Army of Two: The 40th Day First Look
Salem and Rios return, but now they're in Shanghai on the brink of disaster.
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Cooperative gameplay has become a huge part of shooters over the past few years, but few games in the genre have taken to the buddy-system style of action with as much commitment as Army of Two. And while the team at EA Montreal had some very lofty ambitions for this mercenary-themed romp through the Middle East, the result was a collection of interesting ideas that felt like they could have come together a bit more cohesively. Having just had the opportunity to see the newly announced sequel, Army of Two: The 40th Day, we can now say the team working on this follow-up has as much of an eye on the original's shortcomings as any nitpicky reviewer.
Army of Two: The 40th Day will trade in the multitude of international hotspots featured in the original for one consistent setting--but it's an interesting one. The game takes place in Shanghai as the city is being ripped apart by an unexplained series of disasters. It's an interesting mixture of modern skyscrapers and utter wreckage lining the streets. The members of the EA Montreal development team we spoke with stressed how they wanted to come up with an original locale that wasn't the military war zone so often visited in shooters, going so far as to cite the movie Cloverfield as an inspiration for the game's disaster zone. Compared to the first game's collection of locations--places you'd expect private military contractors to find themselves in--Shanghai on the verge of apocalypse should be an interesting departure.
So while a fresh and unexpected setting are one way EA Montreal plans to top the first game, another is to remove the hiccups and idiosyncrasies that kept players from working together as a consistent team. The developers have gone about this by focusing on simplifying the game's controls while simultaneously offering a more fluid sense of co-op strategy. In terms of controls, some of the ways they've eased things up is by implementing an automatic cover system. You simply crouch into an object, and your character will automatically snap into it. Similarly, you can now sprint using a Gears of War-style action camera that follows you low to the ground, but all you need to do to vault over cover is to continue holding the sprint button as you run into it, while letting go at the last second lets you slide on the ground and snap into cover. In addition, some tweaks to the aiming system have been made to let your reticle snap onto enemies more easily.
To achieve a more consistent feeling of teamwork, one thing the team has done--perhaps ironically--is give you more moments when Salem and Rios, the game's two protagonists, are split up. This forces you to work together as a pair to rescue the buddy left in a worse spot. In one scenario, the two were separated on a skyscraper rooftop when a massive explosion went off, forcing one of them to knock down a radio tower to let the other crawl back over. Later on, we were shown a scene where the pair had to snipe a pair of enemies holding civilians hostage. But in this case, only one of them was close enough to make out who the enemy was, relying on the closer player to give a verbal cue to the distant player to know whom to shoot.
Another new feature is what's called the Co-Op Playbook. This is basically a flash of information on your screen you can call up to give you intel on your surroundings. Engage it while staring at a group of bad guys and you'll be able to tell who the elites and privates are and which ones are civilians. It's a good way to tell whom to take out first, because privates tend to get nervous when their superiors suddenly get shot down or grabbed and turned into a human shield. When one player tags enemies and civilians like this, it will show up on the other player's screen--helping out in that distant sniping scenario we just mentioned.
From a technology perspective, The 40th Day is looking very nice. The environments do a good job of reflecting the state of disaster Shanghai has been caught up in, while animations, such as enemies keeling over on the brink of death and your character sneaking about or sliding into cover, are similarly impressive. But what might have been most impressive was one scene from the rooftops that showed the bulk of Shanghai’s skyline suddenly erupting in a series of explosions. One thing we still need to see about is the character dialogue, which managed to put off a lot of people in the first game with some pretty frat-house-level interactions. But there does seem to be an effort to humanize the two protagonists a bit more, because they'll now pop up their masks when the enemy threat has died down, giving you the chance to see their real faces.
Army of Two: The 40th Day is currently in development for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PSP. No announce date has been hinted at just yet, but we'll be sure to keep you updated with more impressions as development continues.