Plenty of shooters are set in locales rife with political turmoil and social upheaval, but few take the genre into full-blown disaster zones. Sure, there are some good reasons for that--most of them beginning and ending with the fact that people would likely be too busy fighting for survival to fight each other--but it's a setting that presents designers with a lot of room to explore new ideas. EA Montreal has been doing just that with the development of Army of Two: The 40th Day, a shooter that takes place in Shanghai as the city is falling apart left and right.
In a recent look at The 40th Day, we explored a crumbling office building that, at one point, toppled over at a 45-degree angle that we then had to traverse down in the middle of a heated shoot-out. That's certainly one of the game's bigger set pieces, but even the game's less spectacular environments are pretty striking. Take, for example, our latest hands-on time with The 40th Day. Dual co-op protagonists Salem and Rios have made their way into the Shanghai Zoo, which has been hit hard by the destruction going on all over the city. In one continuous sequence, we gazed up at the sky to see a jetliner crashing down to earth, quickly followed by a shoot-out in which our only defense was--and this is the best part--taking cover behind a dead hippopotamus.
That general feeling of "What the heck is going on here?" is something that EA Montreal wants to instill in players early and often. The developer's goal is to take your expectations of typical third-person shooter settings and toss them aside in favor of the unexpected. That theme carries over into the type of weaponry you'll be using, as well. You can use cash earned in-game to customize your guns like in the original Army of Two, and while you can still unlock a gold-plated finish for your weapon, the general look of your customized loadout is a little more down-to-earth. We were shown a gun that had been modified with a makeshift bayonet consisting of a screwdriver tied to the barrel of the gun, as well as an ice pick bayonet and a stock made of bent wire. But the real king of the makeshift add-ons--or "homebrew parts, as EA Montreal calls them--was a gun that had been outfitted with a soda-can silencer.
Another area of focus for the development team has been making the action less black and white than it was previously. Whereas the firefights in the original game had a fairly obvious on-off switch--with players either in a big shoot-out or not in a big shoot-out and very little room in between--the sequel has added scenarios for you to sneak up on enemies and get a bit of a jump on them. In the zoo, we had a chance to walk up to a group of thugs relaxing on the other side of the hippo pen and snipe them from afar, and later in the demo we had the opportunity to crawl up behind a group of enemies and let one player take a guy hostage, while the other player held back and sniped them from afar. Other possibilities in these situations allow you to mock surrender to draw attention from guards and let the other player ambush them, or tag enemies using a special targeting screen to determine ahead of time which player goes after which guys. Combine those frequent opportunities for strategizing with similarly frequent miniboss battles against heavily armed super-enemies, and it looks like there should be a good amount of gameplay variety.
While the amount of frat-boy one-liners spouted by Salem and Rios have been reduced for the sequel to make them at least slightly more likable characters, they're still prone to goofing around in the heat of the moment. You can actually have the two walk up to each other and engage in a real game of rock-paper-scissors, complete with victory celebration animations from the winning character. It doesn't have any consequences in the game other than letting you decide who gets to play the fake hostage or try to get through an entire level with only screwdriver kills or whatever else your imagination comes up with, but it's there just the same. In a game where you're fighting in collapsing buildings, it's nice to see that EA hasn't forgotten the small things. We'll see what else they have in store as we get closer to the game's January 12 release date.