Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Save Shanghai in "Army of Two: The 40th Day"

I'm bustin' caps

"Army of Two: The 40th Day"

Developed by EA Montreal
Published by Electronic Arts
Available: NOW
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3 and PSP
Rated M

I don't know if I can trust my co-workers who play video games anymore. During our once-in-a-while play sessions in the Fish Bowl on Thursday, my co-workers took "Army of Two: The 40th Day" for a spin.

The initial report? BORING. Training, training, training - cutscenes you couldn't skip and some action, but overall - mission failure.

So, you can imagine how I felt when I played through the first few levels of "Army of Two: The 40th Day." I guess they were playing blindfolded because I did not see anything that they were talking about. What I saw was a well-designed, 3rd person shooter that outpaces the original by light years.

Developed by EA Montreal, "The 40th Day" is the sequel to best-selling game "Army of Two." The first one was a testosterone-charged shooter. This one, however, goes a different route - and sends "Army of Two" back to basic training.

Set entirely in Shanghai, China, "Army of Two: The 40th Day" follows the path of two ex-Army Rangers-turned-private-military contractors, Salem and Rios. The mercs must fight their way through a large military force attacking the city. The enemy AI is relentless - and you will find out quickly that cover is essential.

The game starts with peaceful Shanghai, tourists snapping pictures - when all of a sudden, rockets devastate the city. Chaos fills the streets - and you (and a partner) can take control of Rios or Salem.

There is a very small training stage - you will learn how to use your GPS beacon and follow green arrows to your objectives. Your first real test is taking an enemy officer hostage. Here's a very interesting twist. If you take a soldier hostage, his buddies won't care and they'll open fire. If you take an officer hostage - or an elite as well - the lower soldiers will surrender. In hostage situations - and you'll encounter a few of them during your play through, you'll have the option of taking the officer hostage and saving the civilians - or go in, with guns blazing - and take your chances. Be forewarned - saving the civilians not only helps your moral stance, but produces special rewards like weapons and upgrades.

The weapon customization is thorough. Think "Need for Speed" type of customization. You can outfit your weapons with larger clips, scopes, silencers (but they take away from Agro - more on that later) and even pimped out - yes, I am not kidding - paint schemes. My personal favorite? Outfitting my tricked-out HK MP5 submachine gun with a bubble paint scheme. Oh, it's sooooo cute - and deadly.

You can also unlock weapons by letting NPCs in the game perform certain tasks - or have a very high moral stance.

I love you, man!

The main draw of the game, however, is the teamwork. It's not called "Army of Two" for nothing. If you opt for single player, your partner will be controlled by the computer. Talk about capable - my NPC could often saved my bacon quite a few times. When you are down, regardless of where your partner is, he'll come back and heal you. I was impressed indeed. Once, we were never the end of a level - and the NPC was far ahead, drawing tons of enemy fire when I got nailed by a sniper. I didn't call for help - I tried to get to safety. My partner, Salem, fought his way back to save me.

Reminds me of "You can be my wingman anytime ..."

As a team, you will want to use Agro to your advantage. What's Agro, M4dski11z? Agro is aggressive moves you (or your partner) performs that attracts enemy attention. Pinned down? Your partner may fire at enemies, attract their attention to let you regroup and outflank them. If you build up enough Agro, your partner can easily pick up several enemies, who are fully focused on you. You will also use Stepjump - where you or a partner raises the other to access a higher point one person alone can't reach.

If you are wounded badly and the enemy shows no sign of letting up, you can do a Feign death move. Basically, you play dead and the enemy ignores you because they think you can dead. You can use that time to regroup and attack again.

Teammates can also do mock surrenders. Oh, this is funny. I, as an enemy soldier, sees a guy in full body armor, grenades, with more guns than Neo in "The Matrix," walking up to me saying he surrenders. Yeah, right. Well, in "AOT: The 40th Day," you can do just that. If you walk up to a group, do a mock surrender, and let your partner stay back in the cut, and when the time is right, have him snipe a few enemies, while you do a quick-draw move and take out a few more. If you time it just right, the enemies, which are usually guarding stockpiles and chests, they won't have time to set off an alarm, which closes the chests. If the enemies can't close them, you can help yourself with a large amount of cash. Cha-ching!

Shields are also back, and shield-wielding enemies are often a bugger. You can order your partner to grab a shield and advance, and hit a button to go behind him until he drops the shield or the shield is heavily damaged.

Bringing the rain ...

Co-op modes for "The 40th Day" are robust and offer online and offline gaming. The main one I tested, campaign co-op over Xbox LIVE with an EA Montreal producer of "The 40th Day," let me invite him to join my SP game already in progress. In the co-op mode, he suggested weapons to buy, customizations to make, but I had to wait for him to finish - instead of doing all of it myself in SP.

Also, having a human as your team member produces some very funny moments.

During the zoo firefight, I had to save him from a heavy shotgunner. I was like "Didn't you like create this game?"

He laughed at my question.

"I did - but that shotgunner took me by surprise!" he replied.

As capable as my NPC Salem was, playing with a human buddy trumps all.

Gameplay is rock solid. It's an over-the-shoulder camera which most times functions swell. However, a few times, especially when my character shot enemies by raising his weapon from cover, the animation was choppy. The game oftentimes reminded me of "Gears of War" and "50 Cent: Blood on the Sand" with the controls and gameplay. The many different ways your partner offers to help you up - open a heavy door or hold a door open for you is very similar to 50 Cent's diamond-encrusted skull adventure too. Granted, there were no crates to smash, but with the attacking enemy decimating Shanghai to rocks and ash, the environment, the crumbling buildings and the devastation was strikingly similar to "Blood on the Sand."

The game also has a run function which already has, I'm sure, had gamers screaming at their screens "That's the roadie run from 'Gears!' "

Finally, when you are outnumbered and outgunned, the characters will go back-to-back and trigger a mode where you have infinite ammo and you and your partner will blow away wave after wave of baddies.

The graphics are pretty good - the unlockable Big Head mode is a lot of fun too - and easier to get headshots too.

The music and the score are pretty sweet. The weapons all have distinct sounds, which are recreated flawlessly in this game. And the dialogue - "Rios, get your head in the game, man!" is still somewhat jockish, but not as over-the-top as the previous "Army of Two."

The one thing, though, that really sets this game apparent are the mortality choices that you - and your partner will make. You may a few bad choices and your partner will disapprove. This has been a trend that I wish more games would adopt. I like making game-altering choices. Shoot, life is like that - and one wrong choice and you have to live with it.

"The 40th Day" is no different. You may be asked to off an animal - or spare it. Whatever you choose, an artboard will show you the outcome of your decision. This really made the game for me. I was pleased with most of my choices - other ones, not so much.

The verdict? 9.25 (out of 10): This game is so much more engaging, appealing and even better than the original. Oftentimes, that's not the case - sure the sequel is better, but this makes me never want to play "Army of Two" again. The gameplay is solid, co-op (along with Extraction mode) and online rocks and the mortality choices really affect how your partner - and even other NPCs - will respond in the game.

I'd definitely recommend enlisting and recruiting this game for your shooter collection.

-- M4dSki11z

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