Hands-on preview / Army of Two: The 40th Day (PSP)

Before attending an Army of Two: The 40th Day multiplayer preview event last week, I didn’t know the PSP version of the game would be available to play as well. Just a plain ol’ surprise. At that point the question becomes whether or not it’s a pleasant surprise. While I only had a total of about 10 to 20 minutes on it, I’ll say what I always say about co-op-based games. If you’ve got a buddy who also has it, then there’s certainly fun to be had.

The portable version of the game will follow the same story and use the same characters as its home console counterpart, and that is one of only a handful of similarities between the two. This is not a third-person shooter where tactical decisions between you and your pal will spell life or death. This is more like Super Smash TV with a little more emphasis on co-op play. There’s the overhead view of your characters as you move from battle to battle and kill lots of guys, and there’s a big boss battle at the end as well. The visual style is even a little bit cartoony. Since they couldn’t get the characters as detailed as on a full-fledged console, the physical traits were amplified a bit on the protagonists so they’d be easily recognized. In most ways, it’s a very familiar kind of action game.

But it has some bits that are true to the this burgeoning franchise as well. Co-op doesn’t have all the tactics at your disposal in the home console version, but a good team will certainly go far. The one thing that’s there in full force is Aggro, where one player will draw more enemy fire than the other. Making good use of it will make some battles a whole lot easier, and it’s in these little moments where the series was known to shine. There are also moments where the levels have forks in the road, and it’s typically beneficial for the two of you to branch apart. One difference from older games like Smash TV is that the two players don’t need to be on the same screen, so in these split off moments, it’s a little more fun and interesting than usual since your bud won’t be on view. That it translates as well as it does to this portable rendition gives the game promise and a confident loyalty to the heart of the franchise. Just like in its big brother, you’ll fail and talk out a solution with your buddy, and that’s always the best part of any co-op experience.

Army of Two: The 40th Day will also carry over the home console version’s “Morality Moments” where the two of you will have to make some morally ambiguous calls. These look to be fun, since both players will have the two choices available on their screen, but it’s the first to press the button that ultimately makes the call. So it is possible to renege on an agreement and cause all kinds of problems. This is something I’m curious to see play out on both versions of the game.

Another difference comes in the form of upgrades. Obviously, weapon bling isn’t much of an option on such a small screen, so the upgrades are focused squarely on the projectiles themselves. The flame thrower was a favorite among all of us playing, and you’ll be able to upgrade not only its traits, but also the color of the flame. This, of course, extends to your other weapons, and because the game is styled a little more cartoon-esque, you’ll find a more eccentric collection of weaponry in this one. For example, there’s a laser beam in there, and some others that have yet to be disclosed. So you’ll have your fair share of ways to get your killing done.

The game was not without some concerns, though. The most obvious one being that there is no online component to the multiplayer. There is local system link up, and single-player, and nothing else. So when I say you should get this with a buddy, also be sure this buddy won’t be leaving town on a long term basis. Regardless, it’s looking like you ought to find someone to play this with, because my other concern is, and this tends to apply to most co-op-focused games, this game won’t be all too fun on your own. You’ll miss out on all the team work, the trials and errors, the mutual frustrations, and the satisfaction in the eventual victory. From what I played, you gotta have that going.

That’s not everything, of course. They often promised us that the unlocks were not limited to the weaponry and the phrase “really cool” was used a lot. After some prodding, the word “characters” was also finagled out, and a “you’re on the right track” to a sarcastic idea like… say… unlocking Ratchet and Clank. This and probably a bunch more is in store.

All in all it’s shaping up to be a fun little package. It’s like the smaller, more arcade-oriented cousin of the home console versions of the game, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just be sure and get a pal to buy it, too.