Army Of Two: The 40th Day
Growing up on a generation of buddy-cop movies has its advantages. From a young age you’ll learn that, in life, miserable, boot-faced grumble merchants are generally followed around by wisecracking ladies-men who risk the lives of others just to feed their own ego. You’ll learn that tapered mullets are the cut of choice for gun-toting anti-heroes and that three chord power rock has the uncanny ability to transform the most mundane of tasks into action-packed showdowns. You’ll also learn the true value of gut-wrenching moral choices: Buddy Cop A heroically dives in front of a hail of bullets to save a small child, Buddy Cop B swears revenge, conveniently intelligent small child helps save the day etc. The sacrifice of one to save the many. And this is exactly where frat-boy-cum-Duke-Nukem sequel , Army of Two: 40th Day, takes its inspiration.
Teaming muscle-bound, Michael Chiklis…sorry, “Tyson Rios” and Elliot Salem in the newly-found Trans-World Operations, 40th Day sees the ass-kicking mercenaries head to Shanghai for a routine operation that goes horribly wrong when a private military attack on the city forces them into a fight to get back home. Of course, not content with simply evacuating at the first opportunity, the gruesome two-some make it their business to unearth the mastermind behind the deadly assault. It’s at this point you can completely forget about the plot, which ambles between completely non-existent and laughably cliché, and concentrate on the far more pressing issues of shooting people in the face and covering your handgun in 14-carat gold.
There’s been a bit of spit and polish added to the graphics from the previous release; characters look more detailed, the majority of environments grittier, more realistic and it’s a tone consistent with the rest of the title. All but gone is the awkward, slapstick comedy and the uneasy, perverse hooraying in the face of cold blooded murder. That’s not to say Salem and Rios have gone soft on us, just that the overall experience is far more palatable. Set-pieces, however, can be decidedly weak with buildings collapsing in the distance looking far more like jagged, flat-packed foam than anything else.
The engine and controls have also seen some welcome tweaks. The new ‘mock surrender ‘ technique is a novel, Bond-esque approach to taking down an area full of baddies, as you and your partner drop to your knees before exploding into a slow-mo blitz that allows you to pick off your captors with ease. The ability to take hostages also plays a fairly vital part in the advent of a ‘morality system’. See those quivering Chinese townspeople? See the group of AK-waving fruitcakes bellowing and threatening them with insta-death? Well, grab the officer (it’s always the dude with the biggest helmet) and the PMCs will surrender, dumping their weapons and holding their hands aloft before sliding to their knees awaiting your response. You can tie them up, gaining positive morality points, or shoot them dead and watch your morality level plummet with each passing decision. There’s no bar as such, just a descriptive word on the pause menu, but the system is clear enough. Among these moral dilemmas are bigger, game-changing events that tail into what-happened-next cut-scenes. Do you shoot the guy that just helped you in the back for a large pay-off, or do you let him slide and reap the benefits from keeping your integrity?
It’s an interesting idea but completely one-sided. There’s really no incentive to be a total bastard and murder anyone you don’t need to, especially civilians with even the financial rewards paling in comparison to the ‘good’ choices. It’s a half-baked concept that disappointingly, with a little more work, could have been pretty darn good. It does, however, help break up the flow of an otherwise standard run-and-gun, inspiring a sense of control and thoughtfulness beyond what the story probably deserves.
The controls are still fairly workable if sometimes poorly mapped. Ducking in-and-out of cover can be a mini-game unto itself with Salem/Rios never getting sticky, meaning you’ll often find yourself being clipped when you least expect it. The ‘A’ button is also the home for sprinting, rolling, sliding into cover, hurdling objects, taking over mounted guns and healing your downed comrade which results in frustrating scenarios where you’ll run away from your bleeding team-mate and into the nearest shroud of gun-fire to effectively fail the mission. Checkpointing, while far better than the original, can also be on the irritating side. Spend 10 minutes buying and modding your new hardware with upgrades or paint until you’re ready to kick some ass only to come a little short on the kicking ass stakes and you’ll likely face a re-tread through the same process before you decide to head into battle again.
The aforementioned weapon modification has also seen improvements from its sibling. Press ‘Y’ and down on the d-pad at any point and you’ll enter a boutique of murdering wonder. Rails, scopes, attachments, silencers – just about anything you’re likely to want to change on your gun is here. It must be noted, however, that while some of the additions such as soda can silencers or screwdriver bayonets are fun, from the get-go you’ll be able to purchase far superior alternatives. It begs the question why the developers didn’t include a story-driven element to the modification with players unlocking and affording gradual upgrades. Another neat addition is the ability to customize and create your own masks for Salem and Rios online and then import them into the game. You can tap-into designs created by other users, with the AOT community already providing thousands of efforts with some fantastic (and bizarre) offerings on practically anything you could dream up from Spider-Man to SpongeBob SquarePants.
With 40th Day being a team-effort, the real fun is settling down with a mate on Xbox LIVE or on your sofa to buddy-up with split-screen co-op. The computer AI is fine, reacting to Rainbow Six style prompts to hold, attack, press etc, but there’s no accounting for the real benefits of a human accomplice. Something that should be noted, however, is that if you plan on playing on the same console it’s a wise idea to create or log-in to a second account for the other player as without doing so will mean all cash, unlocks and progress towards two-player achievements on player two’s side will be lost when you quit the game. As for the online aspects of 40th day? Well, they’re standard-fare but in our experience, every game so far has been plagued with irritating lag, mostly due to the fact that rooms aren’t regionalised.
If you’re looking for something to tide you over until the mountain of triple-A releases start to tumble down from next month, then you could do far worse than picking up AOT: 40th day. While it’s not pushing the boat and the game’s selling point of a ‘moral choices’ system isn’t half as deep as it wishes it was, it’s still an enjoyable 8-hour romp that improves upon the original in every department. And thankfully, there’s not a mullet in sight.
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