Review | 1/18/2010 at 2:03 PM

Army of Two: The 40th Day Co-Op Review

At Co-Optimus, we often lean on developers to add players to the main campaigns of their games. But not everyone can be a Bungie Studios or a Ruffian Games and create an atmosphere that befits multiple players. What's worse is that when developers like Epic Games and EA Vancouver come along and feature two-player co-op, they can be panned for using tactics like splitting up the players or making the enemies too easy.

My first Army of Two: The 40th Day experience with the retail version was a straight run-through of the story mode, using an AI partner. It only took me about five hours on Normal difficulty. I was impressed with both the enemies and my AI partner - I was never especially frustrated. Snipers and special characters will appear in the same places, but for the most part enemy tactics and actions were fluid and changed according to where you were holed up and how you were using the Aggro system.

Speaking of which: Aggro returns in full form, but isn't overbearing. By this I mean that accumulating Aggro will not necessarily pull 100% of the enemies' attention to yourself. Your partner will still have to move and attack with a degree of stealthiness, or risk getting blindsided. In effect, the Aggro system assists you - rather than becoming a central method of play - and it leaves you to experiment with different gun configurations and paths through the levels. The Aggro meter acts kind of like a rear-view mirror, something that you glance at occasionally for a quick assessment.

Controls are familiar, but can't be customized very much at all. You can tweak the sensitivity of your analog sticks, and that's about it. It would have been nice to have an option to adjust more; the default dead zone is a bit weird. Also, multiple contextual actions are mapped to the same buttons; you can accidentally vault your cover instead of rolling away from it. That's a pain when trying to escape grenades.

The cover mechanic is not as sticky as most games that feature cover systems. It takes some patience to get comfortable with sliding behind an object and staying there, as too much movement toward the edge will see you creeping out into the open. I came to terms with the cover mechanic and now pretty much love it. It will, however, frustrate anyone who doesn't have the patience for it.

As expected, weapon customization is completely overblown! You basically start with a rifle receiver assembly, and add whatever butt stock, magazine, forward grip or shield, barrel, and sights that you have available. Unlocking or purchasing an assault rifle will unlock all of its parts automatically. It's not realistic at all, but believable enough in the universe that it's intended for. Shotguns, sniper rifles, and pistols are handled differently, since there aren't as many to choose from; the options are limited, but still fun to play with. Of course, the "pimp" textures are back, but this time they're joined by more than two dozen camouflage styles and patterns (zebra stripes? yes, please!).

If you're playing for story alone, this game goes by a little too fast - the plot is easily lost on most casual players. It's also a detriment to the game's already short length that the unskippable cutscenes are included in that five-hour play time I mentioned earlier. At least they're well-acted and not too painful to watch. Levels are short and sweet. Good for multiple play-throughs; bad for production value.

When playing co-op, some levels force the players to split up, a la Gears of War. This doesn't seem to be too popular among reviewers in general, as it leaves the players open to getting downed without anyone to revive them. But it also breaks up the monotony, and to be honest the levels are well-designed with a lot of wow factor. Even more attention-grabbing than the levels are the morality decisions, which are guaranteed to screw with your head. If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend trying every choice available to see the results of your actions.

I really only have two complaints about the campaign co-op. First: when playing online with Nick, we experienced about a five-second sync every ten or fifteen minutes. Annoying, but not game-breaking. The other complaint is that the screen can only be split vertically when playing offline.

When the campaign honeymoon is over is where Extraction mode comes in, playing out as four-stage missions in an area overrun by waves of enemies. Up to four players each grab their choice of preset loadouts composed of two weapons and a grenade. Enemies are relentless, finishing you off if you're down without a friend to revive you. Aggro doesn't appear in any visual form, but Jason and I witnessed enemy reactions that were appropriate to the base Aggro concept - giving a friend covering fire draws enemy attention accordingly. By far it is the most fun I've had in a while. In fact, I'd rather play Extraction than Terrorist Hunt.

As far as the other multiplayer modes go, Co-Op Deathmatch, Control, and Warzone, EA's description of "All Co-Op, All the Time" wasn't too far off (granted it's a different definition of co-op than ours).  The one element that all of the multiplayer modes, Extraction included, have in common is that they rely rather strongly on you and your partner, or partners in some cases, working together as a well-oiled, co-op machine.  While this can be rather advantageous from a co-op perspective, it also means that joining a public match without a buddy or two along is a lot like relying upon multiple GPS driving devices all set to insult mode: each one has its own idea about what you should do/which route you should take, and failing to do so leads to a steady stream of curses and questions about your intelligence.  During the play sessions we had in the multiplayer modes, groups varied greatly with some folks tending towards the usual multiplayer mentality of "every man for himself and if you're not helping the team you're hurting it," and a few that were far more friendly in their approach to teamwork.  All in all, the multiplayer modes can be quite fun, but they can also be an exercise in frustration if you get stuck with a particularly competitive group.  A fun mostly co-op experience for all, without the worry of being called names that you didn't even know existed when you were 13.

As a side note: the armor and mask creator are all gravy, and work well.

Army of Two: The 40th Day doesn't try too many new things. It basically takes the original game and tries to improve in as many ways possible, and for the most part succeeds. I could nitpick about the generic plot and visuals and the lack of destructable environment...but I'd just be chipping away at a solid, fun game that was taken an extra mile or two for the favor of co-op fans. Of which I am one.