By Joseph Luster

In the not too distant past of 2008, Army of Two introduced us all to a world of private military contractors, putting the player behind the slightly horrific steel masks of Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios. Theirs was a time-spanning tale—starting in 1994 Somalia and ending roughly in the present day—of political conspiracy and the effects of war.

Don’t think it to be a terribly deep experience in that regard, though. If you’ve never touched the series before, just know that one of its most humorously cited features involves pressing a button to bump fists with your teammate. You can also trigger friendly shoves, playful punches, or even brief bursts of air guitar thrashing, all of which is made more intentionally hilarious depending on the level of dead bodies surrounding your players.

Army of Two: The 40th Day finds Rios and Salem returning, though this time they’re working for themselves, no doubt having learned many valuable and emotionally crippling lessons about trust in the first game. Through their own private company, Trans World Operations, the two are in the mix of a fairly nondescript mission in Shanghai that inevitably becomes a destructive case of wrong place, wrong time for them both. Perhaps that’s putting it too lightly, because Shanghai basically gets blown the hell up. Glass flies as entire stories of buildings explode, sending them crashing down on neighboring offices like dominoes. A PMC group invades the city with extreme force, and from that point on it’s as much a mission of survival as it is suppressing this brutal terrorist threat.

The game is in the name once again, as The 40th Day is all about cooperative action with a friend or, should your supply of those be running woefully dry at the time, an online stranger. While there’s no real substitute for playing with an actual person, the computer AI for your partner actually isn’t terrible. That sounds implausible after playing co-op-centric fare like Resident Evil 5 and Left for Dead 2, the latter having some of the least resourceful AI partners out there, each taking cruel delight in using health packs as improperly as possible. Such is not the case with The 40th Day, and while it isn’t the recommended course of action, it does leave the lone wolf in us all with some palatable options.

Whether going at it together or not, the stop-and-pop cover action is much more enjoyable than before. The enemies may be dressed like ridiculous sociopaths, but unlike the two leads they have an excuse … they’re sociopaths. As such, expect lots of end-to-end hallway standoffs, concrete barriers chipped away bullet by bullet as riot shield soldiers creep ever closer. Larger areas open the door for more refined strategies, which is what the combat is really all about. Players can flank big groups of enemy combatants, one drawing their fire—a tug of war between characters depicted via an on-screen Aggro meter—while the other uses the distraction to immediate and violent effect.

More imposing combatants occasionally interrupt the steady stream of standard automatic and shotgun-wielding foes. Though most can be taken out in similar fashion, the introduction of lumbering bruisers, like flamethrower or grenade-launcher soldiers, adds a nice twist to the typical long-distance firefights that might otherwise creep toward the edge of monotony.

However, the most interesting combat addition actually moves in a slightly calmer direction. As much fun as blazing into a room like Rambo can be, it seems the developers realized that it’s not always the smartest tactic, especially when civilians factor into the situation. Now, thanks to a handy visual overlay, you can scope out situations, noting enemy rank before taking care of business. This is key, because taking the higher ranked officer hostage will cause the others to surrender, allowing you to tie them up or, I suppose, introduce them to whatever sadistic ends you may have in mind.

Saving people is but one of the methods to earn, if you’ll indulge a quick Smash TV impersonation, “Big money! Big prizes!“ Loot picked up throughout can be put toward upgrading weapons in the shop, a carryover from the first game that proved to be one of the more interesting aspects. Sure, there may be weapons and add-ons that take a while to save up for, but it’s worth it when you’re rocking a solid gold (seriously) shotgun adorned with a mighty blast shield and enough firepower to knock back enemies like bowling pins.

In comparison to the first game, which was a much more repetitive experience overall, annoyances in The 40th Day are relatively minor. Bringing up the camera—which is somewhat awkwardly positioned either on the far left or far right of your shoulder, making constant switching a necessity—even seems kind of nitpicky, as it becomes more natural after a certain point. A few of the new additions to the series definitely don’t seem as polished as the mainstays, though, and could have used some tweaking, which is something we’ll no doubt see if a third game comes down the line.

With that in mind, I’m still not sure how I feel about the “morality moments” that pop up sporadically. When they occur, both players have to make a tough choice, and whoever makes that choice first essentially nulls the other’s vote, raising some interesting contention between the two. But most of the choices are so black and white that it negates any resulting impact. Do you want to shoot the rare, endangered tiger or let it live and move on? Do you want to let this little kid help you snipe enemies, or keep him hidden from danger? Whatever the choice may be, the outcome is presented immediately after via some comic-style panels by renowned artists Jock (Judge Dredd) and Chris Bachalo (Shade, The Changing Man).

Nagging issues both new and old may be spread throughout, but it still succeeds as an experience designed with cooperative play in mind, and it does so with a level of visual polish that seats it among current top-tier titles. While they still have a long way to go with this series as far as telling an engaging story that won’t be forgotten as soon as the console is turned off, and the “bro“ action between teammates is still as absurd as ever, Army of Two: The 40th Day will please action fans in the face of its flaws. If the next is an improvement of the same caliber, we’ll all be in for a fist-bumping treat.

Publisher: Electronic Arts
System(s): Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PSP
Available: Now

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