EA's pair of chatty mercenaries returns in Army of Two: The 40th Day. For those not familiar with the original game, it was a cooperative-action title full of over-the-top skirmishes and a unique sense of humor. While the original had its share of fans, there were noticeable flaws that prevented the game from being great. EA Montreal has addressed these flaws and promises to bring a vastly improved experience with The 40th Day.
Once again, the adventures of Rios and Salem are chronicled. The two guns for hire find themselves in a disaster-struck Shanghai. Executive producer Reid Schneider wanted to convey a feeling similar to the movie Cloverfield, where players are thrust in the middle of the disaster. Schneider noted, "It's not about saving the world. It's about saving yourself." Since Salem and Rios are mercenaries, any money they can make along the way is most welcomed.
As the pair makes their way through Shanghai and figures out how they got into this mess, numerous opportunities to make money arise. Jobs can be bid on, but players need to be careful; if they ask for too much money, their job will be pulled. Accepting different jobs from different parties help the story unfold. It's up to the player to decide how good or bad Salem and Rios are. For example, there are numerous situations that involve hostages. On the Xbox 360, a "good" achievement can be earned for saving them, while a "bad" achievement can be earned for killing them all.
Schneider said that the team is determined to make The 40th Day a more organic experience. It won't be a story-sequence, exploration/fighting-sequence. The game will have a natural flow with combat tactics that can be used throughout each area. Since this wasn't a hands-on demo, I have any way of knowing this.
One of the biggest complaints about the original game was the partner AI. Schneider said that a big effort was being made to ensure that gamers going solo would have a true partner, not a pet. Considering that Resident Evil 5's Sheva has taken partner AIs to new lows, any improvements EA Montreal brings to the table will seem even more pronounced. More seriously, from the bits of the game that I saw, the AI seemed much improved.
The most interesting addition I saw was the "co-op playbook." This information pops up when a player scans an enemy. Initially, I thought this was going to be like Dragon Ball Z -- scanning for different power levels, marvelling at them, screaming for half an hour, and finally fighting. Thankfully, The 40th Day takes a different approach. When players scan an enemy, the co-op playbook shows the enemy's rank --the type of cooperative moves can be used and what types of reactions will be. This can be useful when there are multiple enemies of different ranks. If the player wants to take one of them hostage, it only makes sense to capture the commanding officer. If a grunt is taken, his boss will have no problem shooting through him to get to the player. The co-op playbook also helps casual gamers understand the game better. Schneider said, "It's about letting casual gamers know what to do and when they can do it." I can see myself using the co-op playbook to experiment in different situations, trying out the various moves to see what's more effective and more fun.
Another curious tactic I saw was mock surrendering. This can be used to set traps by having Salem or Rios pretend to surrender, while the partner awaits the perfect time to gun down his enemies. Mock surrendering also employs the "aggro meter," that uses the first game to determine which character the enemies would concentrate on. In this situation, the enemies are obviously focused on the player that's surrendering. This makes the trap more effective.
On the technical side, I was greatly amused by watching Salem and Rios shoot through things. Thin walls, wood, and bodies can be shot through; this can be used in strategic or entertaining ways. In one example, Salem tagged the enemies red and the hostages green. This gave Rios targets he could nail, although the wood wall was obstructing his view. In another example, I saw Rios accidentally injure Salem by shooting through his human shield. That was funny.
Sadly, the dialogue wasn't in place. For many gamers, this was the highlight of the first game. Whether you thought it was more Lethal Weapon or more The Ambiguously Gay Duo, the dialogue and storyline of the original was one of its high points. I was told that more of these elements, along with weapon customization and multiplayer, will be shown at E3 2009. At a glance, Army of Two: The 40th Day looks like a fun game that's stands out from the typical action title. I'm interested to see if that assessment holds up as more of it is revealed.