Hey is that a grenade in your pocket?
Army of Two broke some new ground when it was released, giving players a solid co-op experience with a friend or a flawed AI buddy. It was a short game, clocking in at around 6 hours even on Contractor difficulty. It had a smattering of multiplayer game modes and they all put a spin on cooperative play. Now, finally we have Army of Two: The 40th Day and we were able to put it through its paces recently.
Rios and Salem are back, they're private contractors now running their own company and they have a new mission. Tasked with an important job in Shanghai they have to contend with all hell breaking loose around them, save their own asses and still get paid. It is pretty much a Hollywood Disaster Movie story and it's told through solid cut-scene work and some high quality voice acting.
TFD is a 3rd person cooperative cover based shooter, with a streamlined cover mechanic and a fairly solid layer of tactics. You can either play it solo with a credible AI buddy covering your back or you can play with a friend, locally, split-screen or over Xbox Live. If you choose to play with an AI buddy you can order them via a simple orders system based on the d-pad. You can have them advance either aggressively or defensively with the following orders.
Hold: They'll seek available cover and generate aggro on aggressive or only fire when they need to on defensive. They'll snipe cooperatively if you leave them on defensive as well.
Regroup: They will follow you and leave most enemies alone on defensive, but on aggressive they'll cause some serious aggro.
Advance: On defensive they move from cover to cover, keeping out of trouble but on aggressive they go in guns blazing and take a hell of a lot of damage as well as dishing it out.
Partner Cam: See what your partner sees in a small HUD.
Thanks to solid level design TFD never really feels forced, even though it's a linear experience it often finds ways to break that up by allowing you to choose alternate routes, flank your enemies and work together as a team. There are a few key moments in the game where you enter a back to back, infinite ammo state and mow down hordes of enemies in a hail of bullets.
There are also times where you can capture an enemy soldier and force the whole squad to surrender without firing a shot. Usually when in a hostage situation, you'll be able to work cooperatively with your buddy and save lives (if you want) gaining lots of cash and unique weapons/weapon parts for the gun customisation system. You can tie down the captured enemies and gain positive morality, or you can just kill everyone and gain negative morality. It's up to you.
There are also cooperative choices throughout TFD. A button prompt will appear with a choice upon it and its first come first serve. Do you spare a guy for no reward and a big morality boost, or do you go the greedy route and kill him to get access to the guns and gear he might be hiding. It's not always black and white - you'll get to see the repercussions in a nifty comic-book style movie right there and then.
Step jumps are back and so are the positive and negative reinforcement actions, you can give your partner a hearty fist-bump or headbutt them if they do something wrong. This all affects the character's relationship, shown on the pause screen and ties into game trophies or achievements on the 360. All in all the new actions, coop choices and hostage situations build on the solid groundwork for Army of Two. In TFD the controls feel better; the aiming feels a lot better and there seems to be a point to sneaking around, since enemies don't automatically spot you when you're sneaking.
Aggro is dealt with simply, your partner or you shoot a lot and draw the enemy's attention. Then the other person sneaks around using a low aggro weapon or their melee attack (much improved from the first game) to take down bad guys. Cover is the key here and against the much tougher boss-style bad guys you'll need to use a lot of strategy to get into a position where you can flank and hit their weak spot. Fortunately you can blind fire and move around cover quickly, leaping over it effortlessly.
The gameplay improvements for TFD don't just rest in the controls of course, no, EA have overhauled the weapon customisation system to allow you to equip a large array of gun parts across a nice selection of weapons. Once you buy a gun or unlock it, you can then usually put key parts of that gun onto another gun. Barrels, stocks, magazines, scopes and more can be fiddled with, interchanged and so on. Basically, you can pretty much build the custom gun of your dreams by monitoring the stats, sure having high damage is great but perhaps you might want more aggro or even better, a higher precision.
You can also trick out your weapon with custom soda can silencers, kitchen knife bayonets and pipe-bomb launchers. As long as you find the correct weapon blueprint hidden on the various levels.
TFD clocks in at around 7-8 hours for the single player campaign and is criminally short in that respect, sure there are a couple of reasons to replay the game from start to finish for achievements and unlocks, but we expected a longer campaign since Army of Two was also short.
The game allows you to customise and change your weapons at most times via a quick access menu, unless you're deep in combat and your ally is too far away. The game also uses a fairly decent checkpoint save system, along with an auto save that records changes to your customised weapons most of the time, there were a few moments where we died and had to re-buy all our mods again.
Your mask also allows you to tag targets; you can get a GPS-style tracking path to your next objective as well as a quick look at enemy soldiers, picking a high ranking officer out from a crowd of grunts for instance. The gameplay improvements and control changes are welcome; they make the experience much more enjoyable this time around though, there are a few more little things that I haven't mentioned and that's on purpose since I like there to be a few feature surprises.
Not only is the game better to play, it's better looking with a greater level of detail and a better selection of masks for both characters to wear. You can also go to the Army of Two website and create a custom mask for use in game, having tried this, it's possible to get a pretty good looking mask from this online software and the game implementation is nigh-on flawless for single player. We never checked too closely on the multiplayer side of things since we were too busy shooting everyone.
TFD has a richer texture palette and a better level of detail in the environments and the characters, Salem and Rios both look much better than their AoT counterparts and they have a much more defined sense of visual personality. Light and shadow works well here and there are some good explosion effects. The game seems to suffer from the Unreal Engine curse now and then but the texture fade in is very slight and is only seen when you come out of the weapon customisation screen.
Good quality animations abide in TFD, the whole system is solid and there are some great buddy moments when you press A or B. You can even play rock-paper-scissors with your partner for some added comradely fun. The death animations are excellent and the characters motion in and out of combat is spot on. Cover has been smoothed in terms of how the characters can enter it and blind-fire animations look decent. Hand to hand there are some great character animations as Salem and Rios react differently to threats, Rios is much more violent and has a wicked clothesline attack.
Partner AI is significantly improved from AoT and in TFD your partner can actually rescue you from certain death 99% of the time. There have been a couple of incidents where the AI hasn't got a clue how to deal with opening a locked door on the other side of an area where they were boosted over, this only happened a couple of times through the whole game. For the most part your partner AI knows how to fight, how to take cover, use strategies when in defensive mode and can even cooperatively snipe when set to the right behaviour mode. All in all, it's good enough to finish the game with.
Enemy AI is pretty good; they can use all the moves Rios and Salem can, hand to hand, last stand (going down but not out), chokeholds and hostage taking. They can use cover, they can even step jump and boost their friends around the levels architecture. They react to gunfire by heading to cover, usually blind-firing and laying down suppressive fire. They seem to have a grasp of flanking tactics and do not seem to have X-ray vision this time.
A good quality sound suite is packed into the game; there are some nice gun sounds as well as the usual ambient sounds of the various environments. None of it seems to fit badly and the various bone-crunching shots and melee strikes work well.
The game has an epic action score that fades in and out where needed, it doesn't detract from the gameplay and fits the setting very well.
Nolan North voices Salem and both he and his counterpart, combined with the writing, have managed to transform both characters into a pair of likeable anti-heroes. The writing overall is pretty clichéd in places but it works well with the overarching plot and action. The voice work is good, solid and there are some great verbal moments between the characters. Bad guy voice work is just as good and your enemies will make you hate them.
With completely reworked network code and slightly less lag, though there still seems to be some. TFD boasts Extraction mode as the key mode to the game...unfortunately due to a snafu somewhere we didn't get our code and the review is past my self-imposed deadline so far. However after checking it out elsewhere thanks to a friend who has managed to get access, I can say that Extraction is as fun as Gears of War 2 Horde Mode or Halo ODST's Firefight.
It also reminded us a little of the coop shooting mode in Uncharted 2, and that's not a bad thing. It's for up to 4 players and you face off against waves of 40th day goons, just what the stress-doctor ordered.
The rest of the multiplayer is for 2-10 players and they are split up into 2 man squads. There's Squad Deathmatch where the squads battle it out to see who is the most deadly, there's Control where the squads must hold control points around the battle field and there's an objective based mode called Warzone where the squads must fulfil their objective, these objectives are assigned randomly.
All in all the mp works quite well with customisation and so forth being available, as well as a decent selection of maps rife with tactical opportunities and cover.
Two is better than one!
TFD proves that there is a chance for the sequel to be better than the original, in almost every single way. The game is definitely worth picking up if you're a fan of the first and want more cooperative action. With a fairly solid mp game package too, there's a lot of replay value in that side of Army of Two 40th Day. It only crashed on us the once as well, so that's much better than the first game too.