Pre-E3 hands-on / Army of Two: The 40th Day

Call me stupid, but I actually kind of enjoyed Army of Two. Sure it was pretty shallow, lacked a lot of co-op wow that most were hoping for and had cliches as old as Methuselah, but it was about as close to a Tango & Cash game as I was going to get anytime soon and that really is good enough for me (I’m easy to please, sometimes). Plus, it had gay parachuting and honestly, that’s why videogames were invented.

At EA’s recent pre-E3 event I sat down with Alex Hutchinson, creative director for the upcoming sequel, Army of Two: The 40th Day, as my co-op buddy for some man-on-man action with Salem and Rios. Having had some fun with the original game I was a little excited to see what the duo’s second go-around would bring to the table. I have to say, so far, I like the cut of its jib.

Army of Two: The 40th Day, for those just tuning in, is a third-person shooter about hockey mask sporting mercenaries, Salem and Rios, that emphasizes co-op and shooting things to hell. It’s pretty standard fare for anyone that’s played a game with an over-the-shoulder camera and cover system similar to the Gears of War series, but with this installment EA Montreal hopes to really up the ante for co-op shooters.

The level I was given a run through of in the demo (short demo, about 6 mins) showcased what the team is doing with the stronger focus on co-op. Coming around the corner from the back alley start point we encountered a situation where some civilians were about to be executed. Picking off the enemies and saving the civilians can net rewards like information or weapon parts for upgrades, but, if you want, you can mow everyone down and let God sort ’em out…which is what ended up happening. Now, if my best friend was sitting next to me I would’ve called him some sort of bad name which is what the development team is looking to, and most likely will, accomplish. Killing innocents will also play a part in the game’s morality system which details are yet to be fully revealed.

Moving past the point of slain innocence we came to another opportunity for co-op death dealing. I boosted my partner up to a higher vantage point while I took the low ground behind a large wooden gate. My partner, being high and mighty, was able to survey the area and spot not only enemies but friendlies as well. Using an interface very much like that of Rainbow Six: Vegas he was able to tag targets which I could then see and plan our attack from there. Did I mention the wooden gate could be shot through? Oh yes. Initiating a co-op snipe I was able to target an enemy through the gate while my partner got a clear shot from up above and on a 3-count we took the hostiles down simultaneously. It was one of a few ways the situation could have been handled and if we had wanted to throw grenades around to blow open the gate and shoot everything on the other side, that’s all good in the hood.

With enemies still in the corridor behind the gate, we attempted to pull off one of the new maneuvers: fake surrender. With this move, one (or both) player will throw their hands up in the air while drawing all the aggro which allows the other player to become invisible and flank the enemy for easy kills. Unfortunately, the enemy wasn’t buying what we were selling and there was a firefight! ¬†Wiping out these guys let us hit the final area of the demo which took place in a small, gated loading area with cargo crates and trucks as cover points.

The cover system takes a little getting used to since the controls have been completely redone this time around. Instead of the usual “hit button to enter cover” system, The 40th Day sports a more “organic” approach that slips you in and out of cover automatically. It’s nice because it makes for a more fluid style, but for anyone used to things really snapping into place it’s a little awkward and will take getting used to. I had trouble while taking cover on the side of a truck and having grown accustomed to other systems where you’re stopped at the edge, I ended up slipping out of cover exposing myself to all kinds of gunfire.

While overhauling the control map to allow for a smoother flow more in-line with other games of the genre and more robust AI control, the dev team also went about beefing up the looks and refining the overall experience. Graphically, what Alex Hutchinson referred to as “augmented reality,” the game seems to have a bigger punch this time around with a stronger use of colors that seem almost comic book-like without becoming cartoonish. Blues, oranges, reds and yellows filling the world are a nice change from the usual drab browns this gen of gaming is known for.¬†The character models have all been completely redone with the added bonus of the always crowd-pleasing ragdoll physics and they’ll also spurt blood all over the environment when you put bullets in their faces!

Admittedly the original Army of Two was rather hit-or-miss and definitely wasn’t the experience everyone was hoping for. The sequel seems to be on the right track in righting the wrongs with an expanded co-op experience sporting 16 maneuvers, branching paths through levels, “holy shit” moments (one of which I saw while standing around that involved buildings collapsing in the distance while Salem and Rios marauded across an already fallen structure) and support for multiple playthroughs of the 8 hour campaign. More about Army of Two: The 40th Day should be coming out during E3 next week, hopefully including word on the revamped multiplayer modes, but right now I’m already excited for what EA Montreal is doing and look forward to the finished product which is still another 8-9 months away. It doesn’t help that the ending was teased to be, “controversial” and “something people will be talking about.” Rosebud.