Making a quality sequel is generally easier than launching a new series, as the title’s direction is already laid out, the engine is built, the characters are known, and the mechanics remain the same. The trick to it is keeping enough of the highs that made the original worth sequelizing while nixing the problems that brought it down. Army of Two: The 40th Day toes that line firmly, expanding weapon customization and co-op play while adding more weapons to Salem and Rios’ second romantic getaway.
The 40th Day begins with all hell breaking loose in Shanghai, as Salem and Rios flee while the buildings around them collapse. These conditions allow EA Montreal to forgo the standard narrative found in many titles. In place of a staid geopolitical scandal, morality drives most of the narrative, allowing you to choose whether your contacts live or die amidst the chaos of a burning city. The impact of these decisions is shown via comics-style vignettes, letting you know that a boy that you saved might evolve into a ruthless killer or a lawless vigilante. Seeing the consequences of Salem and Rios’ actions opens up an avenue of storytelling that I’d like to see evolved further. While morality’s prominent role is a welcome change, these choices do get repetitive over time, as most of them involve saving hostages in one way or another.
The Army of Two bromance plays very much like it has before, with Salem and Rios running for cover and protecting each other as bullets stream through the battlefield. Players can build up their Aggro meters to keep enemy focus on their character, allowing their co-op buddy a little leeway to flank the hapless halfwits and execute them ruthlessly. It’s still an interesting system, but the familiar cover mechanics still feel as if they are stuck in 2004. Even more laissez-faire is the linearity of the level design, as their gauntlet presentation and mostly compact nature restricts the tactical decisions that could have been employed.
Of course, the signature man love between Rios and Salem makes a triumphant return, bring solid voice acting along for the ride. Salem’s sarcastic comments are often hilarious, and Tyson’s gruff and deep voice fits his bulky build but doesn’t make him as likable as his partner. The back-and-forth banter is light-hearted in the early going, but thankfully takes on a more serious tone as the heroes begin to pay the price for all of the death and destruction around them.
The co-op moves of the original have also been retained, as players can still heal each other, feign death, and sync sniper shots. New to this version is the ability to mark specific targets, better maneuvering from cover to cover, and even a mock surrender that lulls the opposition into a false sense of security. The breaking of said surrender leads to my favorite co-op moment in the campaign: a Matrix-y, slow-motion gun blast that leaves no enemy standing.
Speaking of the campaign, don’t expect it to last all that long. Each of the seven chapters takes about 40 minutes to blow through, and the thin story doesn’t do much to stretch things out. The visuals are equally disappointing, with average warzones ruined by strikingly out-of-place backgrounds. Enemy combatants can be downright stupid on all difficulty levels, making the game incredibly easy from start to finish. Those who aren’t co-oping online will also realize that the partner AI is pretty bad, though it has been slightly improved from the original. Walking in front of machine guns, advancing at inappropriate times and making suicidal rescues are par for the course, and sitting through unskippable cutscenes after a death will further fuel the frustration. Seriously, EA Montreal? Unskippable cutscenes in 2010?
Like last time, the main draw of Army of Two: The 40th Day is the cooperative and competitive multiplayer, with everything getting an added coat of polish this time around. King of the Hill, Deathmatch, Survival, and a mode called Warzone are available for twelve-player competitive play, with the latter forcing two teams to complete a series of escalating objectives before the other teams can get through. Warzone is a fantastic diversion, and the varying objectives—from NPC assassination to target demolition—keep things exciting.
Despite the fun multiplayer, The 40th Day is steeped in overall mediocrity. It’s not bad by any means, but it fails to offer anything new to an already overcrowded genre. If you’re looking for a solid co-op game to play with a buddy, Army of Two: The 40th Day just might fill that void. Just don’t try to play it alone.