The lights are on
The original Army of Two co-op shooter launched a few years ago to good sales - so it makes good sense that EA Montreal would pump out a sequel to bring more fans into the experience. Army of Two: the 40th Day gives center stage to the core co-op shooting and gun customization, the main highlights of the 2008 release. While these components are even better this time around, EA Montreal failed to address the issues that marred the original.
The story is pretty bland, serving as nothing more than a vehicle to drive hired guns Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios into fast-paced shootouts. After moving their 2-man mercenary force (TWO, short for Trans-World Operations - a bad pun) to Shanghai to take on a simple mission to place beacons (which, of course, serves as a tutorial to all of the mechanics - well, almost all of them) the city is attacked by a huge mercenary force - dubbed the "Fortieth Day Initiative" aka "FDI" that takes the city hostage for unknown reasons, executing civilians and generally bringing the city under control. After shooting their way out of a warehouse, the two mercs look for a way out of the city assisted by their handler from the first game, Alice Murray.
The cutscenes are annoying. Very annoying, in that they are long, uneventful, terribly acted, unskippable, and lack subtitles. Which is complete bullsh*t considering the first game had only a couple of these issues - they had subtitles and were completely skippable. But in an even worse act of unrighteousness, they often placed checkpoints during the cutscenes, meaning that if a player died (which will happen often thanks to a terribly uninformative health indicator and lousy AI) they had to watch it from the beginning. BAM! There goes thirty long seconds of their life watching a building crumble amid random noises and bad visual effects.
While I'm talking about them, checkpoints in TFD (The 40th Day - a common abbreviation for the game) are just bad. on harder difficulties, they're downright unforgivable, especially one before the penultimate level leaving the player to watch their little cover whittled away by constant MG fire and suddenly collapsing from RPG fire. This may sound exciting until they realize that even on low difficulties, one hit from an RPG at close range means death - not being downed, simply from standing to dead. Splash damage from the RPG downs a player, who will, while being dragged to safety, will subsequently get hit again and die. Even after you finally kill the group of enemies, no checkpoint. Move up a little and a heavy Gatling gunner will step on to the field and hose the player right down, and puppy-guard until your buddy comes to help - only to be gunned down as well. Dying here, an inevitable fate, forces the player to kill the army touting RPGs once again. Also, cash gained is lost if the checkpoint is reverted - which would be okay if players didn't also lose any and all upgrades they got for their guns during that checkpoint as well.
If players are playing in local or online co-op, their enjoyment is increased. While issuing orders to a fellow buffoon is effortless, he often neglects his own safety trying to follow them, and in a terrible decision meant to keep him near the player, commands are automatically issued to regroup him whenever players break an invisible leash to him. This causes problems when I'm trying to lure tangos into an area my buddy is covering with a mounted machine gun. Playing in co-op makes these problems much more manageable.
Okay, I'm done with my endlessly negative rant. When the game plops players onto the battlefield, it's an endless flow of joy. Despite the sub-par visuals and bad dialogue, gameplay is smooth and responsive, the guns handle like a dream, and the cover system works great. I only had a few issues with the game recognizing cover throughout the thirty hours I spent playing the game. The aiming is smooth and I barely noticed any form of aim assist (I never felt like I needed the snapping, but unfortunately it cannot be turned off) so there's another plus.
Weapon customization is deep, with thousands of possible weapon customizations via an improved system that allows players to swap out guns parts with those from other guns in the player's arsenal, so they could have a G36C with the barrel of an AK-47, the stock of an M4 carbine, the 30 round magazine used by the SCAR-L, and a 40mm grenade launcher with a 3X red dot scope. Customization can be entered at any time now, and money is also an enemy drop in addition to a bonus for completing objectives. During a playthrough, players will have the difficult decision of whether to save up for that AA-12 automatic shotgun or to upgrade the magazine size of their M249 SAW machine gun - I found both ways worked alright for me, even though I started my profile on the hardest difficulty.
Online multiplayer doesn't fare as well. Lag issues frequent the battlefield, and "online progress", as the game calls it, is questionable. The versus plops players into a mess of undefined words (Why would I hesitate to end a "partnership" by returning to the campaign if I don't even know a "partnership" is!) as well as text that makes no sense whatsoever. Leaving a game - whether it has finished or not - presents players with a strange warning: "Are you sure you want to leave? This will influence your stats and affect online progression." First off, it's never explained how this will "influence my stats" or "affect online progression" - I don't even recall this game having any "online progression" besides an XP bar that tells you how close you are to the next level and a "level" which does... I'm not exactly sure. There seems to be no incentive to rank up, either - just a worthless number on a worthless multiplayer. Given how robust the customization options are in single-player, it's completely unacceptable that multiplayer forces you to pick from about six preset kits.
Extraction, a game type in multiplayer, is a four-player co-op match that pits players in pitifully small maps with a pitifully small amount of rounds labeled "squads" against pitifully stupid AI - unlimited grenade supplies deny the gametype balance and the only spot where anyone should have trouble (thanks to an unadjustable difficulty setting) is against stupidly hard RPG heavy units who outright ignore the "downed but not out" feature which, like most modern co-op experiences, allow a player to be healed by another player to keep them in the game. Players could be doing perfectly right up until this baddie steps onto the field and ruins your day with four consecutive RPG shots - there' s no way to bring back a dead team mate, so if some ***hole grenades a player to death, he/she is out for the rest of the game.
EA Montreal has crafted some entertaining shooting, but even the DLC can't keep away from achievement glitches - a recurring problem with EA's games for the 360 and PS3 - that, as of yet, denied me a sense of full completion. (EA! I BEAT THE DLC, AND YOU'RE DENYING ME THOSE HARD-EARNED ACHIEVEMENTS - BECAUSE I HAVE SOME ONLINE ACHIEVEMENTS!? AND YOU HAVEN'T PATCHED THEM, LET ALONE ACKNOWLEDGED THEIR EXISTENCE, YET!? WTF EA!)
If you like fun shooting, which I do, and think that exciting gunplay can help you overlook severe technical flaws (and terrible dialogue), which I do, than Army of Two: TFD is worth it. Just one thing. If you give a sh*t about achievements/trophies and plan on getting the DLC, do not - I repeat, do not - unlock any Extraction/Versus/online only achievements until you get all of the DLC achievements. There's a nasty achievement glitch that you can find by Googling "Chapters of Deceit achievements glitched" and to all getting it, enjoy... I guess.
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