Army of Two: The 40th Day - PS3 review

It's easy to understand why some original game properties merit a sequel. In some cases, the first game is so brilliant that everyone is left wanting more, hence Modern Warfare 2, Bioshock 2 and Mass Effect 2. In others, it's a chance to turn a half-decent game into a great one, as happened with Assassin's Creed 2 or Fable 2. But was anyone out there really itching for a second instalment of EA's Army of Two?

Sure, it was a game packed with ingenious game mechanics and clever, co-op friendly tricks, but who really loved the first game's puerile, meat-headed heroes, their juvenile, Jackass-meets-Rambo antics or those monotonous, endlessly repetitive levels? This was the game where two bull-necked goons in hockey-masks blasted their way through the world's trouble spots, while fist-bumping to celebrate the ever-increasing body count. Think Gears of War is too cerebral and understated? Army of Two was the game for you.

Still, enough people liked and bought Army of Two to encourage EA to spawn a sequel. The surprise is that it's a significant improvement over the original, though - hold your horses and put wallets back in pockets - this doesn't necessarily mean we'd recommend you buy it.

At heart this is still the same basic game, with our two mercenaries, Salem and Rios, working together to complete military objectives and survive. As before, The 40th Day works best when played with another player, online or using split-screen, but you can also rely on a CPU-controlled ally if you wish.

Co-op sits at the heart of everything, with the core idea being "aggro". Keep blasting big guns at the baddies, and you'll attract their aggro your way. This then leaves your buddy free to flank them or snipe. This puts him in the aggro hot seat, giving you a chance to make your move. As this is also a cover-based shooter, teamwork is vital, and that applies to everything else, whether it's the health system (take a battering and your partner has to drag you into cover and heal you), traversing obstacles (you'll need help to climb up walls or open gates) or simply taking out the harder enemies (all have weak points which you'll need to get around them to exploit).

The original's co-op mechanics were always sound, and polished up for the sequel they can work brilliantly. If you must play with the AI you'll be relieved to know that he plays a more sensible game this time around - more intelligent support, less mindless self-destruction - and a D-pad command system makes it easy to issue basic instructions like hold position or advance aggressively. There are still shields to pick up and use (one player protects, the other blasts away) and special co-op kills and takedowns to pull off. Enemies are tougher, more intelligent and (slightly) more varied, and you can sense the potential waiting to be harnessed.

Unfortunately, that actual harnessing business is a bit hit and miss. There are some superb moments of co-op action here, with the game at its best when it splits you up then forces you to work together at a distance. Some of the early levels are crackers, and you will find numerous tense encounters where hordes of well-armed, coordinated enemies will test your skills. However, there are also vast sections where you simply trudge into a new area, mop up hostile forces, wait for your partner to press a switch or open a gate, then repeat ad-nauseum.

As there are only seven chapters to play through, some levels are extended long past the point of real interest, and there's something hugely dispiriting about grinding your way through, say, one long dockland section full of crouching troops and machine-gun turrets only to discover, oh, another long dockland section full of crouching troops and machine-gun turrets.

This isn't helped by a lack of variety. The original gave us ludicrous Team America antics from around the world. The sequel gives us one long trek through a Shanghai ravaged by a terrorist attack, and while it packs in a zoo, a hospital, a temple and a collapsing embassy building, there still aren't many sequences that stick in the mind for long.

There is some other cool stuff here, but it's often wasted. At various points you get a moral dilemma, where you can choose to act one way or another. The first player to make the choice takes the lead, and you're treated to a little comic-book cutscene revealing the consequences of your actions. However, the cutscenes - with deliberate irony - make you feel that any "good" action was actually ill-considered, and while "evil" actions net you a quick cash bonus, they don't seem to come with any tangible negative consequences except for the fact that a weapons cache might not be made available to you halfway through.

The weapons upgrade system is another missed opportunity. Buying new guns and upgrading them with custom ammo packs, muzzles, scopes and stocks is a great idea, but the game doesn't give you enough impetus to customise, and as soon as you've got a beefy assault rifle with a scope it's easy to stick with that, only rarely switching to your secondary sniper rifle or heavy weapon for the odd, ultra-tough encounter. Ask yourself: are you really that excited about a gold-plated AK-47 or a diamond-crusted hand-grenade?

Finally, the storyline, while actually quite intriguing, is so badly relayed - unless you can be bothered to listen to all the collectible radio messages - that it's a challenge to care about who you're trying to kill, who is trying to kill you, or why. This is also a short 6- to 8-hour game, and the only thing that stretches it out that far is horrendous checkpointing. Not ideal.

With a good mate fighting by your side, The 40th Day is still a reasonable laugh, and while the old bone-headed fist-bumping nonsense has been toned down, there's enough dumb horseplay to keep things fun. With a stranger or on your tod, however, the new Army of Two just isn't a compelling rival to the likes of Modern Warfare 2, Gears of War or even Rainbow Six: Vegas. And while the co-op focus of the versus modes, particularly a great co-op take on team deathmatch, adds some value, we still can't see anyone deserting the established favourites for long.

 

Verdict

While a definite improvement on the first Army of Two, The 40th Day still hasn't got what it takes to compete with the big boys of the action genre. For all the brilliant co-op game ideas, the actual minute-by-minute experience does get dull, and several promising ideas are practically wasted. It's good for a few hours of fun with a mate, but otherwise give it a miss.