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Critical Reception: EA Montreal's Army of Two: The 40th Day

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to EA Montreal's Army of Two sequel The 40th Day, which reviews describe as "the very definition of big dumb fun."
This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to EA Montreal's Army of Two sequel The 40th Day, which reviews describe as "the very definition of big dumb fun." The 40th Day currently earns a score of 77 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. Play Magazine's Matt Cabral rates The 40th Day at 9.5 out of 10, describing it as a vast improvement over the first title in the franchise. "Long before Resident Evil 5's Sheva and Chris combined their zombie-slaying skills, [...] Army of Two's Salem and Rios had already dealt a double dose of ass-whupping and attitude in their dedicated co-op debut," he begins. "And while EA Montreal's shooter was way ahead of the curve in this particular respect, it lacked much of the polish focused solo run-and-gun romps offered." "With The 40th Day, the developer has retained - and refined - their killer cooperative recipe, while also keeping pace with today's best single-player experiences," Cabral continues. "Additionally, they've dialed down the annoying testosterone-fueled fist-bumpin', ramped up the visuals significantly, and even removed - occasionally, anyway - the masks from the no-nonsense mercenaries, providing them with some much-needed personality." The 40th Day also sees a needed boost in presentation quality. "This is a gorgeous game, brimming with effects complementing the tiniest details," Cabral praises. "Where many titles stage the impressive stuff safely in the background, EA Montreal has put it right in your path, guaranteeing fallen towers will alter your routes, airplanes will collide with structures you're occupying, and the ground will often disappear beneath your boots." "Army of Two: The 40th Day improves on its predecessor in every way," Cabral concludes. "The feature-rich, action-packed gameplay - co-op and solo - is a blast, but it's the explosive presentation, that literally sees Shanghai falling to flaming pieces all around you, that steals the show and will have you watching your - and your buddy's - back." Mike Channell at OXM UK scores The 40th Day at 8 out of 10. "Most people approached the original Army Of Two as mindless fun - enjoying it in much the same way as Die Hard 4.0, the musical oeuvre of Kiss and the vast majority of reality television," he observes. "The sequel is still the very definition of big dumb fun, but fortunately for everyone, including those who won't even notice, it's just a bit less thick this time around." Channell continues: "For a start, Salem and Rios have been fleshed out a bit for this frantic charge through war-torn Shanghai. They're no longer identical clones of each other, which helps make the story more engaging in general, and they've morphed from teeth-gnashingly irritating macho stereotypes into, dare we say it, likeable characters." The original game's cooperative elements have received even greater focus on the sequel. "There are enemies that have been specifically designed to require co-ordination and flanking to take out," Channell explains. "There are also some brilliant moments when you're forcibly separated, often over surprisingly long distances, and have to fight your way back to each other through entirely different parts of the level - suddenly you're far more vulnerable because you can't rely on your buddy to haul you out of trouble and heal you up." "It's not just built like a single-player shooter with an extra player lobbed into the mix," Channell assures, "and the game's scripted moments actually take advantage of the fact that there are two characters in the game, rather than just accommodating them." Channell warns that the experience does not hold up in single-player mode, even with its improved AI. "Those insisting on going it alone will find it's a far less compelling experience," he writes. "It feels like half the experience when you don't have a buddy in tow, and it does reveal the fact that occasionally the firefights descend into marathon grunt-plugging sessions. Fortunately, there really is no excuse not to play this with a mate - the developer has even shoehorned a split-screen mode in for the Live-phobic." "Army of Two: The 40th Day, much like Left 4 Dead, demonstrates just how much difference a tailor-made co-op experience makes to a game," Channell notes. "The interaction between the two main characters extends beyond the trivial buddy moves from the first game and becomes an integral part of the journey." Game Informer's Matt Bertz gives The 40th Day a score of 6.5 out of 10. "The lure of co-op helped [the original Army of Two] sell well, but its sophomoric brand of humor and lackluster gunplay did it no favors," he explains. "The sequel, The 40th Day, does little to distinguish itself from its predecessor." While the juvenile humor has been toned down, Bertz finds that the overall narrative takes a hit in the sequel. "The plot is largely buried in radio logs players access from the pause screen," he says. "In its place, EA Montreal inserts a series of standalone 'save the civilian hostages' scenarios and ethical dilemmas where players can make arbitrary moral choices with no context. Without the necessary background to inform your decision, these moments come off as shallow, and the comedic twists in the subsequent cutscenes do little to make you care." The cooperative combat mechanics are also hit-and-miss. "The Shanghai environments give players just enough room to use the game's superfluous and quizzical Aggro system, in which one player fires at enemies to draw their attention to turn the other player invisible," Bertz writes. "This makes pulling off flanking maneuvers a breeze, but expect to get flanked yourself by shotgun-wielding super baddies who ruthlessly spawn in areas you thought were already clear." Bertz cites awkward controls as another major concern. "The most irksome problem is the poor control mapping," he says. "When your partner goes down (which happens frequently thanks to the uninformative damage indicator), you must run up to him and hold the A button to revive him. Unfortunately, the A button also handles the running functionality, which means your character may accidentally start running or execute a combat roll when you're trying to revive your partner in a frantic situation." "With so many great co-op experiences available to gamers, it's tough to recommend The 40th Day," Bertz concludes. "Lacking a cohesive story, solid controls, key multiplayer features, and polish, this sequel fails to close the gap of mediocrity running through its core game design."

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