Army of Two ended up being a bit of a disappointment on its release in March 2008. The cooperative third-person shooter was built around the Aggro system, which essentially controlled who out of a two-man private military outfit was going to get the most attention from enemies. It was neat, worked well and gave the new franchise something to stand out from the crowd. This sadly didn't mean the game as a whole was up to scratch, with some dumb AI, uninspired level designs, fiddly cover-based shooting and two of the most annoying video game characters of all time. Army of Two ended up being a game that frustrated as much as it entertained - something we hoped would be worked on in the inevitable sequel.
That sequel, The 40th Day, sees heroes Rios and Salem in Shanghai, running their own private military company. While on a mission all hell breaks loose, with the city coming under attack from terrorists. Planes crash, buildings tumble into one another, and the muscular duo turn their attention to surviving and figuring out who is behind the attacks. The story is typical action movie stuff, with plenty of "OMG" moments, explosions that would make Michael Bay proud, and wisecracking comment after wisecracking comment. Thankfully Rios and Salem are far more tolerable than they were in the first game, with their banter generally being amusing.
While the two-man squad travelled all over the world in the original game, here they're in Shanghai for the duration, with location variety coming from within the city itself. As well as blown up buildings, you'll be moving through an eerily empty zoo (taking cover behind a dead elephant is a somewhat morbid experience), a war-torn hospital, dangerous Shanghai streets and more. As before, the game is linear in design, with a clear path through each level, but maps are fairly open and allow for a variety of combat options.
The 40th Day is always a cooperative experience. It's best played with a real friend (online or via split-screen), but in the absence of a human buddy the AI does a reasonable job and can in fact be the preferable option at times. Your AI chum can be counted on to play to a decent level, as long as you issue good commands using the d-pad. Advance, regroup and hold commands can be given out, with each coming in cautious and aggressive varieties. A cautious command will make your partner play it safe, only attacking when he needs, while an aggressive command will see him shoot on sight.
Due to the game's Aggro system, you'll need to make careful use of the command system or communicate well with your real-life partner. Displayed at the top of the screen, the Aggro meter indicates which player is taking the most heat. Take out enemies or bombard them with fire and the opposition will focus their attention on you, leaving your partner to go about his business relatively free from enemy attention. This allows him to sneak around, flanking the enemy, or to take shots with a sniper rifle while unchallenged. This can obviously work in reverse too, so you could instruct your partner to open fire, letting you manoeuvre around the side.
One of the problems the first game suffered from was dumb enemy AI, and for the most part this has been improved in the sequel. Enemies try to flank you, they blitz your position with gun-fire and grenades, and require players to make smart use of the Aggro system on harder difficulties. It's not all great, though, with enemies often failing to spring into action until you've crossed some invisible barrier. This may well have been implemented to make the game's stealth-light gameplay work more smoothly (holding enemies hostage after sneaking up on them from behind), but at times it results in you not being spotted when you're clearly in plain sight. The Aggro system worked well in the original, and it works even better here, making the gameplay feel significantly different to other third-person shooters.
Gunplay feels similar to the first game, and the cover system still isn't as good as that found in Gears of War and Uncharted 2. Salem and Rios snap to cover, but it frequently doesn't happen when you want it to, and the manoeuvrability from cover to cover isn't as smooth as in the aforementioned titles. Standard enemies gladly aren't bullet sponges, downed with only a couple of well placed shots. Sniper rifles instantly kill, and even so called "Heavy" soldiers all have easy to identify weak spots. Running and gunning really isn't an option, despite the game's blockbuster appearance, but up close melee takedowns are, and vary depending on your weapon customisations.