Review – Army of Two: The 40th Day
EA’s bad run of form continues.
When it comes to straight up, brainless entertainment, you could do a lot worse than the original Army of Two game. Sure, it had dialogue and a storyline that would make Dan Brown cringe with embarrassment but the game itself was a bright and brash take on the Gears of War template topped up with a big emphasis on co-op gameplay and with the kind of epic set-pieces that made it feel more than a little Hollywood. It was a solid game, let down by a myriad of flaws which never stopped the game from being likable but did stop it from being truly essential.
So when EA announced the inevitable sequel, hopes were high for an equally epic slice of shooting action but with a little more balance and polish, if not any extra intelligence. Well it’s here now, with the clumsy moniker Army of Two: The 40th Day, and unfortunately they’ve still not realised the potential of Army of Two. Too make things worse though, The 40th Day is far worse than the original, adding yet another black mark to EA recent output after they peaked a couple of years back.
The game once again sees you reprising your role as one of two military contractors, Salem or Rios. Who you pick doesn’t really matter. They are both cocks. But the piss-weak story (which, for some reason, is mainly told through radio logs accessed through the start menu rather than, you know, in the actual game) sees the most homoerotic double act in gaming stuck in Shanghai which is being destroyed with the kind of intensity you’d expect from a Roland Emmerich movie.
While it all looks pretty dramatic, the majority of the destruction plays out in cutscenes rather than during the gameplay. Once you take control, it’s really just a trek through rubble. As with the original Army of Two, your options are to co-op your way through the game with a friend or with the dumb-as-a-post AI. As of the time of writing, the online co-op is horribly bugged with many people complaining that the game kept kicking them out of their co-op sessions. After three such disconnections in two chapters, Mark and I decided to go our own ways and join forces with the AI.
While playing with the AI is a lot more stable, it’s also a lot more frustrating. Your AI partner can be given instructions via the dpad. These instructions amount to ‘come here’, ‘stay there’ or ‘go ahead’. You can also select the aggressiveness of your partner. Unfortunately, the AI will often become confused so ‘come here’ is often misinterpreted as ‘stay there like an idiot even though you are being shot from literally every direction’. The ‘aggro’ system is back as well meaning that an aggressive teammate will eventually grab all of your enemy’s attention allowing you to sneak around for some stealthy kills. Unfortunately the levels aren’t as well designed for that kind of thing as they were in the original game and often I found that my best bet was to stick with the AI as we both blast in through the front door or do it myself and tell him to hide.
Unfortunately you cannot direct your AI teammate beyond those simple commands. A Freedom Fighters style direction system would have been infinitely better. Instead we have something that is a lot clunkier than it ought to be. Also, for reasons unknown, there is a lot less emphasis on co-op actions. Leg-ups, co-op attacks and flanking opportunities are less frequent than before and the mock-surrender actions feel unnatural to pull off with the AI.
The majority of this game’s difficulty however comes from the visuals. Instead of the bright, clean look of the original, The 40th Day has gone with a horrendously cluttered look. Trying to pick out an enemy from the rubble and neon of Shanghai is usually pretty arduous and things get even more cluttered if you use your GPS vision mode. The GPS does at least give you a Dead Space line indicator telling you where to go.
You’d think that things would improve once you leave Shanghai right? Well here’s the kicker. You don’t. Where Army of Two had you running amok in Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, China and the States, this game is all set in one location. Sure, level three is a zoo but not a very good one and the rest of the levels never vary at all. This seriously limits the game’s potential. After all, I’m sure every one of you Army of Two fans fondly remembers the Aircraft Carrier level from the first game. Indeed, all the set-pieces are gone. The parachute jumps and boat sections for example. You still get the occasional back-to-back stand-off sections but these are less dramatic than the first game and seem to happen for no good reason.
Even if you’re just in the market for a dumbed-down Gears clone, this doesn’t satisfy. The controls are badly-realised â€“ if you’re going to rip off a game, don’t switch the ‘cover’ button for the ‘jump over cover’ one â€“ and everything feels slow and clunky. Add to that some truly awful hit-detection (almost Kane and Lynch levels of bad) and you’ve got a recipe for no fun at all.
You know you might not think it but this is a remarkable game. No, really. EA Montreal have managed to take a truly blavrage game and remarkably spent two years and who knows how many millions and made it even WORSE.
Sure, the first Army of Two wasn’t a masterpiece but it had tons of variety and some clever set-pieces, whereas this is chapter after chapter of bland urban decay and nondescript mercenaries all acting like the cannon fodder they are. The cavalcade of mediocrity doesn’t end there with boring, unskipable cut scenes repeated ad infinitum when you’re left high and dry by the moronic AI or when the unintuitive context sensitive controls that has you jumping crates rather than healing your team mate.
I could go on and list the game’s faults – of which there are many – but the worst goes to the online play which is broken with random disconnects happening every ten minutes and game modes so plagiaristic and generic that they could have been programmed by Simon Cowell. Honestly you’d have more fun of just wanking off to a copy of guns and ammo while listening to Hans Zimmer than even trying this game.
Secondary Score: 4/10
The only improvement they have made is that you can now switch the shoulder that your camera view is behind. A much-needed feature, even if it could have maybe been an automatic choice rather than a manual one. Also, the morality choices that pop up in the game are a nice touch. You’ll often be presented with a choice (usually to kill someone or not) and you get to see a short comic strip sequence showing you what happens to that character after you make that choice. It’s not much, but it’s something.
There really isn’t much more to say about this game. Fans of the original have been let down by what is a very lazy update and newbies will be put off by the poor presentation and controls. Sure, the less discerning EA fanboys out there will applaud the co-op play and solid difficulty but with unskippable cutscenes following many of the game’s checkpoints and a surely doomed online community, they’ll soon find themselves bored of this game. Even the DLC-enabled horde mode won’t improve that as surely we’re all bored of seeing that implemented in every single game since Gears 2.
If that’s not enough to put you off: Rios has an anecdote in the game about fucking a panda. Yes, really.
The sad truth is that Army of Two remains the better game and by some margin. It’s more varied, more epic and more fun to play. Army of Two: The 40th Day feels limited, rushed and empty by comparison.