Army Of Two: The 40th Day
When the closest point of reference for a game, other than its own forebear, is a game starring 50 Cent, and it fails to measure up even to that, you know you’re onto a bad thing. But seriously, all we could think while playing Army Of Two: The 40th Day was that it was like 50 Cent: Blood On The Sand, but with none of the charm and little of the fun. Blood On The Sand may have been pretty generic and ordinary in many respects, but the action was well-paced and the ridiculous story delivered with enough of a knowing wink, that it actually felt refreshing in an era dominated by games smothered by pointless gimmicks and futile attempts to be ‘adult’ and ‘gritty’. As it happens, Army Of Two: The 40th Day is just one of those games – a prime example in fact. It left us feeling first, quite bored, and second, totally confused as to exactly what EA Montreal thought it was trying to do.
Most of Army Of Two’s gimmicks tie into the co-operative theme, but rather than enhancing that experience, they serve only to dumb it down, making it feel hamstrung by its own clumsy efforts to make it clear, in words of no more than one syllable, that this is a game about two people working together. Rather than present you with a range of tightly designed, truly varied scenarios that require you to figure out for yourselves how best to co-operate – in the way that the brilliant Spec Ops mode does in Modern Warfare 2 – The 40th Day just gives you one long uninventive shooting gallery that, in itself, doesn’t require two people at all, then litters it with things that two people either can or have to do together in order to trick you into thinking it does.
For example, there’s a disproportionate number of doors that need two people to open them for no apparent reason. Does this serve to make you feel like you’re working as a team? No, it just slows things up unnecessarily. Then there are the shields. One player can pick up a shield and the other can latch on behind him. A fun novelty the first time, but it soon dawns on you that each of you is actually able to do less when using a shield and that you’d be having more fun and making faster progress without it. The Aggro system is occasionally more useful, but it’s far from the clever, tactical mechanic EA would like you to believe it is. It’s less about making you act smart and more about making the enemy AI act really dumb. It works by causing enemies to focus their attention on the player who’s being the more aggressive.
That’s logical enough, but it’s effective to the point that if one player attacks furiously enough to swing the Aggro meter all the way over to his side, enemies will totally forget that the other player exists and ignore him even if he’s right in front of them. On one occasion we went right up to an enemy and hit the melee button. Our melee attack missed again and again and again (which is a very annoying, but entirely separate issue, by the way) until eventually he just took us down. This being Army Of Two, though, we didn’t die, rather we just lay at his feet still able to move and attack in a limited capacity.
However, because all our melee attacks had missed, we had caused no Aggro and the meter was all the way up our partner’s end. This meant that, rather than doing the sensible thing and finishing us off, the enemy standing over us turned his attention to our partner, leaving us to shoot him in the side of the head from almost point-blank range. We can’t think of a word to accurately describe this enemy’s behaviour… well, we can think of several actually, but they’re all very politically incorrect. Unless an opportunity to exploit the idiotic AI in this kind of a way comes up, you won’t use the Aggro system much because it requires one player to do nothing for a while, and that’s boring.
Other dumb gimmicks include ‘Extreme Morality’ (see Spoilt Child boxout), zebra print sniper rifles (speaks for itself) and ‘Play Books’, which are little videos of maps, markers and arrows designed to make it look like the gameplay’s really tactical, when all they’re really doing is pointing out something really obvious, unnecessary or both. Not one of them genuinely adds to the experience and without them all you have is a plodding, barely competent third-person shooter with above average production values and very average everything else.