- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 4, 2010

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Army of Two: The 40th Day (from Electronic Arts, reviewed for PlayStation 3, rated M for mature, $59.99).

A sequel to one of the best third-person-shooter buddy games out there features the return of a pair of human weapons of mass destruction caught in a story about as deep as a Roland Emmerich movie.

What’s the story? For Tyson Rios and Elliot Salem, war is strictly business. They served as Army Rangers in Mogadishu before going into the private sector, earning top dollar as the top operators for the paramilitary corporation SSC, an arrangement that came to a sudden, bloody end.

Now Rios and Salem work for each other, and their latest job, in Shanghai, should be easy money - until a new kind of war engulfs China’s greatest city and the pair of warriors.

Play the role: Take control of Rios or Salem as they survive the complete destruction of an urban metropolis and eliminate hordes of hostile mercenaries.

Amid smoldering high-rises, collapsed buildings, smoking ruins and even a decimated zoo, the pair must work together in a variety of controllable ways. They help each other climb obstacles and drag each other to safety when wounded. They can revive a near-dead comrade, take fire to distract enemies while the other flanks hostile positions (ably monitored via the aggro meter), and mock surrender to give a teammate a clean shot.

Get to the action: Our efficient duo is able to carry a trio of weapons, pick up a fourth on the run from a downed foe and pack a limited supply of grenades.

A satisfying amount of firepower, including pistols, assault rifles, machine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, rocket launchers and the occasional flamethrower exist within the Army of Two universe. Each weapon (except for found weapons) can be customized with accumulated cash at the start or even in the middle of missions. The action thrives on wasting an inordinate amount of cash on gleefully customizing those weapons.

Swappable parts and attachments range from barrels, scopes, knives, stocks, front mounts, cartridges and a generous group of colorful designs, including gold plating, to satisfy the connoisseur of garish weapons.

Although the game thrives in a cooperative, two-player environment, solo players also can take part with a computer-controlled partner who more than ably provides support. In fact, the partner is too good. While at a normal difficulty setting, the game is way too easy for the average solo virtual warrior.

Memorable moments (in no particular order): Faking a surrender and then using the quick-draw option to unleash a “Matrix”-inspired stream of bullets on unsuspecting thugs, using a dead hippo’s carcass as cover, watching a massive airliner plow into a building, and using the GPS interface to identify (tag) enemies in a hostage situation and finish them quickly with a sniper rifle.

Violent encounters: This cavalcade of nonstop firefights against enemies with no other objective than to kill you leaves a noisy, smoky and bloody disaster of Irwin Allen proportions in every mission.

I’ve played games that are more graphic, but bayoneting a guy through the chin, taking the head off an adversary with a sniper rifle and snapping the neck of a foe after using him as a human shield certainly makes it not a game for the squeamish.

With the vicious, however, also come many opportunities to save hostages and even make moral choices, slightly refining the slaughter. For example, let a tiger live and watch the choice play out in a sequential-art montage as the animal hides in a thief’s car and offers some jungle justice. Or sneak up behind the leader of a mercenary team holding hostages, watch his minions surrender, and tie them all up. No blood, just some grumpy bad guys.

Read all about it: IDW Publishing just started offering an ongoing monthly comic-book series called Army of Two ($3.99 each). Yes, it is based on the game franchise, is written by Peter (X-Statix) Milligan and features more stuff blowing up.

Pixel-popping scale: 8.5 out of 10. Modern comic-book realism prevails and is reflected in vibrant color schemes in the terrain and characters along with exaggerated combat scenes. Action is brutally beautiful but not as lifelike as in other shooting games of the genre.

Extras and unlockables: Besides the generous supply of parts that can be purchased to customize weapons, players can swap the masks of our favorite mercenaries and even go online to create their own or grab others’ designs.

Multiplayer: The cooperative mode (enjoyed via either a split screen in the same room or online) adds hours of frustration and triumph to a duo’s adventures.

Moments arguing over when to waste cash on adding gold plating to an AK-47 and who has the cooler mask equal the joys of successfully clearing a hostage situation. Additionally, up to 10 mercenaries can engage in battle online through a selection of team modes. I have read bad things about EA Server problems, however, so don’t buy the game just for the online multiplayer mode.

What’s it worth: This grandiose shooting gallery, starring some Mad Max rejects, will please the mature gamer looking for a stress-relieving experience. However, for all of its vicious charms, Army of Two: 40th Day still acts as a time-waster for the third-person-shooter fan to take a break from Modern Warfare and does little to progress video games’ interactive storytelling potential.

* Visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Community pages (https://communities.washingtontimes.com/) or on Twitter .

• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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