Never did I think that, after finishing the original Army of Two, I'd ever be re-enlisting for a sequel. Sure, it sold well, but its myriad not-quite-fulfilled ideas and irritating "Dude! Bro!" lead characters just made me want to shrug off the game and move on with my life. So I sit here writing this pretty amazed at how good the sequel is. It's not, say, Assassin's Creed to Assassin's Creed 2 good -- but a very solid improvement on the core co-op action concept, shedding just the right things and finally delivering an experience that actually plays off the strengths of being a two-man fighting force. Plus, it does so with a high degree of polish and prettiness, not to mention reworked characters that are -- and I can't believe I'm saying this -- actually funny and ... cool.
So, yeah, Salem and Rios -- the "army of two" -- are a couple of wise-cracking mercs who'd do just about anything for cold hard cash. In The 40th Day you get to decide just how far they'll go, however, through multiple "moral choices." They provide a good balance of dark humor when things get tough and a sense of "Am I really seeing this?" that adds weight to the sheer chaos that's happening around them. And that's it -- the basis of this game may be shooting bad guys, but it's also about surviving block-by-block as Shanghai crumbles around the characters. It's not just BAM and the city's a hostile environment, either; the impact of the plot's terrorist attack is felt throughout the entire game, leaving you with a feeling that no one place is particularly safe, so you'd better keep moving.
You don't know what's next, but the sort of things that happen and how you deal with them are alarming, frightening and always satisfying.
The amount of large- and small-scale tactical decisions make the game deeper (and often more challenging) than any solo shooter you've played (Gears of War, for example) but also enormously fun when played with a friend, online or off. It doesn't hurt that there are very well-defined goals both players must achieve in order to make it through each area alive, but there's also a good amount of on-the-fly adjusting of tactics and, thankfully, plenty of practical use for the Aggro system brought over from the first game. It's not so much "you have to draw fire here so your buddy can sneak behind" as it is the locales and more realistic reactions of the enemy AI that make it more practical. The GPS / tactical overlay system is also a neat addition, with some clever situations built around one character's ability to tag enemies that the other wouldn't otherwise be able to see.
Is it fun? Sure. Perfect? Far from it. Like a lot of third-person action games, there comes a point where you just know the designers were running a little light on fresh ideas. There's also the gun modification system, which has a complexity that outweighs any amount of fun there is to be gained from it -- finding / buying increasingly powerful weaponry and some add-ons (scopes, silencers, etc.) would have worked just as well and felt less cumbersome. Then there's online play, which I found to be a very mixed experience. On the one hand, the basic deathmatch between four two-man teams seemed to ask a lot to stay coordinated amid a frenzy of bullets. Then again, the ever-changing objectives of the Warzone mode kept its matches interesting.
Either way you play it, solo or with a buddy, Army of Two: The 40th Day is a solid start for the action genre in 2010, and, unlike the original, has me excited to see what EA comes up with for the sequel.
Editors' note: This review is based on the Xbox 360 retail version of the game provided by EA.