The truth can be found in simple conversation. My friend David calls and asks, "Hey man, what game are you playing?"
" 'Army of Two: The 40th Day,' " I say.
"Is it any good?" David asks.
"Um. Meh. It's kind of good. But it's just another shooting game where you kill people. Well, there's more to it than that.
"In this one," I say, "you can play this cooperative mode, where you and a buddy kill people together. That's brotherhood, killing people. Apparently."
David is a busy dad with a little boy, so his game-talk is limited; therefore, I don't bother David with more lurid details, such as the following.
The two main buds in "40th Day" are beefy, macho mercenaries working in Shanghai. You get to play as either Tyson Rios or as Elliot Salem. I choose to play as Salem, whose game bio is not about brotherly love:
"For Salem," his bio states, "it's really about the thrill of combat and traveling the world to see different cultures shoot each other."
The plot: A group of nasties is blowing up Shanghai, several buildings at a time, in the course of one day. Why? You'll find out if you play.
We two bloody mercenaries (Salem and Rios) work our way past city buildings (some destructed, some not yet), corridors, offices and rubble.
Bad guys keep popping up to shoot at us, as in any shooting game. We crouch behind cover (a wall corner, an office desk) and shoot them in the head. Then we move forward to the next office or rubble to kill more baddies.
I don't mean to sound like Mary Poppins and claim I suddenly don't love shooting games, since that would make me a hypocrite who enjoys slaying fake people as much as your neighbor does.
It's just that the killing of "The 40th Day" sort of works well, but sort of doesn't. Villains run funny; they gallop at me stupidly and die stupidly, not quite realistically human. And the killing is too easy for a regular shooting gamer like me.
When I play with an online friend (not David, since he has the kid, the wife, the dog, the house, and his Xbox 360 is going to waste), "40th Day" is more entertaining. But that is true of just about any game where I play with a friend.
I do like that I get 16 machine guns, shotguns and sniper rifles to buy or pick up off the war-torn ground, and I can upgrade them to be cooler and kill-ier.
I like that I can play cooperative team-kill online, so a friend and I can battle groups of two-man teams in cityscapes.
I like that there's a "moral" system. The game play changes a bit if you save civilians and handcuff baddies, instead of killing them.
In other words, I like the game enough to say it's good but not great, because when game killing doesn't totally feel right, killing can fray one's nerves and make one feel as if one is not exactly contributing to the world.
("Army of Two: The 40th Day" by EA retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3 -- Plays just fun enough, both as a solo mission and as a cooperative game online and offline. Looks pretty good. Moderately challenging. Rated "M" for blood, gore, intense violence and language. Three stars out of four.)
Contact Doug Elfman at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.