War is AWESOME! Don’t give me that look; you know it’s true. As a video gamer, we know that better than anyone else. Sure there are games like Armed Assault and Operation Flashpoint, which try to show that the battlefield is a brutal and unforgiving place, but thanks to the efforts of games like Call of Duty and Army of Two, we know the truth. War is awesome. You get to kill foreigners (preferably of a different skin colour or at least of a different ethnicity) with tons of cool weapons, you get to go to all of these picturesque locations (and blow them up) and you get to watch huge explosions as the laws of nature bend to slow down time so you can fully appreciate them. There is the slight inconvenience of getting shot, but if you hide behind a table or a rock, your body regenerates and heals itself. What’s not to like about war?
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Yes, in case it isn’t obvious, Army of Two: The 40th Day is from the school of stupid when it comes to war. And it seems to be aware of it and remains blissfully uncaring. I guess the developers realised that it isn’t possible to yank the subtlety chain after you have destroyed the entire city of Shanghai in the opening cutscene and decided to just roll with it from there on. And it works, in a way. So we have the two protagonists – Salem and Rios (whose names I had to Google to find out even after finishing the game twice. Yes, the writing and characters are that forgettable), who land in Shanghai on some sort of a mission and some bad guys just happen to start bombing the hell out of the city soon after that. And that’s pretty much it.
Normally during a review, someone like myself lays out the premise of the story and leaves the rest of the details out purposefully. It’s done so as to not spoil the experience for readers. But truth is I couldn’t spoil the story for you even if I tried, because that, up there, is the story. In its entirety. There is nothing else. No explanations for how or why it happened. No attempts at lending credibility to the characters. No closure at the end. Nothing. The game starts, you have guns and plenty of bad guys to shoot. Some 4-5 hours later the game ends and you still don’t know anything about the plot. It’s basically Contra for the next gen consoles.
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On a good day I might be inclined to forgive something like that, but then the game commits the unforgivable sin of having cutscenes that cannot be skipped. This is bad even when a game with a good story and writing does it, but when something like Army of Two (which has a non existent story and some awful writing) forces you to sit through a cutscene, it’s downright inexcusable. Also, every now and then, the game will throw in a choice where you can pick one of two options and, depending on your choice, you can see what happened or what will happen to the people involved in the scenario. But neither option seems to add much to the story or gameplay.
Thankfully, the core of the game is still solid, even though it still has some flaws. For those who never bothered with the first Army of Two game (and I can’t blame you if you didn’t) it’s a third-person shooter, whose unique selling point is that the whole game is built around co-op. And since the law requires that every third-person shooter have cover mechanics now, AoT has that built in as well. The cover mechanics work kinda like Gears of War, but aren’t quite as intuitive and a lot less effective. The cover system is automatic in nature. If you crouch behind any solid surface, your character automatically moves into cover behind it. While this sounds like a good idea, in theory it hardly ever works smoothly in gameplay.
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The biggest problem is that if you try to move your player to the edge of the cover to peek out and shoot, he will often leave cover and end up out in the open. This can be annoying on normal difficulty and deadly on the higher difficulty. You can slide directly into cover if you are running, but it’s not really useful as you will quite often end up jumping over the piece of cover you wanted to slide behind. Why didn’t they simply rip off Gears of War (like every third-person shooter has) is quite simply beyond me. Don’t get me wrong; most of the time, the cover mechanic is functional and it works, but if there is a better method out there, then why not use it?
But even with a flawed cover system, the good AI and the excellent level design make the combat quite enjoyable. Enemies will regularly flank you, move from cover to cover, use grenades and even help out their downed team mates. The level design is also pretty great throughout the game. There are multiple pathways allowing you and your partner to split up and flank the enemies and the branching paths often use elevation to good effect as well. So you can let your team mate take the high road and provide you with sniper support while you get in up close and personal. This is made doubly effective with the game’s Aggro system. So between you and your partner, whoever is more aggressive ends up drawing a majority of the enemies’ fire and catches their attention while the other player can pick off the bad guys with ease.
Next page: IVG Verdict