First Level: Army Of Two: 40th Day

Salem’s lot is a tough one – when you’re one half of an army and your pal’s got a name like a footballer every day is going to be a stinker, and the fortieth day is no different. Most of my First Level experience swung wildly between the game asking me to use and remember every button on the controller and then dealing metallic death to legions of identically suited goons with lousy AI. This sequel might have toned down the fist pumping and ridicule, but it’s still Army of Two and as predictable as ever.

Still, you knew the ride before you bought the ticket and as Shanghai crumbles amidst your boots it’s clear that EA are happy doing this by the numbers: I’ve only tested TFD (as the Xbox Dashboard lovingly shortens it to) in single player and although that’s obviously missing the point of a co-op game so heavily based around an actual real life second player I felt assured that me barking orders at my onscreen partner would be plenty enough for this early hands-on preview. And besides, I could take my time and stare at the lovely graphics without some teenage kid hurling abuse.

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Uncharted 2 springs to mind, and sure, the textures might not have quite the vivid ‘pop’ that Naughty Dog managed to wrestle out of the PlayStation 3 but I was suitably impressed with Army of Two’s clean, crisp and deliciously colourful array of pixels. At least, that is, when my hulking brute of an avatar wasn’t occupying most of the on-screen real estate. I’d spoil the story so far if I tried to explain why the graphics are so impressively diverse, but it’s safe to say EA have mastered portraying a sense of scale, both on the horizon and up front and personal.

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Likewise, the audio is given a chance to flex its sizable muscles, standing toe to toe with Gears of War, with which TFD shares a lot more than it probably likes to admit and not just aurally. Pushed through a decent 5.1 surround system the game excels – especially in cut-scenes – with the mix filling every speaker you can get your paws on. The voice acting is ironically still far too serious to be taken seriously and thus the resulting buddy romance is as camp as you’d like but the bubbling sexual tension juxtaposed with thousands of bullets is just the ticket for the straight to DVD script. There’s no subtitles, though, so a demerit for the presentation.

Which, thankfully, is otherwise excellent. A wickedly smart menu system, quick load times (at least on the 360) and smooth controls round off the package. Too smooth, actually: either my controller was calibrated badly or Salem has a tendency for sliding left when bored. Still, aiming is nice and swift, the buttons (eventually) make sense and although there’s no option to flip around the bumpers to shoot (that’s an accelerator, not a trigger) I didn’t have any problems sliding in and out of cover and switching weapons like a pro. Speaking of which, customisation is back and better than before. Think Need for Speed with steel rather than carbon fibre.

So, whilst I’m not yet clued up on what happened during the preceding thirty-nine days, I’m happy enough with the fortieth. The two player mechanic still works nicely without ever really needing the slightly fluffy aggro system and in one player Rios (should you prefer your soldiers bald) is happy to obey your every whim. I quit my play test at an obligatory end of level bullet sponge – a sadly dour impression to leave my hands-on with (the concept frustrates me somewhat) but hardly unexpected. Let’s hope the storyline gets a chance to shine next, because everything else (like the new morality system) shows real potential.

Screenshots from EA Media

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