Army of Two: The 40th Day (Xbox 360)
Army of Two has done some growing up. The first installment of EA's co-op third-person shooter focused on the frat-boy bromance of private military corporation (PMC) soldiers Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios. While you can still do chest-bumps and play air guitar in Army of Two: The 40th Day, the new sequel approaches the duo's adventures with a slightly more sober tone.
But a change in tone doesn't mean an improved plot. If most games have thin stories, then The 40th Day's plot should be rushed to an Anorexics Anonymous meeting. It opens with a huge terrorist attack in Shanghai that features multiple scenes of burning skyscrapers toppling into each other. Game Truster John Teti -- who teamed up with me to play -- called the dialogue a library of clich?s. If you care to listen to the collectible radio logs hidden throughout the game, you'll hear about a loose coalition of PMCs called the 40th Day who are responsible for all the chaos.
Of course, story mostly matters if you're playing single-player, and there's no point in playing The 40th Day single-player. The game is dogmatically cooperative to the point that every garage door and grate needs to be opened by both burly Rios and slender Salem.
The sequel lets you design your own armored mask. At the end of each round of play, Heidi Klum and a panel of celebrity judges tell you if you're in or out.
Even morality gets a two-player twist. In these moments, a pair of prompts appears on-screen, and you can discuss whether to (for example) let a little boy make a run for a rifle. But only one player is needed to make the decision, and the partner with the quickest response can assert himself and make the call solo. The game punishes bad behavior by locking you out of assets such as new gun parts.
It also takes two people to figure out where you're supposed to go in the game. You know how good level design can tell you where to go instinctively? Yeah, The 40th Day's got none of that. Worse still, when you bring up the GPS to find your objective, it can take forever to load. Even the sound design is poor. Not being able to make out vital non-player character dialogue kills the experience.
So why the Try It rating? Simply put, The 40th Day's fun comes from the co-op. The game sports a wicked difficulty curve, and figuring out a winning tactic for a section of a level can make players feel like strategic geniuses. The difficulty can also be managed by smart weapon customization. Always running out of sniper rifle ammo? Put a scope on that AK-47, and it's bye-bye, faraway bad guys. This time out, the customization feels like less of a gimmick and more of a necessity.
The main flaw of The 40th Day is that it lacks that elusive sense of symbiosis you can feel in games like Gears of War or Left 4 Dead. The Aggro Meter, which indicates which partner has the enemies' attention, makes a return but is mostly unchanged.
Along with the morality ratings, it makes the terms of your relationship explicit, and takes some of the mystery out of the bonding. Teti and I got called Non-Committal Philanthropists at the end of one level and didn't feel one way or another about it. But, we are starting up a band with that name.
Army of Two still can't rank with today's elite co-op shooting experiences. Maybe it's the thin story, but The 40th Day doesn't quite feel like life or death.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 game provided by the publisher.