Features & News

Demo Impressions: Army of Two: The 40th Day

December 30, 2009, Author: Brian Gourlay

You might understandably snigger if I told you that I actually really enjoyed Army of Two. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blind, although I could well be and still manage to pick out the flaws in its juvenile storyline, simplistic co-op mechanics, shocking partner AI and poorly implemented multiplayer; man was it fun. Despite its numerous and considerable failings, firing up a game with my tag team buddy and jumping into some testosterone fueled gunslinging never failed to raise a few laughs. You might also snigger when I tell you that I’m rather looking forward to Army of Two: The 40th Day, which follows Salem and Rios as they attempt to escape from Shanghai after a brutal terrorist attack leaves it mostly in ruins. Army of Two was the first game in a while that allowed me to just blitz through some mindless, high fiving, headbutting, double barreled tomfoolery.

Considering I haven’t experienced anything similar to it since, I couldn’t help but raise a smile at the prospect of donning my flame enblazoned mask again. Who knows, maybe this time round I’ll be able to enjoy playing it without having to completely disengaging my brain. Wishful thinking? Maybe…

The demo begins from the perspective of a tourist’s video camera in Shanghai, which acts as a sort of intro reel, as well as an convenient way of conveying the city’s utter destruction, as explosions begin tearing apart buildings without mercy. As the video cuts out, we shift back a few hours to Salem and Rios en route to meet with their contact for an upcoming mission.

EA promised that steps would be taken to raise the tone of the narrative a bit, but early evidence suggests that this isn’t the case. It appears that by adding in a few lines of dialogue to make the characters seems a bit more cynical and world weary, we’re expected to be fooled into thinking that we’re being pulled into a nuanced and thought provoking story. Sure it’s just a demo, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say…we’re not. That being said, I can’t even remember the names of anyone other than the protagonists from the original, so I decided to let that slide and let the action do the talking.

After meeting with the contact Salem and Rios get started on the mission, which at first is a simple recon assignment that involves placing beacons at pre-defined points. Of course, that wouldn’t make for a very exciting game and it’s not long before the security detail make an appearance, and it’s through fighting these goons that a lot of the gaming mechanics are introduced.

First up is the return of the ‘aggro’ system, which involves attracting enemy attention by making as much noise as possible to give your partner a bit more freedom to maneuver. It’s a simple concept and one that I like, but it’s implemented and presented in a very transparent manner. Rather than having to judge subtle differences in enemy behaviour as their attention switched between Salem and Rios, the aggrometer at the top of the screen tells you exactly how much they’re focusing on you.

Not only that, filling up the aggrometer in your favour results in your character glowing bright red, just in case you didn’t pick up on the fact that everyone is shooting at you. While the whole mechanic is a bit heavy handed and extreme, it still adds a bit of strategy to the average firefight, and can often be responsible for some hilarious moments of badassery. Within moments of the first firefight, as I blindly fired from behind cover to keep the enemy distracted, I could barely contain laughing as I watched Rios sneak around behind one of the enemies, grab him by the scruff of the neck and and royally headbutt him in the dish, only for everyone else to turn around and start blasting away at him.

Seriously mate you don't need to carry me, I sobered up ages ago

Seriously mate you don't need to carry me, I sobered up ages ago

Making our way up the building, we also came across a few situations that let us put our teamwork skills to the test. Hostage situations and room breaches allowed us to have a quick tactical briefing before entering the fray, and for the most part some of the new co-op moves work pretty well. Walking into a room with your hands up will take enemy attention away from the hostages and gives your partner a few seconds to get the drop on them. You can also take your foes hostage and use them as human shields, which doesn’t work so well in hostage situations (as we found out the hard way) but again diverts a lot of aggro your way as well as giving you a bit of protection from incoming fire.

A common complaint with Army of Two was that the co-op moves were very inflexible and often only executable at strictly predetermined points in the game. This is still true of some location specific moves like boosting your partner over high fences, but other actions appear to have been freed up a bit and co-op tactics are prevalent throughout the core of the game rather than just in bite sized chunks. Co-op sniping can now be performed whenever you want for example, with a little picture in picture representation of your ally’s viewpoint being displayed whenever he aims through a sniper scope. It can be pretty useful looking through your partners eyes every now and then, especially when trying to launch a well timed attack, and it also lets you appreciate some Fallout 3 inspired exploding heads when a successful shot is made.

After placing the last beacon, Alice, who is essentially Salem and Rios’ intelligence provider, calls to give you an off the cuff objective for a bit of extra cash; kill your contact. After dropping that bombshell, you’re given a morality decision to make: kill him and spend the cash on the impressive looking new weapons in the customisation mode, or spare him and leave with a clean conscience. What makes these decisions interesting is that they aren’t decided on a majority vote, whoever makes the decision first determines the outcome of the event. As I swayed between the choices, Rios decided to spare him which resulted in a storyboard style cut-scene which shows the implications of the decision you made. It’s a neat little twist on something that has been included in games for a while now, and adds a little bit of tension between the players when decision time comes around.

Immediately after making the decision, all hell breaks loose as it becomes apparent the timeline has caught up with the video at the beginning of the demo. Missiles begin falling in numbers around you, causing buildings to pretty impressively fall to bits around you, prompting me to shout down the microphone “I KNEW we should have killed that guy!”. It looks like a group of nameless mercenaries are responsible for the attack, as you encounter them as they begin a cleanup operation, i.e. trying to kill you. The rest of the demo involves a few more firefights, one of which involves splitting up for a brief period, as you make your way towards Alice in an attempt to get to her before the mercenaries do. As expected however, the demo cuts out just before you find out what happens to her as a mean looking, heavily armoured boss menacingly makes his way towards you, shotgun in hand.

It looks like a lot of improvements have been made in The 40th Day. Based on interviews with some of the developers at EA, it appears that they were genuinely upset at some of the criticisms leveled at them, and have taken steps to rectify a lot of the issues that came up in the original game. I’m a bit worried that they made the decision to release an online only demo, almost as if they were trying to keep the partner AI under wraps, but it could also be interpreted as an indication of how they feel the game should be played. The most important thing is that none of the fun has been lost through any of the changes that have been made, and for that reason I will almost certainly be buying this game.

The competitive multiplayer looks like it could be an absolute blast (mainly thanks to it no longer being region locked) and some of the revisions to the game mechanics could even win over a few of the more purist shooter fans. You never know, if EA get the multiplayer right, this could turn out to be one of the more enjoyable online experiences of the new year, and I personally can’t wait.