Take away the armored masks and you’d have a hard time telling Army of Two: The 40th Day from a glut of other third-person shooters. It’s not bad enough to be especially memorable, and it’s not good enough that people will talk about it for very long. And while the “buddy” mechanics of The 40th Day could have done wonders to make it more unique (including giving it the angle it needed to tell a cool story about two characters), it’s woefully underdeveloped. Instead, we get a confusing tale about two vaguely developed characters, told through an occasionally fun but ultimately generic — and at times, frustrating — third-person shooter.
If you never played the first game — and no one blames you — then you’re probably unfamiliar with the series’ protagonists, Salem and Rios. However, after playing both games, I can say that I’m still pretty unfamiliar with them. They’re a pair of gun-toting, brawny mercenaries with a shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later philosophy. Even with the game’s occasional “moral” choices (usually where you decide whether someone lives or dies), I never really felt connected to the characters, or that I knew them enough to care about them. Even the forced cooperative moments — pushing a door open together, pulling someone over a high ledge after they boost you — don’t build up a relationship, instead becoming constant intrusions, reminding you that you’re playing with a partner who is all but a stranger. Maybe the lack of character development was an attempt to let the players define the characters through a series of choices, but even by the end of the poorly told narrative, I felt like Salem and Rios lacked any sort of meaningful personality development; they’re just trigger-happy marionettes.
Not that the The 40th Day’s array of gunfights is a bad thing, because as a cooperative shooter, it can actually be fun. The shooting works a lot better than it did in the first game, and the aggro feature — where one partner draws attention by causing havoc so that the other may move about easier — allows for some good teamwork with a human partner; it’s just not as good as it could have been with a more intuitive cover system. While you don’t have to press a button to take cover, you do have to be standing in the correct position for it to work correctly. Walk to a low cover while standing, or go to the edge of cover with your back to it (rather than your face), and your character will put himself out there to absorb all the bullets heading his way. During one of my publisher-arranged multiplayer sessions, one of the game’s staff mockingly remarked, “this isn’t Gears of War,” but these guys sure could have learned a thing or two from that game’s cover system. Yes, you can learn how to get around The 40th Day’s clunky-feeling cover controls, but wouldn’t it be nice if it built upon concepts that previous games have so expertly established?
Not that the team at EA didn’t try to improve some of the things people complained about the first time around. The upgrading mechanic — wherein you use the money you obtain to buy all kinds of useful upgrades for your guns — can now be used at any time, and usually on a host of weapons, thanks to the ease with which you earn cash. Moreover, the addition of the new Extraction multiplayer mode — where you cooperatively take on waves of AI enemies to see how long you can hold out (think Gears of War 2′s Horde Mode or Halo 3: ODST’s Firefight) — adds some fun to the otherwise fairly boilerplate multiplayer modes. Still, even with these improvements, The 40th Day can’t pull itself from the realm of mediocrity it seems so entrenched in, and I’m not sure any amount of fist-bumping, guns-blazing teamwork can change that.