It seems fitting that Army of Two: The 40th Day was released this summer as the title has the same feeling as a summer blockbuster movie. Be assured that you won't find a video game equivalent of Shakespeare in Army of Two: The 40th Day, in fact, we'll be so blunt as to say that this game is about as shallow as the kiddie pool at your local leisure centre. But that's not exactly a bad thing as while TFD is light on plot, it's heavy on action - and that's just the way some of us gamers like to roll.
As the title suggests, you won't be in command of an enormous army in TFD. Instead you'll find yourself in control of the modest army of Salem and Rios, two scarred brute mercenaries who are reprising their roles from the previous title in the series, Army of Two. This time around players will find themselves in the middle of Shanghai. At the start of the game our two protagonists are in the middle of completing a contract that seems too good to be true - because it is. All of a sudden their cake-walk assignment is torn to pieces as these mercs find themselves in a city being bombarded with missiles for no discernible reason. We soon find out that a mysterious paramilitary group is behind the chaos and it's up to these two masked men to fight their way out of Shanghai before it crumbles around them. While the game may be light on plot, one thing the story benefits from this time is the fact that the game presents players with a single scenario to contend with rather than the jarring jump between time periods and locales that the first game served up. This singular story focus gives players a chance to somewhat connect with the game's characters. We are thrust into the harrowing action and we are able to watch as Salem and Rios traverse from situation to situation, but as we play through the game we find that this transition isn't as easy as we first thought. You see it in their haggard faces and hear it in their weary voices. Being a mercenary is hard work, and these boys have just about had enough.
The game uses the total annihilation and paramilitary occupation of Shanghai to create some dramatic, full-throttle action moments, but sadly, these high-octane moments are peppered between some pretty big lulls as you progress past the first third of the title. The opening stages of the game find Salem and Rios literally fleeing for their lives as they fighting their way through crumbling skyscrapers to reach their objective. While, the docks stage found near the end of the game serves up some incredibly paced action as you are forced to navigate your way through dozens of heavily armed enemies, creating some intense firefights. This stage is incredibly satisfying as you are forced into a tug of war with opposition forces, fighting for every inch of ground, ultimately becoming satisfied as you turn the tide of battle against your opponents. Sadly these two scenarios that we've explained serve as highlight of the game, bookending the mediocrity of levels that serve as the middle of the title. Ultimately, the adrenaline pumping set piece battles set the tone for the title early on, before the game slides in to a pretty run of the mill cover-heavy, co-op-driven shooting experience.
Co-operation is the key to this title, in fact we strongly recommend that if you do decide to take TFD for a spin that you do it with a buddy in tow as it makes for a more satisfying experience. If you've played the first title at all, you'd know that TFD really gets its jollies off on the strength of its co-operative gameplay mechanic (which is playable in both local split-screen and online co-op) . The game is crafted with two players in mind, providing gamers with a number of fun tricks to undertake if you have a human buddy on your side - which seem all the more dissatisfying when you realise that your AI partner can't pull half of these moves off effectively. One of our favourite moves was the old lure your enemy into a false sense of security trick where one player would walk up to a group of enemies in mock surrender, while the other player would creep to higher ground and snipe away the enemies with ease. When playing the game with the AI partner it's plain to see that the title was designed to be played with two players, and not having a human buddy to play with definitely gives it a watered down experience.
An interesting, if not perplexing choice of feature is the title's morality system. While it provides an interesting perspective of situations at times, it feels like an odd fit as this system creates odd shifts in the game's tone. For instance this feature presents players with segments in the story where players must choose between two clearly defined 'good or evil' actions which can present players with some intriguing consequences (and a cool comic strip like sequence) which will influence the way the story will pan out. These morality choices usually boil down to the player being rewarded for an evil choice by receiving bonus cash or weaponry, while a good morality choice will be rewarded with, well, goodness is its own reward... What is most perplexing at times by this feature is that sometimes that good morality choice turns out to be not as good as you'd hoped it would be. For instance, there is one section of the game where you meet a Russian mercenary who wishes to rough up a woman that he comes across. When you look at this woman's bloody and battered face, you can't help but want to put the dirty Russian in his place, but as the comic strip sequence plays out in front of your eyes, let's just say that this young lass isn't exactly what she seems to be.
The biggest feature of the title by far is the weapon customisation system, which players will be able to access whenever they are not engaged in combat throughout the campaign. As players progress through the game, new guns and equipment will be unlocked for purchase. Players also have the opportunity to pilfer upgrade parts from storage crates peppered throughout the game's levels. In the weapon customisation screen players are able to purchase new guns (SMGs, pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, and RPGs to name a few), weapon upgrades (such as silencers, bullet clips telescopic sights, and bayonets) not to mention a few other upgrades such as increasing your character's grenade and ammo capacity. Customisation is encouraged thanks to the obscene amounts of money that can be earned in-game, not to mention the fact that many weapons have interchangeable upgrades. In fact, it's quite surprising how entertaining it is to fiddle around with your weapon load out in order to experiment with the best way of tackling any given situation, and with the ability to instantly jump into a particular segment of game, some players may find themselves drawn to revisiting certain areas of the game to tackle a particular battle with a new weapon.
Now to the feature that we didn't think panned out so well, namely the game's cover mechanic. While most title's these days employ a 'tap button x to go into cover', TFD replaces that system with something that is meant to be easier - the ability to naturally enter cover. While we are sure that this was created to create a less cluttered control scheme, this feature proves to be one of the biggest bug-a-boo's of the game. Why? Because more often than not players will stupidly think that they are safely away in cover only to be blasted by an enemy machine gun and realise that you weren't as safe as you thought you were. Ironically, while this system was meant to take away ducking for cover from the gamer's responsibility, it in fact has done the opposite as players will be clicking their left analog sticks in haste in order to crouch out of the firing line.
Another persistent issue is the multiplayer lag. More often than not we would be subjected to severe slowdown which left us frustratingly dead more often than not. What is even more frustrating is that these occurrences occurred with other players that all lived in the vicinity of each other and not playing with a partner from the other side of the globe. Fortunately, while multiplayer can be a laggy affair, the single-player element of the game is much smoother with the title keeping a fairly consistent frame rate. The only real noticeable frame rate issues occurred when you've got a dozen enemies firing grenades and rockets into your face, and frankly that seemed pretty justified with the amount of action occurring on screen.
Overall, Army of Two: The 40th Day is a title which implores you to bunker down on the couch with a good mate and see what silly tactics you can come up with to take on the enemy. While weighed down by some ho-hum level design, laggy multiplayer and annoying gameplay mechanics, if the thought of you and a friend going Chuck Norris on the bad guys sounds like a fun time, you might find a delightful past time in bunkering down with Army of Two: The 40th Day for a solid afternoon session of gaming.