Ask anyone about Army of Two and they’ll probably go “Oh yeah, the guys with the masks, right?” and immediately draw a blank. That’s how little impact the original had. It was a decent game, with accomplished co-op features, but was ultimately a victim of its own chronic lack of originality. But all that’s changed. With The 40th Day, EA have completely rejuvenated the series, making it smarter, funnier, prettier, and crucially, loads more fun to play. And, not only that, it has one of the best morality systems we’ve ever seen – shaming the binary good/evil choices of games like inFamous and BioShock. And, honestly, who expected that?
And as for the weapon customisation – well, that’s on a whole other level. The last game let you stick scopes and grips on your guns, but now there are more building blocks than you’ll know what to do with. From retrofit silencers made from old Coke cans, muzzle flash reducers, and underslung shotguns to chunks of mobile cover strapped to the barrel – it’s ridiculous. But not as ridiculous as the new paint jobs. Ever fancied a gold pistol? A leopard print AK-47? Now your garish gun-based fantasies can be realised. It certainly adds a touch of style to slotting a terrorist. You can even customise your mask and armour for online play. Design a decal on the game’s official website (like in Skate 2), download it to your game and apply it to Rios or Salem. Clans will especially love this feature.
The heroes have had an upgrade too. They’re still mercenaries for hire, and they still wear those masks, but the big difference is that they’re actually likeable. In the original they were one-dimensional ‘dudes’ – all fist bumps and dumb dialogue. Now they’re witty and engaging, showing unexpected humanity during the tougher moral choices. The script’s not a revelation – just unusually sharp for a game where the focus is shooting hordes of identical soldiers with gold-plated guns.
Rios and Salem, now working for their own private military company, are in Shanghai planting radar beacons for a nameless client. They don’t know why, but the pay is good; they are, after all, mercenaries. Suddenly, missiles rain from the sky destroying the city. Skyscrapers topple, planes crash, fires break out – and it has something to do with those radar beacons. The duo rushes out of the city to escape, and so begins the mystery; who attacked Shanghai? And why? And was it their fault?
To find out, you’re going to have to work together. So it’s a good thing that Army of Two’s co-op features are massively improved. As well as returning tricks like giving your partner a leg-up over walls, synchronised co-op sniping and using mobile cover (the infamous car door shields), Rios and Salem have an array of other abilities at their disposal. Our favourite is the mock surrender. Before combat is initiated, you can lower your weapons and raise your hands. As the enemies radio their superiors for further orders, you can quick draw your pistol and take the goons out in slow motion.
Hostage taking is a clever new feature. Enemies are now ranked – from regular soldiers to officers and elites – and sneaking up and grabbing one higher in the food chain will force the others to drop their weapons and surrender. It’s up to you what to do next: instantly execute them, lowering your morality, or tie them up to appease your guilt.
Sometimes civilians enter the mix. You can either coordinate a synchronised attack on the hostage takers so the civilians aren’t harmed, or let them die. Often the best solution is having one of you distract the highest-ranking enemy, while the other sneaks up and grabs him. Saving hostages yields weapon parts and cash, while failure to rescue them hits your morality hard.
It does scale too. In one level the pair fights across a destroyed underpass. It’s a huge space, with loads of opportunities for flanking and cover, and when a heavy trooper is introduced and cars start blowing up, things get even more hectic. That’s another thing AOT does well; providing massive spaces to play in, complementing the co-op mechanics.
So, that morality system. Some situations are straightforward – rescue the innocent, get good karma, needlessly murder captured soldiers, get bad karma. But it’s the game’s brilliant and hilarious ‘morality moments’ that will test your moral fibre. At a set point during each level, a cutscene will play. You’ll then be given a choice of responses or actions, one of which is deemed good (with little or no reward), and bad (weapon parts and large amounts of money).
Depending on what you choose, a short animated movie plays (drawn by DC and 2000AD comic artists) showing the consequences of your actions. The interesting thing is, whether your decision was ‘good’ or ‘bad’, things will never turn out like you expected. Some of these mini-movies are funny, others more melancholy, and some actually quite shocking. Army of Two succeeds where other games with similar systems have failed, because the choices are never as simple as black and white. What you think is the ‘right’ thing to do might be the exact opposite.
One thing that has remained the same is the aggro system. It’s at the core of every battle, and lets one player attract the attention of enemies while the other flanks them. The player with the most aggro glows orange, while the ‘safe’ one glows blue. It’s a system that worked incredibly well, and still does. A good example of aggro in play is when you’re faced with riot shield-equipped soldiers – one player can move somewhere high and draw their aggro, making them turn around, exposing their sides to the flanking player.
As with the original, The 40th Day is, simply, better with a real person. While the AI is totally functional, the simple d-pad commands – move forward, draw aggro, hold back, regroup – just can’t compete with physically communicating with a friend and organising tactics on the fly. You’ll still have fun on your own, but the game shines in cooperative mode. You can play locally with split-screen, in a private match online with a friend, or jump randomly into a stranger’s match online.
There’s also a selection of regular multiplayer modes, like Partner Deathmatch and Warzone, (think Headquarters in Modern Warfare 2), but the twist is that you still work in teams of two, with all the game’s co-op features enabled.
The 40th Day is the perfect example of a developer listening to criticism and making positive changes. It’s not the most progressive or technically impressive shooter, but the morality system, weapon customisation and online co-op elevate it, and it’s one of the best cover-to-cover shooters on 360. If you’ve gone through Spec Ops with a pal in Modern Warfare 2 and want more of the same quality co-op action, this is well worth a look. As a third-person action game it’s not as polished or consistently entertaining as Uncharted 2 or Gears of War, but still a worthy and often surprising alternative.
Jan 12, 2010