Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Army of Two: The 40th Day

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Developer: EA Montreal
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: Jan. 12, 2010
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PSP
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site

0:00 I have no experience with the first Army of Two game. In fact, my entire impression of the game is formed by these two Penny Arcade comics, so you might say I have LESS than no experience with the first game. So I'm eager to see see what the relative lack of fuss is about.

0:01 "The latest update data for this software has been found." Really? The game just came out today and there's already a downloadable patch? It's OK ... version 1.01 should only take 75 seconds to download, according to the handy progress bar on-screen.

0:04 The patch is downloaded and installed and we're off on a magical journey. A city in flames appears in the background as the Army of Two title flies in with a metallic clang. Then immediate fade to the title in front of a blurry picture of the two skull-masked protagonists running away from an explosion. A bad Rob Zombie riff plays in the background. HARDCORE.

0:06 The background of the menu screens flickers between some grainy security camera footage of a sleepy Chinese alley, for some reason. I know this game is all about the co-op, but I don't think I know anyone who actually owns it yet, and I'm not about to play with some whiny 12-year-old brat on PSN.

0:08 I get the choice between Tyson Rios and Elliot Salem. They look incredibly indistinguishable to me -- both muscle-bound, chisel-chinned, camo-vested -- but their bios lay out the differences. Rios is an Army Ranger veteran while Salem is ... his best friend and also an Army Rangers veteran. Rios is trying to change the world with his mercenary skill, but for Salem it's "really about the thrill of combat." Yeah, let's go with Salem. He seems clearer about a mercenary's role.

0:09 Difficulties available: Casual, Normal or "Contractor." So a contractor's life is hard, is it? Normal is fine. The two pull down their skull-adorned facemasks, give each other a manly hand clasp, and crouch down slightly like they're getting ready for a high-school wrestling match.

0:10 After some relatively long loading, we walk out to a peaceful street. A low-flying airliner comes in overhead. It's all home-video footage of the streets of Shanghai. Some soldiers push a pedestrian. A woman atop a double-decker bus waves at the camera. The credits intermittently explode in black letters over bloody red. The sun goes down as the bus tour guide points out the largest tower in Asia, which of course explodes at that very moment. Quick cuts of more explosions around the city, buildings falling, general chaos, etc. The title pops up again. "Army of Two: The 40th Day."

0:13 "Welcome to Shanghai, boys, how do you like it so far?" says a disembodied voice in my ear. "I feel tall," is the smart-ass reply. HA! BECAUSE CHINESE PEOPLE ARE SHORTER THAN AWESOMELY TALL AMERICANS! "Let's get this done then go get a beer." "Amen to that." Character: Established.

Army of Two: The 40th Day

0:14 Running down an alley from a third-person viewpoint, we meet up with an even more muscle-bound guy in camo gear. I feel underdressed in my wife-beater. It does show off my bad-ass tribal tattoos though.

0:15 Learning how to duck and jump obstacles and take cover, all in the usual manner. Our contact, JB, kills a couple guys for us. "You sure that was necessary?" "It's Shanghai ... better safe than sorry." We all introduce ourselves and JB gives us our guns and gear. "Now that's more like it!" "All right, let's get moving. Time to get paid, then I think it's about beer o' clock." Beer references so far: 2. HARDCORE!

0:17 As far as I can tell, there's no option for captions. How does a major game maker get away with that in this day and age?

0:18 A tap of select brings up a nice green line on the ground showing where I'm supposed to go. At least I won't get lost. Our mission is to set up a couple of beacons, which we do uneventfully. We ask JB why we're doing this and JB says he doesn't ask the clients for reasons. Way to give strong motivation to your characters, EA. Anyway, we got $7,500 for our troubles.

0:19 There's a locked gate wired to an alarm, but luckily the alarm boxes are clearly visible and shootable through the gate. Seems like a big flaw in the security design, to me.

0:20 "Hold X to sprint." Really? So I can't change the camera angle with the right stick while I'm sprinting? That's a bit annoying... Anyway, we're into an elevator where the voice in my ear teaches me about gun customization. Apparently I can buy and upgrade weapons anytime I'm not actively in a firefight, even if there's no apparent way for them to get the weapons or parts to me. Convenient, if nonsensical!

0:21 I buy a shotgun and upgrade it with a better barrel. It's rated high on aggro and damage, but low on "handling." What is this, a racing game?

0:23 The HUD shows the enemies' ranks with little floating bars above their heads. I'm shown a demo of how to sneak up the highest-ranking guy and grab him, forcing the lackeys to kneel down and drop their weapons. Seems a bit simple, but OK. Then you can tie up the captives or just open fire. I tie them up, as JB suggests, and get "morality+." Nice that such things are so easily quantifiable.

0:26 I sneak up on a guy and subdue him as he struggles. Then my computer partner shoots his lackey for no apparent reason, raising the alarm and bringing the tension-filled music up. F***! JB tells me to run to where the GPS says and we plant the beacon.

0:27 A short cut scene teaches me about "aggro." Basically, one guy attracts attention by firing, giving the other the opportunity to quietly flank or snipe. Seems neat, but I have no faith that my computer ally can pull it off.

0:29 Basically I stand perfectly still and take shots at the enemies from a landing as my computer opponents go down for some close-quarters combat. When we're done, JB comments: "The stories I've heard about you are no joke. You're mean bastards, aren't ya?" Uh ... I guess so? Then, some more chatter about how JB doesn't ask questions about his missions. Salem says he has "a bad feeling about this." Wow ... you can't get much more clich? than that.

0:31 The game's "cooperative choices" feature means "the first player to make a decision also decides for his buddy." Uh, that's the opposite of "cooperative," actually...

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0:33 As JB hacks into a computer or something, the voice in my ear says our bosses want him dead after he completes the mission. The big choice: execute him or spare him. Well, I could use the extra cash, so I push the "execute" button. The cut scene continues, and Salem shoots JB in the back of the head, point-blank. JB starts to slump over, then TURNS AROUND AND STRUGGLES WITH SALEM. What the fuck? He just got SHOT POINT-BLANK IN THE BACK OF THE SKULL. Seriously ... how did he survive that?

0:35 So Salem of course wins the struggle and shoots JB 10 times in the chest and kicks him off the roof in his best "THIS IS SPARTA" impersonation. A few static comic-book scenes show that JB is now missing. Rios: "Sometimes I hate this job." Salem: "Relax, nothing else is gonna go wrong." Of course, at that very moment a building explodes in the distance. I see what they did there!

0:37 More buildings start exploding throughout the city. A missile flies in and destroys one. Buildings are falling down like dominoes all over the place as some relatively fake-looking fire and black smoke fills my view. "We need to get off this rooftop now," Rios cries as we run down the stairs. We come to a little ledge, looking over another part of the roof. I can't jump down, but I can wait for a missile to hit about five feet to my right. I'm knocked over, but apparently OK, even though the missile caused a five-foot crater in the roof. That's f***ing HARDCORE!

0:38 Our radio contact Murray has no idea what happened, then her radio gets cut off, so we decide to try and go find her. We escape down into the burning building as some other mercenaries come around the corner, looking to pick us off, I guess? I don't know why...

0:40 I take out the three guys shooting-gallery style by leaning around a doorway. Too easy. I keep clicking in the left stick, thinking it'll let me run, but instead it crouches. Grr.

Army of Two: The 40th Day

0:41 I get injured in a similar firefight in the next room. The game tells me I can press L2 and R2 to "feign death." I fall over and get shot a few more times, but while I'm drawing the guy's fire, Rios goes over and takes him out from behind. Interesting...

0:44 More red-masked, random armed guys in the corridors. My partner runs up and takes fire before running back to take cover. Idiot. My shotgun gets some good one-hit kills off, complete with bloody head explosions.

0:45 I get injured in the firefight, but my partner stabs an epi-pen in what looks to me like my crotch, saying, "You're gonna be OK." I am now that you've stabbed me in the crotch!

0:46 Yet another building explodes and comes down in pieces about 100 yards in front of me. I think the developers like this building destruction a bit too much. "Goddamn! This whole city's coming down!" Indeed.

0:48 Entering yet another random firefight. One guy totally ignores me even though he's staring at me standing five feet in front of him. That's some quality artificial intelligence right there...

0:50 I try to hide behind a piece of plywood, but a turret gun cuts right through it and I'm down. Rios tries to grab me and save me, but he's torn down by the same turret. "You both died," the game says matter-of-factly.

0:53 In the first genuinely cool moment so far, Rios draws the turret's fire while I run in from the side and melee the turret gunner away. Then I jump in the turret and take out the guys in the next room. It's only ruined when Rios gets hurt and I have to hop out of the turret to resurrect him. Still, 30 seconds of awesome before that.

0:54 I'm beginning to hate the look of this game. Everything is a sickly brown, and it's really, REALLY hard to pick out enemies or tell where shots are coming from. I think I'm under complete cover but get hit from unseen guys all the time. I blame the extremely narrow-angle camera.

0:55 Goddamn but Rios is an idiot. Instead of carefully taking cover in a room filled with armed bad guys, he runs in, guns blazing, and is almost immediately wounded. This might be more fun with a human partner that had some FREAKING COMMON SENSE!

0:58 We come across more masked guys, this time holding some civilians hostage for no apparent or explained reason. I grab their leader and tie him down (kinky!) while Rios orders the others to drop their weapons. They do, and we shoot them in the heads. We get a "morality-" for that, but then two "morality+"s for saving the civilians, so, obviously, we're the good guys.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? No.
Why? So far seems an extremely linear, hard-to-control, ugly third-person shooter slog with no interesting story or even motivation to pull me along. Co-op is the only thing that might save it, but there are plenty of other co-op games I'd rather be playing.

This column is based on a retail copy of the PlayStation 3 game provided by the publisher.

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