Army of Two: The 40th Day Preview: Total Fistbump Destruction

We got a chance to go hands-on with EA Montreal's follow up to the original Army of Two a few weeks prior to E3, a chance to strap on the Kevlar vest again.

The two private military contractors players controlled in the first are back in Army of Two: The 40th Day, a game that looks to have addressed some of the concerns and criticisms levied against the first. This one's just as big, loud and gunfire-filled as the first, but looks to turn the mercenary buddy-system into something a little more strategic. EA Montreal is even adding a little karmic strategy to the game, with light character progression that might add a little personality to the game.

Is that a good thing? We preview the second Army of Two to find out.

What Is It?
The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 sequel to the first Army of Two, a third-person shooter that focuses on cooperative play. Army of Two: The 40th Day is at least partly set in Shanghai and features the main player characters introduced in the first. EA Montreal has expanded on the concepts of the first, adding new two-player strategies, refined controls, and a new "playbook" interface to aid in communication between players.

What We Saw
We were given a guided tour of Army of Two: The 40th Day's new features with a pair of EA reps, who showed us two of the game's levels. They explained how to "tag" enemies and hostages with the updated interface so that the player with line of sight on the action could We were then let loose on the game with a non-EA employed buddy, who helped us shoot lots of people in the face.

How Far Along Is It?
The game is slated for a "Winter" release, which could push it into 2010, but what we played looked solid, even if not 100% polished. We definitely guided our character into areas that were still untextured, but the game ran well for something that might still be six or more months off. We didn't hear much in the way of wisecracking or one-liners from the game's stars, so there's clearly more work to be done.

What Needs Improvement?
The Playbook Interface: It felt surprisingly barren, lacking in some of the information one might expect from a playbook, but maybe I was expecting something a little deeper, something more along the lines of what we'd find in a Madden NFL game. And that's about the least kind thing I can say about the game at this point.

What Should Stay The Same?
The Bright, Brash And Bold: Army of Two: The 40th Day is gorgeously over-saturated, with brightly lit level design and some fantastic looking set pieces. There was nothing dull or dreary about the demo version of the game we played. Even the two main characters, Rios and Salem, are more enjoyable, in part because they're more humanized than the characters introduced in the first game.

Event Levels: The latter of the two areas we saw during our preview was set in a giant skyscraper ripped in two. We watched as the ceiling of an office complex was torn from above, debris raining down on our character, then took great delight in scaling down the side of that building, now at an angle that made it possible to walk across. Proud EA reps likened it to a scene from the movie Cloverfield. It was awesome.

Simplified, But Deeper: The control scheme is whittled down to the essentials, making weapon switching and finding cover "snappy and dynamic," easier than ever. Players can now sprint, a la Gears of War, and can upgrade and customize weapons more to their liking. There's some "light RPG" stuff and a "morality system" that will be better explained at E3, which we're looking forward to.

Smart Use Of Coop: The enemy and civilian tagging system is brilliant stuff, the kind of thing that will make playing with someone else—and hopefully AI-controlled partners—easier. It will also make things more interesting, as we saw the developers line up a blind shot for the character that didn't have line of sight. Shooting through a thin wooden door, one half of the Army of Two took out half the threat while the other emptied the brains of his target. The "aggro" system introduced in the first is still here, but new moves including a fake surrender add a little spice to the gameplay.

Final Thoughts
With the exception of the fact that EA Montreal seems hesitant to rename the game Army of Two: Total Fistbump Destruction, there's very little to dislike about the game. The 40th Day was, without a doubt, the most promising game I played at the company's pre-E3 event. I'm looking forward to seeing how the decisions to kill or save civilians will affect the story and/or the player, but mostly look forward to going hands on with the game again to explore the playbook a little further.