Army of Two: The 40th Day
An all-around decent experience but there's nothing exceptionally special about Army of Two: The 40th Day
- Improved partner AI and controls, solid multiplayer modes, addictive 'Rock, Paper, Scissors' mini-game.
- Co-op can be frustratingly difficult, checkpoints are few and far between, very thin narrative, morality choices have little consequence
Like the original Army of Two, The 40th Day was designed from the ground up as a co-op experience. While it is possible to play the game solo, the game is clearly designed for two players to battle it out together.
Price$ 109.95 (AUD)
Andrew: Before starting The 40th Day, Mitch and I popped in the original Army of Two and played a fair chunk of it online to refresh our memories of Salem and Rios' undying bromance and ultra-violent adventures abroad. While the online co-op experience was still entertaining, I found the game to be bland overall, and the numerous flaws in the gameplay still jumped out at me.
Mitch: I agree with you, Andrew. I didn't like Army of Two much to begin with, and playing it again to prep for the sequel made its flaws stand out even more. At the time of its release, Army of Two tried latching onto the Gears of War craze, but the inaccurate and unresponsive shooting compromised the already-painfully-linear stop-and-pop shooting galleries. On top of that, you had to deal with a forgettable story and two detestable sociopaths masquerading as heroes. To my surprise, The 40th Day addresses almost all of these issues -- something every sequel should aspire to do but doesn't -- yet the title feels like it's struggling to keep pace with the genre overall.
Andrew: It's interesting that you mentioned Gears of War as an influence on the original Army of Two because The 40th Day seems like a response to Gears of War 2 in some ways, notably the new running and melee mechanics, as well as the Extraction multiplayer mode. But I agree that while The 40th Day is an improvement over the original, it's lacking when compared to the current crop of shooters. Whether it was the routine (and essentially repeated) encounters, complete disregard for narrative and character development, or the multifaceted frustrations found in the co-op experience, The 40th Day just doesn't live up to the genre's high standards. But it sure starts on a really strong and memorable note.
Mitch: Man, that opening level is fantastic, isn't it? Salem and Rios duck into Shanghai on a quick mission to earn some money, but they unknowingly wind up becoming pawns in a terrorist plot. Shanghai is completely obliterated because of their actions, and the consequences make for exciting set pieces. A plane crashing into the building you're trying to escape from and a skyscraper toppling over while you're inside -- those were some incredibly exciting moments. And with the city in ruins, it opens up a lot of interesting level design opportunities. Enemies also used the open and vertically-designed areas to full advantage, forcing us to communicate, coordinate, and cover each other. But as we progressed through the game, that terrific sense of teamwork devolved into a repetitive routine. Rather than remaining a strategic element, debris became nothing more than a means of funneling you down strict and narrow pathways while identical enemies pop out from the same spots to take shots at you. Even hostage situations and "morality moments" became predictable and rote.
Andrew: I get what they're trying to do with the hostage scenes. They not only test your ability, but also your conscience. Do you run up behind the leader and grab him, forcing his subordinates to surrender? Should we co-op snipe the enemies, or just fire indiscriminately into the mix and see what happens? What's disappointing about them is that ultimately, the outcome doesn't seem to have much of an effect on the game. Sure, you'll pick up some funds for saving lives and you get a morality bonus, but there's no tangible effect on how the actual campaign unfolds. The same holds true for the game's "morality moments": several times throughout the game, you're given the opportunity to make what is often a life-or-death decision. Once you've made your choice, the game cuts to a montage of hand-drawn still images that depict the eventual outcome; unfortunately, the results are uniformly miserable, and the fact that it has no actual bearing on the game makes it all the more meaningless. We played through them multiple times to see both outcomes and your choices don't seem to dramatically change the rest of the game.
Mitch: Not only are the outcomes of these moments pointless, but they're also repulsive. There's rarely a moment where a "good" decision can be made because the consequences are almost invariably awful. If you let a rapist have his way, he shoots his intended victim dead; if you save the girl, she shoots up a hospital. The 40th Day's main narrative is just as terrible: I had no idea what was going on until the second-to-last chapter. It took the game five hours to tell us that there was a villain, and I never got the impression that he had any sort of grand ambitions. On top of that, there is nothing to the game's subtitle beyond the nondescript "40th Day" propaganda posters scattered about the city; if you reference something in the title, shouldn't it actually play a role in the game? The story is absolutely lifeless and your objective is simply to shoot everyone in front of you until the credits roll.
Andrew: I found the lack of attention paid to the "40th Day" to be strange as well. If it was important enough to put in the title then it should have been a major focal point of the game, not a throwaway reference. You can piece together tiny morsels of meaning from the various audio logs that you find scattered around and from the morality moments (which typically involve otherwise inconsequential characters), but otherwise the whole thing seems irrelevant. The narrative also does nothing with Salem and Rios; they're not people so much as they are characters. Their "personalities" consist of high-fiving and mugging for the camera on the menu screen before killing dozens of people in each mission.
Mitch: While the story is lacklustre, the action segments are decent, at least. Like the original, most fights take place in linear settings, but periodic open-area encounters open up multi-tiered paths for you and your partner to take. Either way, you've got plenty of enemies to mow down, with the occasional heavy shotgunner or flamethrower tossed in to mix things up. The aggro system from the original is back and injects a bit of strategy into the firefights, as well: while one player unloads hot lead into enemies and attracts attention, the other is ignored and able to snipe or sneak with little repercussion. And even though we lost an obscene amount of progress due to poor checkpoints and difficulty spikes I still had a good time popping melons with Desert Eagles and stabbing chumps with bayonets. But to bring back a point we both made earlier, The 40th Day seems dated somehow. You said it best, Andrew: if the game had come out a few years ago, it would have been great, but in 2010 it's just another competent copycat.
Andrew: Yeah, but at least the game is a step up from the original. It's got a much better control scheme, improved aiming, and more flexibility in how you tackle scenarios. If you're here strictly for the action or you just couldn't get enough of the original, you'll likely find The 40th Day to be a worthwhile title. The weapon customisation is one thing the game still excels at as well; it draws a bit from the series' off-base sense of humor and lets you equip things like soda can silencers on tiger-striped assault rifles, or toss diamond-encrusted grenades. And you can now tweak your arsenal any time, even during a mission, so it's easy to quickly use your in-game earnings to inject a little style and personality to the combat.
Mitch: The humour is something I enjoyed a lot more this time around, especially because Salem and Rios are a bit more likable. Instead of spouting stupid frat-house one-liners like "Ladies lift your shirts!" they reference Die Hard and, perhaps best of all, play 'Rock, Paper, Scissors'. It's strange that something as trivial as a throwaway mini-game captivated us as much as it did. We spent time after each encounter having a celebratory best-of-three. Considering the hours we spent retrying some of the ruthlessly taxing battles, I think we earned those sanity-saving Rochambeau duels.
Andrew: Amazingly, The 40th Day is a whole lot less frustrating when playing with an A.I. partner, which in some ways runs counter to its co-op nature. The game is far more difficult with a human partner, and the game's faulty checkpoint system penalises you unfairly for dying: you'll often lose several minutes of hard-fought progress every time you die. On the upside, the partner A.I. is really solid this time around, and the ability to direct your partner on the battlefield and when performing co-op moves is a fantastic addition. Still, I think I'd rather play co-op, since speaking to (and working with) a pal engenders a sense of teamwork far better than tapping in commands for an A.I. teammate.
Mitch: I definitely agree. Grinding through a gauntlet of deadly-accurate enemies can be grating, but it feels great to take down a hulking, grenade-launching powerhouse with the help of a buddy you don't need to babysit. But I'm still left wondering if I'll continue playing The 40th Day now that our review assignment is over. The game has its moments but it didn't do enough to convince me abandon the other games that I'm currently playing.
Andrew: I'm not sure I will invest much more time in the game either, though I might be tempted by the multiplayer modes. I liked Warzone, which cycles in a new objective every couple minutes (kill the VIPs, steal the intel, etc.), but surprisingly, I think I enjoyed Co-Op Deathmatch the most. Sure, it's just a free-for-all between five teams of two, but the two-player dynamic really drew me in. Extraction is essentially a slightly modified take on Gears of War 2's Horde mode and Halo 3: ODST's Firefight mode, and while it didn't seem mind-blowingly original, it'd probably be pretty exciting on higher levels with some close friends. But as a whole, while The 40th Day has its moments, it just isn't consistent enough to keep my attention.
Mitch: Right. I mean, it's an all-around decent experience but there's nothing exceptionally special about it.
Andrew: Honestly, the 'Rock, Paper, Scissors' mini-game is the thing I enjoyed the most about it. If only it had that as an online playlist -- I might have rated it a lot higher.
Mitch: You and me both, bro.
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