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Review: Army of Two: The 40th Day

John Funk | 19 Jan 2010 13:00
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Army of Two: The 40th Day is the touching story of Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios, two openly gay Private Military Contractors who are trapped in a terrorist-stricken Shanghai on their honeymoon, and who must alternately contend with issues of homophobia in an environment of extreme masculinity, the stresses of being in a relationship, and the danger of being shot in the face by enemy mercenaries.

Okay, no, not really. But that would have been a much more interesting game than what we actually ended up getting.

40th Day is a competent third-person shooter that feels incredibly generic and run-of-the-mill with a plot that feels thinner than the air atop Mount Everest. There are some guys, and they've invaded Shanghai for some reason, wreaking destruction in one of the world's largest cities on a frankly ludicrous scale, and Rios and Salem (who are ostensibly just good buddies and not lovers) really don't want to be in Shanghai anymore and want to get the hell out. That's pretty much all you're going to get.

Having never played the original Army of Two, there was really no framework for me to compare the first game to its sequel, though from what I understand the first game had marginally more varied environments. The entire game essentially takes place in Shanghai, and while the level designers clearly took pains to vary the scenery - a zoo, a mall, a hospital - it does start to feel a bit similar after a while. One cramped Shanghai alleyway blends with the next, after all.

The gunplay is heavily based around firing from cover at enemies with health that regenerates over time if you stay out of the action, and it doesn't really change things up all that much. It's here that the teamwork between Rios and Salem becomes actually relevant to the gameplay (because let's face it, requiring two people to press "A" to open a door isn't that much different than just requiring one person to do the same).

Every action Salem and Rios take either builds or reduces "aggro," represented by a meter at the top of your HUD, and whoever has aggro is the one who the enemies will (usually) concentrate their fire on. In this way, one half of the duo can hold the bad guys' attention while the other snipes or moves around to flank and pick them off. It's actually a lot of fun, and the moments when you and your partner are separated but still working as a team are where the game truly shines - which is why it's a shame that most of the fighting has the two of you fairly close together in narrow, linear-feeling hallways.

In fact, the game actually feels really fun whenever Salem and Rios aren't just ducking out from pillars and raining hot lead down on anyone unlucky enough to be on the other end of things. The optional sequences where the two will have to coordinate sniper attacks to take out terrorists about to execute their civilian hostages work really well, and they're enjoyable to pull off even if you don't care about the positive morality points (and you really shouldn't, seeing as the morality system seems very cursory).

The major choices - where one of the duo gets to decide the fate of another character roughly once per level (for example, telling a young Chinese boy to go bring them a discarded sniper rifle under fire) - are actually intriguing beyond the mere "moral choice" system if only for the fact that a series of comic book storyboards tells you the ultimate consequence of your choice. It's interesting to see how they play out, but one might be forgiven for thinking that they were written by M. Night Shyamalan given the amount of twists.

In the end, Army of Two: The 40th Day certainly isn't a bad game - it's competent albeit with an occasionally frustrating camera, and was entertaining enough to hold my interest with moments of "oh hey, that was cool" - but it certainly isn't a great one, either. It's average, and no amounts of fist-pounding or ass-patting can change that.

Bottom Line: You could do a lot worse than The 40th Day, a decent-looking game with competent if not exceptional gunplay and some cool co-op moments. But the bone-dry story, run-of-the-mill gameplay and general feeling of "Yeah, we've seen this before" mean that you could do a lot better, too. It's enough to make one wish the characters were gay just so it'd be doing something different.

Recommendation: Rent it, and play it with a buddy. You'll probably enjoy it, but not enough to be worth $60.

Score:

John Funk unlocked the "Ambiguous" title for Salem and Rios. Make of that what you will.

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