Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In Which I Give My Thoughts on Army of 2: The 40th Day

The plan for the end of the week and weekend was to try to push through Darksiders. However, the purchase of Army of 2: The 40th Day sidelined that plan for at least a little while. There's typically a small window of opportunity in our group to partake in co-op activities. We play a lot of games, and it's been a long while since we devoted more than a week or two to any one. So, with Barry screaming through multiple play throughs of Ao2: TFD I had to make the executive decision to join him, lest I be stuck running solo in a game that thrives on co-op play between two actual humans.

This time our ambiguous mercenaries, Salem and Rios, are out in Shanghai, and as in any situation, be it video game or movie, things don't go as planned. What looked like easy money quickly turns into a fight for their lives full of moral choices as they try to escape Shanghai and finally have that beer they keep talking about (and likely a few tender moments).

I didn't play all the way through the original Army of 2, but I did play enough to notice some of the improvements. For starters the shooting, though still not perfect, is improved. I felt like things reacted slightly faster and more accurately than in the first iteration. There was also a noticeable improvement in the way the cover system behaved. In the first Ao2, there was a slight delay between pulling the LT and your character peeking out of cover to aim down their sights. I remember this driving me crazy, and I'm glad to see it's been fixed for The 40th Day.

Army of 2: The 40th Day also boasts a heavy amount of weapon customization. You have the choice between several different stocks, barrels, cartridges, scopes, suppressors, and front mounts. Suppressors include bayonets... and those include a screw driver. Fuck. Yes. Front mounts are items like hand grips, shields, a grenade launcher... and that awesome shotgun add-on called the Master Key. Once again: Fuck. Yes. The whole idea of mounting a gun to a gun still kicks a lot of ass. You could easily spend an hour or 2 customizing all of your guns. Plus, it adds a little replay value since you can't easily grab all of the parts on your first run through without knowing exactly what choices to make. It's also unlikely that you'll earn enough money in one play through to buy all add-ons and guns.

As for the overall gameplay, everything works very well. The story is, as usual in games like this, a little lacking and somewhat full of holes. But, you likely won't care much once you get into the action. The gun play is solid. Salem and Rios move around a little slowly, but it fits in with the pacing of the combat very well. This isn't a game where you're often running and gunning. Cover is key and you'll spend most of your time sprinting from one location to the next, ducking into cover, and picking off enemies from there.

Just to point this out, headshots from a sniper rifle or Desert Eagle cause a very satisfying pop.

Visually the game looks very good. The environments are well built and you won't run into any of those frustrating hit detection problems that so often appear when trying to shoot between balcony railings and the like. Many of the cut scenes go into a very Borderlands-esque art style as you watch Shanghai be utterly destroyed. It's all executed very well.

The game has also added in a gauge of how moral you decide to be through out the game. Doing things like tying up guards and rescuing prisoners will give you a big plus sign on the morality scale. As far as I could tell, your level of morality in these situations rarely had an effect on the game. However, rescuing certain sets of hostages often rewards you with weapon parts, or in one case, that head-asploding Desert Eagle I mentioned. There are larger moral choices throughout the game which can also reward you with money or weapon parts. These larger choices require you to press "A" or "B" (I played on the Xbox 360) and are followed by a cutscene that shows you the immediate and long term consequences of your choice. You may consider this a "spoiler" but I'll let you know right now: You will not feel all that good regardless of the choice you make. EA was a real dick on this point.

The aggro system is back and you can work out simple, but fun strategies if you're playing with another person. There are a few larger enemies that require you to flank them or work yourself behind them. One player can usually stay behind cover and draw all the aggro while your partner sneaks around. You also have the option to remove silencers and scopes on the fly. Removing your silencer can help increase your aggro for those situations when you get the honor of playing decoy. To further help out your aggro strategies, there are often 2 paths for Salem and Rios to take. We found it beneficial to split up and take turns drawing aggro while the other person picked off unsuspecting enemies.

Still, as much awesomeness as they pack in, the game isn't perfect. There were times that I felt almost as if the guns had preset notches of movement. A slight tap left would, at times, cause a sort of "jump" in the reticule rather than a steady controlled shift. I don't mean it moved too quickly. I mean it seemed to only be able to look in one spot or the other. This would result in over-shooting what I was trying to aim for, and would start a sort of back and forth reticule dance across my target. I didn't notice this as much with the sniper rifles which I assume were slightly more fine tuned to serve their intended purpose. "Gun Sway" is still present, and it's reasonable. I actually like the addition of this in games. It adds a little more true skill to the art of sniping.

It also would have been nice to see the moral choices have more effect on the game itself. Sure, you can get some nice loot, but if you're going to include this stuff, then maybe make it more consequential. Then again, maybe that's not what this game was trying to be... perhaps the whole POINT of the morality system was just a means for collecting items. I'm just not sure I see the real point of it in the way it was executed. Plus, like I said, there's not really a "right" choice... the cut scene ends up making you feel like an asshole anyway.

Overall I found the game to be incredibly entertaining. It's definitely more enjoyable if you can recruit a buddy to play with you. EA has made the right improvements and brought a better product to the table this time around. They even cut down a lot on the bro-love... though you can still voluntarily give bro hugs. I don't know that I'd put it down as a definite "buy" but it's one you should give a shot at some point.

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