Preview | 4/20/2009 at 9:27 PM

Army of Two: The 40th Day Co-Op Preview and Impressions

EA Montreal invited Co-Optimus along for an early look at Army Of Two: The 40th Day. We were treated to seeing the new game in action, Q&A with the producers and an exclusive look at the new trailer for the title.

Let's get one thing out of the way, Army of Two: The 40th Day is definitely a product of the "new" Electronic Arts. Following on the heels of games such as Dead Space, Mirrors Edge and Skate, 40th Day is taking established conventions and moving them in new directions. Using the best gameplay dynamics from the first title, being inspired by elements from other top tier properties and introducing whole new ways to dynamically approach scenarios, it feels like a different game right from the start. Which is really what you hope a sequel will do.

EA Montreal has taken a hard look at the first game. What worked and what didn't. It's obvious however that they've kept the Co-Op experience at the forefront of the design process. While it's still only part way through development, the improvements are apparent.

Controls in the 40th day are designed to just click, working with many of the now industry defined placements on the controller for what you'd expect (melee attacks, aiming, shooting, running, all are where they should be). The gameplay itself allows freedom to strategize (either with yourself and an AI partner or co-op) before running into the fray. A big new addition being the "Playbook", which works as an in-game overlay allowing you to analyze targets, tag them to co-ordinate, and choose specific situational tactics to employ before just running in guns blazing.

Audio in the game seemed to be coming along nicely, especially with ambient sounds found throughout the city. However there was no real witty banter yet to be heard, as much of the voice work is still being recorded. What sound effects were present, however, came across quite well. EA Montreal spent 4 days recording a bunch of gunfire in LA (using 85 mic pickups) to get the effects just right.

Graphically the game looks fantastic. Showing off it's new shadow mapping, we were treated to improved lightning. The characters themselves (Rios and Salem) are sporting a more realistic, gritty look. Gone are the weightlifting juicers from the first game, with more battle torn mercenaries left in their place. The character animations are already fluid and fit perfectly into the art style. We also get a more humanizing approach for the lead characters as we now see them with their ballistics masks off when out of combat and through the story. Taking place in Shanghai, we see very detailed surroundings that give a definite impression of the city being alive instead of just another map to shoot through. While the design for Shanghai begins looking as you'd expect, that quickly changes...

Going into the city on a mission, things are soon interrupted for the would be mercs as Shanghai comes under attack by an unknown force known as "The 40th Day". City wide devastation ensues with buildings coming down around them, civilians running for their lives and soldiers storming the streets. This ties directly into the story and gameplay itself. With civilians being gunned down or taken hostage. Optionally through the game, you're actually given some moral flexibility to rescue those caught in the middle as well as how you handle enemy soldiers. You can actually choose to handle some combat scenarios by taking your own hostages and forcing a surrender where you subdue opponents. Of course you can always simply kill your enemies instead (and civilians). We know this will have some impact on the story in the long run, so it'll be something to keep in mind.

While the story of the 40th day itself may seem to be the focus of the game, make no mistake, a large part of the experience is dedicated to the relationship between Salem and Rios themselves and how it will unfold. No details are known at this stage, but it seems that it will also have impact on the co-op interaction as the story unfolds. EA Montreal is planning the game to be a bit longer than the first, so there should be plenty of time for that to happen in the narrative. Using a well timed mix of action, story and humour, the studio is taking great pains to ensure the pacing of the game gives more impact to the player.

The Co-Op gameplay will also change at various times from external forces as well. As the two partners find themselves separated due to the city coming down around them. Sometimes objectives will differ, or you'll need to co-ordinate fights with more planning involved. One scenario saw Salam get ambushed by some 40th day soldiers. He used their surprise at seeing an armed merc to falsely surrender (which allows him to take full "aggro"), all the while Rios (whos view you can see in a mini-cam in the corner of your screen) lines up a headshot from a distance. In a timed move, Rios took the shot while Salem used that moment of confusion to pull out his pistol and run for cover, leaving the remaining 40th day soldiers confused and scrambling. This being only one example of the array of tactics found in the "Playbook".

The partner AI also does an excellent job in game if no one is available for co-op at the moment. Essentially anything you can do in game, you can instruct your partner to do using a combination of the d-pad controls and the "Playbook" tactics. It worked quite effectively and there didn't seem to be any hitches.

Lastly, the humor found in the original title is still going to be present, but better defined. Since the environment of a Shanghai under siege leaves little room for the over the top humour of the original, expect a more subtle dark humor that fits the context of the situation, while still leaving a smile on your face.

Some final things to keep in mind, there's a new trailer for the game being shown on GTTV with Geoff Keighley on April 30th that you won't want to miss. As well, if you haven't already, give the first Army of Two a try. You'll be in for nice treat when you fire up 40th Day and it sees your save file from the first game...

Keep your eyes on Co-Optimus as we'll have continuing coverage and details for Army Of Two: The 40th Day.

Goodbye Montreal....