Over time multiplayer, then online multiplayer, became a staple, nay, a near requirement of any first or third-person shooter video game release. To this day that added component flops in many titles, yet a new shooter game fixture is quickly entering 'staple' territory, co-operative play. Yet again, like multiplayer, co-op modes are hit and miss between shooter releases, and rarely one of the largest focuses of any shooter. Nearly two years have passed since EA Montreal's original foray into the realm of co-op focused shooters, Army of Two, a third-person perspective title that was fun, but no where near a defining release in the genre. Lead characters, Rios and Salem, are back with Army of Two: The 40th Day, to try again to grasp the crown of premium co-op shooter, but once again they fall just short.
Rios and Salem, you could say, are small business owners. The two, along with communications assistant, Alice, make up Trans World Operations (TWO), a private military contractor. Rios and Salem don't hang up their coats in an office however, instead the two bare arms and are the soldiers of the operation. While the duo are on mission in Shanghai, China, an enormous terrorist assault befalls the city, taking down dozens of skyscrapers, including a few Rios and Salem end up traversing. With no idea what's going on, working together Rios and Salem set out to escape the disaster, despite hundreds upon hundreds of hired soldiers trying to kill them in the process.
The beginning of Army of Two: The 40th Day has a lot of punch and wow to it. Cinematics really convey the scale and magnitude of the catastrophic events taking place, and with so much action going on, it's understandable that depth of story and well written dialogue would elude that situation, which they certainly do in this game. However, once the dust settles, there's little story to carry the game along, and furthermore dialogue can generously be described as hammed and predictable. As Rios and Salem fight their way across, through, and down destroyed buildings, they mostly compliment how great of shots each other are, seemingly as frequently as enemies are disposed. What there is of a story in this game is little more than a vehicle for its scenery, level design, and gameplay.
Being co-op focused, the premise to gameplay is that it's designed to emphasize the importance of teamwork. The game can be played single player with an AI partner as well as offline co-op with a local friend, and online co-op with anyone. There's lots of options available to get players to play alongside another human player, but the game makes great strives to make playing the game alone just as effective. Playing solo, players can choose to control either Rios or Salem, but once chosen there's no in-game switching. The player's AI partner is fairly smart, and a good shot, but above all follows players commands as they're doled out. Commands are fairly simple and effective, being Regroup, Advance, and Hold Position. On top of those, partners can also be told to either not draw too much attention while exchanging fire with enemies, or instructed to really get enemies' attention and fight more aggressively. This system is called the 'Aggro' system, pulling from the word 'aggravate'.Player commands and the Aggro system work hand in hand to execute battle strategies. As the game is mostly fighting from one enemy filled area to the next, it's pretty easy to get a hang of the general strategy. With either Salem or Rios drawing the attention of enemies, the other teammate draws little to no attention, and thus can sneak around to better shooting positions, and surprise attacks. Choosing to either be the one drawing the fire, or the one flanking the enemy is really at the whim of the player, and doesn't make much of a difference in enjoyability.
The core of the game, the shooting mechanics, control, and level design, are where the game really falls short. The game employs a fairly good cover system, and cover is literally everywhere; if players can't locate cover in the middle of a fire fight, they probably have just as hard a time locating their own nose. With low variety in enemies, and the repetitive strategy of "shoot, duck, partner sneak around for the kill," the only thing that changes throughout the game is the location of firefights. Level design would be fairly good for a single player game, but it does little to really call for a teammate. The only things that frequently require co-op is the odd fence or wall players need a boost too, or the sheer amount of enemies, and their constant advance towards whatever cover players are hiding behind. All-in-all, the game fails to make co-op a legitimately core part of gameplay. If enemy count was divided by two, one man would suffice in nearly every encounter.
Outside of core gameplay are a number of other features, though they're mostly superficial. There's a relationship system throughout the game, although it doesn't make much of a difference whatsoever. Weapons can be upgraded and bought, as well as customized, if players enjoy slinging gold or zebra print weapons for example. If a partner falls in battle, the other can drag their bleeding body to cover, and revive them. There are also numerous moral choice and hostage situations, which just come off as unneeded and bizarre. Players are given choices, usually involving them shooting someone, or letting them live, which are followed by uninteresting, un-animated comic-book like cutscenes that show the results of their actions. These instances simply leave one wondering what the point of seeing them was.
The graphics and sound of the game are par for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with a bland colour palette. Animation is also passable, but at times skips, and shows the developers cut corners. Enemies in the game are, while numerous, very stupid. Hiding near explosive barrels, using cars with blown out windows as cover, constantly running out in the open, or just standing waiting to be shot despite a firefight going on, all happen often. Playing solo, players' partner AI is also stupid at times, walking into players' line of fire, or trying to heal a player while in the enemy line of fire, leading to their death.Gameplay is somewhat fun, but it's just so average to subpar that it isn't any sort of improvement in any aspect for the genre. Playing with a friend is definitely more fun, but little thanks to what the game does, just the simple fact that players are playing a game, with a friend. Figuring out strategy together, and working together to kill goons is just like in any other co-op mode in many other shooters, and what Army of Two: The 40th Day tries to add to the experience falls flat.
The game has a few different difficulty modes, and with the moral choices, players will see something different if they replay the game and take different actions. Online multiplayer is well rounded, and is of the same quality of the campaign mode. The emphasis stays on co-op within online multiplayer, pitting players in teams of two against other teams. Modes include deathmatch, control (capturing and defending control points), warzone (multi-objective battle), and extraction.
Overall, Army of Two: The 40th Day doesn't capitalize on its co-op focus, doesn't bring anything substantial to the table, and is subpar to the core. It's plain to see not enough time or care was given to the game to make it stand out and above the crowd. Furthermore, the story line is forgettable, gameplay is average during the best points, and the graphics aren't anything special. If you're itching for some co-op play, this will sooth the craving, but that's about it.