Joystiq impressions: Army of Two: The 40th Day

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Let's be honest: when we first heard EA was prepping a sequel to Army of Two, we didn't imagine it would be anything like what we saw in action last Friday in San Francisco's Chinatown district. (Well, 27 floors above it, to be accurate.) In our minds, we were expecting ... the first game, only set in Shanghai. Within 30 seconds of it loading up, we realized that EA Montreal's imagination is obviously a lot more vivid than ours.

Executive Producer Reid Schneider was on hand to act as our tour guide, but much of what we saw really did speak for itself. Particularly about how this game is already anything but a minor improvement over the first.
%Gallery-47821% Right off we found that it's really good looking -- in fact, the screens EA has released don't really do it justice. As Schneider spoke, we watched Salem and Rios standing idle in the middle of a street, while all around them subtle effects brought the world to life.

This game isn't about taking down any one person or organization -- it's simply about getting out of Shanghai alive.

Steam rose from sewer grates, tarps waved in a gentle breeze, bugs scurried around piles of trash bags and debris -- torn paper, leaflets and the like -- floated down, indicating that, not far from their location, Shanghai was been torn apart. But by who (or what)? We'd soon get a partial answer.

Schneider explained that, while Salem and Rios are still mercenaries, the goal of this game isn't about taking down any one person or organization -- it's simply about getting out of Shanghai alive. To this end, he told us the tone of the game is more or less morally ambiguous. There are definite enemies, but there are also civilians. You can help the latter, but you're never forced to.

So, about those enemies. We were first shown a major new mechanic in the game: a tactical overlay a la Metroid Prime. When this is brought up, you can move your reticule over enemies to see pertinent data on them (threat level, etc.) and, more importantly, the context-based commands available to you.

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In this scenario, a pair of enemy soldiers was patrolling the street ahead. Schneider brought up the tactical overlay and pointed towards the more skilled of the two. He commanded his partner to stealth grab the enemy. The second enemy quickly turned, realized he was outnumbered and dropped his gun. Schneider could have -- along with his AI teammate -- zip-tied the pair at this point, but he opted to kill them.

The threat eliminated, the two characters raised their iconic masks. This is, we were told, done for two reasons: to allow for more character to come across in conversations and to indicate all nearby danger has been dealt with.

Without warning, what looked like meteors struck several of the largest skyscrapers, causing them to implode.

We were next taken to a rooftop setting and shown the game's new cover mechanic. Walking (or running) up to any potential cover causes your character to assume a cover stance. From here you can blind-fire by pressing the fire button or lean out for a more accurate shot with the aim button -- but you're never "locked" to the cover. The next change we saw involved vaulting over (and sliding into) cover. To vault an air conditioner, Schneider simply ran at it (there's a very Gears of War style "roadie cam") and his character slid across it (think Stranglehold). To run into crouching cover, he pressed the crouch button just as he reached it, and Salem slid in.

It was at this point we found out the extent of the catastrophe Shanghai was in the midst of. While his partner ran to one corner of the rooftop, Schneider went to higher ground, affording him a lovely view of the highly detailed city far below. Without warning, what looked like meteors struck several of the largest skyscrapers, causing them to implode. A squadron of fighters flew past, striking another. Then, what looked like a jet hit the building he was standing on, carving a pit between the two teammates ... and enemies started pouring out.

Who are these enemies? The dev team isn't saying specifically, only confirming that they're part of a group called the "40th Day Initiative." In fact, Schneider told us that elements of the plot will go unexplained, leaving it up to the player to speculate. He stressed escaping Shanghai at all costs is the main plot, and the who and why of what's happening won't all be revealed through major cutscenes.

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After running down a major street, buildings crashing down all around them a la Cloverfield -- cited by the team as one of its inspirations -- the characters came upon enemies preparing to execute a group of civilians. As they approached, a voice came over the radio, asking if the pair of mercs would be willing to assassinate someone. A dialog popped up where a fee could be entered. Schneider chose $20,000, which the man on the radio balked at. He dropped it to zero and the voice seemed stunned, but gave credit for their ruthlessness.

The camera panned up to a rooftop billboard for the Shanghai Zoo -- with an actual lion staring back from in front of it.

As we were told, this mechanic will crop up often, but won't always involve assassinations. Moving back to the situation at hand, we were shown two of several possible ways of dealing with it. The first was to simply storm in and take out the highest ranking enemy. This caused his subordinates to pull the hostages to their feet and threaten to kill them. Schneider then simply shot through the hostages, killing them and the enemies, while demonstrating the game's heavy use of realistic bullet penetration.

The second, less barbaric approach was to enter the area slowly, take the commanding officer hostage, then tie up the other soldiers. The duo received thanks from the freed hostages, something we were told will affect bonuses such as weapon part unlocks (the weapon customization from the first game is returning).

Having dealt with the hostage situation, Salem and Rios found that the next area was crawling with enemies. Demoing a new use of the first game's Aggro system, Schneider commanded his partner to "mock surrender." Rios walked up to the enemies, dropped his gun, and put up his arms. As the soldiers approached him, Salem was able to pick them off with a sniper rifle.

The pair ran through the cleared out area, only to have a burning car come hurtling down an alleyway, separating them. Their attention was directed to a nearby hostage situation -- two enemies were about to execute a civilian inside their apartment. Salem could see the enemies from where he was bur Rios couldn't.

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Bringing up the tactical overlay, Schneider was able to "paint" the enemies red and the friendly green. Rios could then see where the bad guys were via his tactical overlay. Using this info, the duo was able to simultaneously snipe both enemies (Rios' shot penetrated the apartment wall). Schneider ran forward a bit and the camera panned up to a rooftop billboard for the Shanghai Zoo -- with an actual lion staring back from in front of it.

Schneider wrapped things up by explaining that the game won't have the genre's stereotypical assortment of dock or warehouse "levels," but will instead play out in locales you'd find in an actual city -- a shopping mall was given as one example. All in all, the experience was riveting. We're already sold on the atmosphere and more organic approach to combat scenarios -- we just hope that the entire game isn't the same handful of situations repeated ad nauseum.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.