Army of Two: The 40th Day Preview

"That would be awesome to make the gayest game ever."

"There's a quote for you."

I'm sitting in on a demonstration of Army of Two: The 40th Day. Two EA Montreal employees are explaining to me how gay Army of Two isn't. For example, Bully was way more gay.

"It's gayer than Bully, where you can make out with a dude?" says an incredulous, amused Alex Hutchinson, creative director.

"You read into it what you want," says Reid Schneider, executive producer. "There was this super hardcore Christian coalition, they put out this magazine about what you should not [let your kids play]. Every game was Fallout, GTA. Army of Two ended up on the list, shocker. What was funny was that it's not because of the violence... It was because you could make your kid gay."

The two continue their spirited defense, which sounds more and more like spirited denial to my ears. I didn't imagine those butt-pats. Or did I?

"There's nothing in there at all, except what people imagine," affirms Hutchinson, who then notes that, after all, the best love stories are of the unrequited variety. "Which is why the two dudes [scenario] is the best, because they never get together."

I begin to think of Lethal Weapon in a whole new way. Images of Riggs and Murtaugh embracing on a toilet fill my head. An explosion on screen shakes me back to reality.

"I would love to make a super gay game," concludes Hutchinson, "but no, that's not what we're doing."

So what is Army of Two: The 40th Day about, then?

Explosions
The team at EA is focusing primarily on two core concepts in Army of Two: The 40th Day. One of them is explosions--or, if you want to get technical, the feeling of playing a shooter in the middle of a disaster.

"Did you see Cloverfield?"

They didn't have to ask. A few minutes into a hands-off demo, and the two developers are walking through a city as entire city blocks are brought down around them. On a rooftop, a jet squadron soars in to level a skyscraper, which crumbles to reveal a stunning view of a city in ruin.

Another jet crashes into the building. It's an impressive display of in-game fireworks, but of course they also serve a practical function at times, with hulks of vehicles separating co-op players for a spell. And, of course, video game cover doesn't get much better than a burning airplane.

I'm usually not one for over-the-top background scenery, but the sheer absurdity of the mayhem on display here was certainly something new--Half-Life hysteria taken to the nth degree.

"We really like the idea of putting players in the middle of a disaster."

Rather than go the Zelda route and center the game around a rescue, they "wanted to tell a story about saving yourself."

Bad Cop, Bad Cop
Of course, you'll also have the option of saving some people along the way. These won't be optional encounters, though they'll seem so at first.

One scenario saw the duo entering an elevator and receiving a phone call. The caller, somehow grabbing a signal in the middle of an apocalypse, offered the masked shooters a chance at killing some guys for extra cash. It may be the end of the world, but who can turn down some extra cash? You can buy totally not-gay costumes with that shit.

A short haggling minigame was presented at this point, with the player bargaining up the caller. It turns out that this is a superficial event--you have no real choice in whether to play the segment or not. But who wants to avoid killing people in Army of Two, anyhow? Even if the caller gets upset and denies your high-priced fee, you still get to kill dudes, and that's what counts.

After getting off at the floor indicated, the scenario quickly presented itself. Creeping up to a column, the pair could see three bad guys surrounding an equal number of hostages. It was at this point that the real star of the game, and the second core concept, was explained: the co-op playbook.

"The first one is that it's a much more organic approach to co-op," says Schneider. "If you played the first game, the co-op was a little bit start-stop. You had a co-op move, or sequence, and then you had this big gunfight. It was sequential like that, and it really wasn't as fluid as we would have liked."

Thus, the co-cop playbook, the stand-out feature of the presentation. Essentially this feature acts like a scanning mode, allowing players to scan over enemies ahead of time to see which co-op moves will work best against them. It displays an enemy's "rank," as well as its abilities and possible reactions. In the end, it allows for a moment of pre-planning before a wild assault.

One example of this had a player moving into a building and waiting outside a door as the other player sat below, aiming up at the window. The player on the inside was able to scan the enemies and "tag" them, allowing the below player to see them through the wall--and blast through it with a powerful sniper shot for a timed rescue.

Thankfully, this planning doesn't always guarantee a smooth, cinematic moment. After grabbing a bad guy from behind to use for cover, acting as a distraction, Hutchinson accidentally dropped the man to the ground. Without cover, the AI enemies began to fire away, prompting Schneider to spray away, ending in the deaths of several innocent civilians.

But this is Army of Two, not Rainbow Six. The artful rescue bungled, the pair of assassins quickly ended the scenario by knocking off the remaining souls, then stabbing eachother in the back with a hail of bullets.

So much for cooperation.

The Steven Seagal Test
Army of Two was a competent shooter, but the game lacked a certain amount of character. One way the developers are solving this is to have the characters flip up their masks between the action, revealing their faces. This is supposed to make it easier for you to connect with the pair of mass murderers.

Another way is through the game's writing, which now must pass the "Steven Seagal test."

"Anything that you could hear John McClain say in the background, that passes in terms of cool, dark humor," they explained.

"But if it sounds like it came from Under Siege 1 or 2, or Urban Justice, then it doesn't go in."

Despite this fear of Seagal, one interesting Seagalian moment did occur later on. While the players were split up and on different sides of the level, a group of enemies began to move in and surround one of them.

Rather than fight to the death, the masked man threw up his hands in mock surrender, leading the enemies to pause in confusion--long enough for the second player to come to the rescue. Proving that you can usually count on your buddy, after all.

Army of Two: The 40th Day is scheduled for a winter release on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PSP.