling extra luxurious, you can also upgrade to gold, diamond-encrusted grenades... which don't seem to provide any benefit at all.
While the aggro system works as intended, it's rarely a necessity. As you upgrade your firepower to bigger and better rifles, you'll be taking down the basic enemies with only a few shots. The guns feel overpowered, and as a result it's far easier to just take cover and eliminate every enemy in range with short bursts of assault rifle fire than it is to set up a situation where one player draws attention while the other slips around the side. The exception is that you'll occasionally face heavily armored enemies that need to be shot in the back.
Though the seven-chapter campaign is certainly better with a live human controlling your partner, the game can, of course, be played alone. When doing so, you'll be able to give a few orders to your partner, which lets you control when he'll advance, when he'll stick by your side, and when he'll stop and take cover. This lets you order your partner to sit still and lay down enough cover fire to give you a chance to run around, plinking enemies off one by one. In the event that you get dropped by the opposition, your partner can drag you to safety and shoot you full of life-giving drugs, which get you back up on your feet immediately. The dragging controls are a little off, and when you're playing with an AI-controlled partner, he never seems too clear on the concept of dragging you to safety before attempting to heal you. This results in a lot of dumb, preventable deaths when playing alone. This was a problem in the first game, too, and it's sort of surprising that it hasn't been addressed.
In addition to the campaign, there are also a few different multiplayer modes. Extraction--a "bonus" mode that will only be available to people that pre-ordered the game for 30 days after the game's launch--is a wave-based survival mode that lets four players work through 16 waves of enemy opposition. As you proceed, you move to different portions of a given map and the enemies get tougher. Since players can revive and reload each other, sticking together is rewarded. The rest of the online mode pits players against other players in teams. Even the game's deathmatch mode sticks to the Army of Two mentality by grouping you into teams of two. There's also a control point capture mode and warzone, which throws different types of objectives at you, one after the other, without leaving the map. The multiplayer modes allow for up to 10 players and can be played across six different maps. You're limited to a few different loadouts and weapon types in the multiplayer, which is unfortunate, since the gun customization is one of the best things about The 40th Day. As opposed to the single-player, where you feel like you're gunning down enemies with only a shot or two, the multiplayer combatants are more resilient, making the guns feel weak. There's dissonance between the two sides of Army of Two, and neither feels quite right.
While the ripped-up city of Shanghai ends up making for a generic-feeling backdrop for the action, the early parts of the game, which is when most of the explosions and collapsing buildings are found, look great. You'll get some nice shots of the Shanghai skyline, giving you a front-row seat as the city crashes down around you. Salem and Rios look appropriately tough, though the enemy variety is perhaps a bit lacking. The sound is also effective, from the different ways your guns can sound depending on if they're well-silenced or designed to draw as much attention as possible, to the voice acting. Video gaming's favorite leading man, Nolan North, steps into the role of Salem for this sequel, which, depending on if you're tired of hearing Nathan Drake pop up in every third game or not, will either fit the wise-cracking character perfectly or drive you insane.
The 40th Day has a couple of technical glitches, and the 360 version of the game locked up on me a couple of times. But for the most part, it's a technically competent shooter with co-operative play. For some, that's plenty. But if you're more discerning about your shooters, you'll probably get bored of this one before you've seen the end credits.