Army Of Two: The 40th Day Hands-On Preview

17 Dec 2009  by   Paul Younger
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Three is a crowd might go some way to explaining why Army of Two’s returning protagonists, Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios indiscriminately shoot anyone else who happens to cross their path. No one would dare come between the two and their vaguely homoerotic coupling. Not even an evil terrorist cell hell bent on destroying the world.

Or rather Shanghai as the case may be in this Army of Two sequel, cryptically subtitled The 40th Day (presumably due to religious connotations or some such?), the follow-up sees Salem and Rios fighting through the city as it spectacularly falls apart around them.

Having formed their very own Private Military Company (PMC) snappily dubbed TransWorld Operations (TWO. Subtle), the hockey mask-sporting pair somehow attract the ire of a competing PMC who respond by razing Shanghai to the ground in typical shock and awe fashion.

While playing through the game’s opening two chapters at EA’s recent Xmas Showcase, things start off gently with a predictable tutorial section, followed by some light cover shooting action once we’ve retrieved our armour and weapons from a back alley dumpster (as you do). Guided by Brit operative JB, we’re steadily reintroduced to the game’s simple controls and cover system, before being thrust into appropriate situations.

For the most part, Army of Two’s core gameplay mechanics remain untouched, but the slight tweaks and subtle refinements that do appear, make a marked difference to the overall product. Most notably, the enemy AI is no longer infallible and will occasionally miss, so no longer do you have to endure exhausting battles of attrition against distant soldiers with flawless aim.

There’s also an improved sense of co-operation between the two leads, with fewer tacked on co-op moments shoehorned in at various intervals just for the sheer hell of it. It’s a lazy comparison perhaps, but 40th Day’s co-op play feels closer to the original game’s Gears of War remit, with events occurring organically rather than the piecemeal spoon-fed stuff that made up the entirety of the first Army of Two. The result is a more pleasingly fluid experience, with most of the good stuff from its predecessor left in for good measure.

For instance, there’re still riot shields to pick up in various forms (our favourite being the huge tribal mask), there’re still moments where you have to boost one another up to higher ground and there are still incredulous back-to-back set pieces where you both have infinite ammunition to spray in all directions. It was these distinctive co-op elements that set Army of Two apart from the competition, but it was the game built around them that failed to deliver. This time however, 40th Day is looking as though it’ll set the record straight on this front.

Once we come to the end of the first chapter with JB leading the way, we’re confronted with our first decision (something increasingly de rigueur in games these days). Seems the dodgy British fella is a bit shady, so do we but a bullet in his temple or let him be? The first player to make it to the punch makes the ultimate choice and we opt to spare the old geezer out of national pride. Or something.

{PAGE TITLE=Army Of Two: The 40th Day Hands On Preview Page 2}What follows is a series of sketched panels hand-drawn by established comic book artist, Chris Bachalo, probably best known for his work on Marvel’s X-Men comics. We get to see JB walk away into the sunset to enjoy a life in retirement on a tropical island. Presumably we’d have seen his brains shoot across the screen in a rainbow coloured shower had we chosen to kill him instead.

After the slow pace of the first level, the second is a genuine rollercoaster of thrills that sees us caught amid Shanghai’s toppling skyscrapers. And yet, as mortar shells tear through the sky, blasting towering structures into smouldering heaps of rubble, we still find the time to play a quick game of rock, paper, scissors, strum our guns like guitars (rocking out while throwing up the horns of course) and generally push and shove one another about. No other game allows you to make light of such widespread death and devastation with an impromptu man hug or a high-five.

Navigating our way through the crumbling shells of Shanghai’s office buildings, we encounter countless enemies, each armed with differing levels of bulletproof armour requiring varying tactics to overcome. Hostage situations require stealth if you want to successfully rescue the innocents and gain yourself some positive morality points in the process and happily, there’re a variety of ways to do so.

There’s the easy way – grab the highest-ranking officer and force his underlings to surrender. Or there’s the slightly harder way – wandering into the area in mock surrender, dropping to your knees only to then quick draw your weapon in slow-motion and pick off the bad guys one by one. It’s the riskier strategy, but it doesn’t half look cool.

Successfully dealing with these events and completing various objectives earns Salem and Rios cash, which you can then spend on pimping out your weaponry. You can bring up the customisation menu at any time and there’s a whole host of add-ons and upgrades to apply to each of your three carried guns. By the end of our hands-on, we had a fully upgraded, urban camo sub machinegun, a zebra-striped silenced sniper rifle with a brand new stock and a gold pistol. However, our funds could never quite extend far enough to afford the ludicrous gold, diamond-encrusted hand grenade that explodes in a shower of bling when you throw it. That’s $100,000 to you, sir.

Our two level demo ends after winding our way down the side of a falling tower block, where we’re the greeted by a fully armoured man mountain with a chaingun who has to be flanked in order to leave his back exposed, allowing one of us to pump rounds into his ammo pack. Here, the aggro system from Army of Two 1 comes into play, and is noticeably more sensitive than before making careful planning more important. Cars explode all around us as we attempt to draw a bead on the weak spot, but once the big lug turns, we plough enough hot lead into his back to set him alight and send him packing.

At almost two hours, our time with the new Army of Two has been absorbing, entertaining and above all fun. We’ve been lauded for our superb sniping skill and condemned for our “sick” corpse mutilation (you put in a stomp button, we’re going to stamp on heads) by a supervising member of the EA Montreal dev team, but when we grudgingly leave a warm chair wanting more, you know that Army of Two: The 40th Day has to be on to a very good thing indeed.

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