Ah, bromance. Over the past decade weâ€™ve seen many examples of the complicated love that can be safely shared between a couple of hot-blooded, straight males. But few of them have quite gone as far as EAâ€™s third-person shooter, Army of Two.
Army of Two introduced us to Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios, two wise-cracking mercenaries who eat Lumberjacks for breakfast. Elliot is the smoother of the bunch, with rugged good looks and a penchant for cheesy one-liners. Tyson looks like he was hand-carved from beef jerky. These guys only care about three things: money, killing things and money.
Despite the current craze for R-rated third-person shooters (the Gears of War series was on a roll), the first Army of Two suffered in a couple of areas. Although the game revolved around a co-operative gameplay mechanic, often your computer controlled partner would make life difficult by running out into suicide country. Also the map design and control system was clunky and unimaginative. Thankfully it seems that the team at EA Montreal have improved on these aspects and produced a much better sequel with Army of Two: The 40th Day. Donâ€™t worry though, all of the fist-bumps and man-love is still intact. In fact, theyâ€™ve added bear-hugs and arse-slaps now.
These macho acts that would normally cause a couple of raised eye-brows in public are totally justified in The 40th Day. Mainly because these guys are running around with guns and hockey-masks with skulls painted on them. However, this testosterone-spilling display of male-on-male affection gives the game an edge that sets it apart from its competition. In between the moments of near-death ambushes and total carnage, a little high-five or embrace from your pal makes total sense. Not to mention that it injects a great element of humour into a rather intense shoot-em up.
The 40th Day opens up in Shanghai, China where Salem and Rios find themselves caught in a catastrophic terrorist attack. As buildings and sky-scrapers tumble down around them, our heroes race across the city to rescue their team supervisor Alice Murray and take out the rival private military contractors that have brought death and destruction to the Shanghai.
The duoâ€™s face-masks have been updated to include a GPS-based vision mode that allows them to find a path through the rumble, but more importantly can be used for combat as well. With a huge emphasis on team-play, often players will need to work together in order to overcome the huge numbers of enemy units bearing down on you. Each player can tag or mark enemy units to highlight them in red, bringing them to the attention of your team-mate to take down from a better angle. Other co-operative elements include dual take-downs (where two players snipe two enemies at the same time), back to back combat (where players cover each otherâ€™s backs to prevent blind spots and rotate as one unit taking down enemies) and of course, taking different paths to flank or surprise opposing forces. The map designs throughout the game work beautifully for co-op play, offering plenty of advantage points and different levels of elevation for tactical combat. The enemy AI is equally impressive too, making every wave of baddies an enjoyable challenge.
The controls have been nicely tweaked since the original and seem a lot more fluid this time around. Salem and Rios now both snap to cover, allowing players to roll or run up to walls or desks to prevent being dragged into a colander by enemy bullets. The targeting and even blindfire aiming seems to be a lot more forgiving, meaning that picking out head-shots or hitting explosive objects is a lot easier. Moving away from your cover breaks you free instantly, giving the game a more intense and vulnerable feel than the sometimes clunky (but safer) Gears of War model. The only flaw in the simplified controls is the over-use of the X button, that is allocated to sprinting, rolling, interacting with players AND healing your team-mate. This results in players taking death-defying rolls or simply just sprinting off into distance instead of saving your bleeding pal on the sidewalk. It seems an easy thing to fix but the developerâ€™s have opted for the more frustrating option.
As many realised from the first game, Army of Two is definitely a better two player experience. However the 40th Day has made some clever improvements to your team-mate AI when playing single-player. The control pad lets you issue context-sensitive commands to your buddy, such as lay down covering fire, open doors, re-group and so fourth. Cleverly the developers have doubled the commands by implementing a double-tap option that changes the order to an aggressive or defensive variation. You can also access your partnerâ€™s built-in mask camera to allow you to see what your teammate is currently seeing. Once I switched over to see my AI controlled side-kick just in time to see an RPG rocket bearing down on him.
In these sad times when your team-mate is incapacitated, you can still save them if youâ€™re quick enough. Often the hardest bit is finding your mate before he bleeds out or gets stomped on by enemy units. Thankfully the wounded one can still shoot (only with a pistol and the aiming is a bit dodgey) or crawl away to safety. Of course there are times when neither player can physically reach the other, in which case the game calls it quits and youâ€™re forced back to the check-point. The name Army of Two says it all â€“ without your partner you canâ€™t get anywhere.
Other than the appreciated co-op angle, there isnâ€™t much variation to The 40th Day. Shooting your way through half of China may seem a tad repetitive to some but the game does try and shake things up a bit. Hostage situations are interesting, giving players a small window of time to decide what they want to do and then act on it. Lack of action and the hostages will be shot or poor choices will result in death for everyone including yourself. The whole concept of morals and choices flow through The 40th Day. At the end of numerous cut-scenes, players will get to decide whether to take a morally correct option or to basically just kill whoever else is in the room with you. Although every action gets recorded, there didnâ€™t seem to be a huge amount of variation in anything but feeling a little bit guilty at, say, kicking your commanding officer off a building. But the moral aspects filter into the gameplay too, including the sneaky option to â€śmock surrenderâ€ť. This is where one team-mate walks up the enemy with his hands-up while the other sneaks around and shoots everyone in the back. It sounds pretty awesome (and it is the first time) but more often than not, youâ€™ll just utilise the cover, shoot and repeat technique because it works so well.
The only other downside to The 40th Day is the fairly short game clock that sits in at just over six hours for the story mode. Granted, the co-op mode (either online or vertical split-screen) could be played through a couple of times with different team-mates as the experience is fun and seems quite different with a new partner at your side. But the lack-lustre narrative doesnâ€™t help matters. What was impressive in The 40th Day however were the ridiculously detailed weapon customisation screens where players can kit out their plethora of guns with all sorts of attachments ranging from scopes, clip holders, silencers and more. Each different addition costs you money that you have collected along your blood-soaked journey and can improve the handling, accuracy and performance of your gun. Every item, ranging from shotguns, sniper rifles, pistols and machine guns can all be pimped out as well â€“ letting you run around with a tiger striped Desert Eagle for instance. Mmmm, manly.
Despite the intense, but short-lived story mode there is also multiplayer deathmatch gameplay where four two-man teams go up against each other in an online bullet frenzy. There is little doubt that The 40th Day packs in a barrel load of action and is an ideal way to bond with a male friend over a couple of beers and some beef jerky. Fans of the original game will definitely appreciate the gameplay improvements and the sequel even looks better in the visuals department. But for those looking for more than a testosterone-induced rampage with guns and things that blow up had best look elsewhere.