* Awarded Extreme Gamer's Best Shooter of '08, Best Xbox 360 Game of '08
Ever since gamers drove the Locust Horde back down their hole in the first Gears game, anticipation has been building for Epic to release the second adventure into the Gears universe. Well, the time is now, time to re-emerge! Here is our review of Epic Games, epic shooter, Gears of War 2.
Gears of War 2 picks up after the events from the first game with the war between the humans and Locust still raging on. It seems humanity has the picked the short stick as the defensive struggle is starting to wear thin. The only solution is to launch a full out attack on the Locust nesting hive and take out the threat at its heart. This is where you come in, stepping into the front line as our favourite deep-toned solider, Marcus Fenix with his accompanying dealers of death, Delta Squad. Delta brings the battle to the front doorstep of the Locust with no remorse for the relentless beasts unloading with an unbridled will to survive. You know Epic Games isn’t going to let you down, and fighting for the survival of humanity sounds like the perfect excuse to fire up another engaging round in the Gears of War universe.
Bigger, Better, and More Badass
The original Gears of War was highly praised by all those who took on the massive role of taking down the Locust horde which means Gears 2 has some high standards to live up to. Developer, Epic Games promised a “Bigger, Better, and More Badass” Gears and they have delivered. Gears of War 2 is everything you would expect out of sequel with more content and the core gameplay left untouched. The scale of the entire project has ballooned with more enemies, bigger enemies, and more gripping game sequences. Gears of War 2 lives up to the hype and delievers. The plot tip-toes around being a little too Michael Bay-ish until it finds its groove and brings it home. The focus is still on Delta squad; however Dom gets a little more attention with the side plot of his missing wife. Don’t worry about Gears loosing focus on the action with all the drama going on in the storyline, Gears 2 keeps the adrenaline running hot with more action then we seen in the first project.
Making Gears 2 a more epic experience seems like an effortless transition into a bigger and badder Gears. In the begging of the journey into Gears of War 2 I wasn’t as convinced that Epic could recreate the excitement of the first game because we have partly seen it all before. I felt the Gears 2 starts out a little weak with overly scripted scenes that you can sleepwalk through. In Rolling Thunder/Big Push Marcus escorts the oversized transporter “Betty” through grub heavy enemy lines. During this time Gears 2 steps on the assembly line button as you feel like you are gliding through an assault by massive Brumaks and springy Corpsers. This is ultra cool to watch unfold, but not so fun to play. It is one of those things where the action is unfolding around you and not with you. That is the bad side of Gears 2, and thankfully Epic doesn’t try too many of these overcompensating action pieces. Gears 2 starts to strip down and get back into the raw more personal action it is known for. The further you dig the more grit you will find.
As I continued non-stop through the campaign, approximately half-way through the Locust assault that I realized how involved I was falling into the storyline and how satisfying the gameplay is. Even with a few of the major sequences being played out I still enjoyed all GOW2 had to offer. I’d say it is almost impossible not to find some satisfaction in chainsawing through a few of those ugly Locust faces, or even better a giant-sized heart. Gears 2 feels more on target with the extra personality they have given the Locust, as both sides of the war seem to really believe in their own cause. The Locust army is parallel with the Gears through this adventure and it certainly brings more a new angle and more depth into the Gears franchise.
Besides the monsters you have encountered in the original Gears of War, Epic has some interesting additions to the Locust Horde which spans from the small and creepy to the extra big and extra ugly. The old familiars mount up with an overhaul to their appearance that includes a number of armour variances. The numbers have also been increased from a few dozen to a hundred. Even though the numbers are increased, the Locust force seems to be more than mindless drones and feel like they have a life of their own. It’s apparent that Lightmass Bomb that you dropped in the first episode was only a pin-prick to this immense army. The Locust seem more bloodthirsty than ever as they push forward in their cause to rid Sera of the human race. The undersized human’s retaliation stinks of desperation which makes each victory with Delta Squad more enjoyable.
Meatshield... what took so long?
To combat the new threat of multiplying enemies, Marcus will work with a few new faces including the rookie, Anthony Carmine, Tai Kaliso and Dizzy Wallin before you he is reunited with original members of Delta Squad. In a no-holds-barred approach Marcus and crew has no problem making a slaughter house out of the Locust territory as they arm forge through the piles of malformed bodies. Helping Delta bring the pain is a few new weapons to itch your trigger finger which includes a missile raining portable Motor unit and a flesh peeling Flamethrower. Continuing with the mild innovation you will also be able to perform vicious weapon finishers on wounded enemies, or opt to take them alive for use as a meatshield. Meatshields and cover in general is sill important to the Gears mechanic as you have more options than ever with the Rockworm underground creature or the new Locust battle shield. Active reloading also returns which makes you wonder why more games haven’t stolen this great idea. A bigger threat calls for bigger guns, and Gears of War 2 provides this and much more.
There are a few other surprises in store for gamers who make it through the campaign which I won't spoil for you. The single player campaign can be easily polished off in a weekend, but don’t think the games length shortens the experience. In total expect to spend a good eight hours give or take which isn’t too bad given how action packed the game is. Anything more could have been called repetitive. I found the pacing to be spot on making the most out of every twist and turn in this fantastic adventure. Gears 2 only makes us want more Gears and unless the Locust actually attack earth, I am fairly certain the “Gears” franchise will be around for the long haul.
Co-op gameplay is still a large part of Gears and the level delineation seems to work better with a human companion then the off-and-on-again artificial intelligence. Besides working as cohesive unit Epic has added a lot more sections in the game for you to tee off and head down different paths. Replaying the game a second time will let you explore the options you didn’t take the first time around. There is nothing you are going to miss out on by picking a specific route, just another simple addition that adds elements of surprise to the rather linear structure. Another distinctive change to the co-op is that each participant can select their own level of difficulty. This is an interesting road to take and a helpful one for friends who are little more talented when it comes to chainsawing the enemies. This option makes Gears instantly more accessible and a welcomed adjustment the co-op gameplay.
A Little Gears MP anyone?
Besides Co-Op, the online straight ahead multiplayer has been given more thought. Epic is all about thoughtfulness and the kind team has included a few check marks from gamers wish lists. First off would be bot support in multiplayer, so you can enjoy the thrill of online play without going online. This seems a little silly, but if you don’t have an internet connection, or you want to brush up on your killing skills, bots are a great way to go. Epic has also included five maps from the original Gears title which will make all the doubters feel at home and the fanboy chants of the new maps aren’t as good as the old ones down to minimum. Four new modes have also been added to spice things up online and show off some creativity compared to the normal modes of play. The only real complaint about the multiplayer is the matchmaking service that takes a little longer to get rolling then if you could pick what exactly what you wanted and then head into battle. All in all, I think Gears 2 steps up their game online and it should keep most Gears fans occupied for months to come.
Don't Sweat it, only 49 more rounds
The last new feature in Gears of War 2 is the mode called "Horde". The Horde mode has been getting a lot of attention and rightfully so. This stand alone mode is your basic wave defeating excises that throws upgrading waves of enemies at the player until 50 rounds are over, or the Locust get the best of you. Supported online and with leaderboards, Horde is an addictive diversion from regular multiplayer and can be a real challenge to make it through all 50 waves.
Gears 2 also has 8 unlockable characters that you get while playing through the single player campaign. Insane difficulty returns in Gears 2 and if you are up to the challenge you’ll need to complete the game once for this to be unlocked. The achievements will keep the hounds in good spirits as a number of them can be completed with a normal run in the campaign with a few others that need to be worked at a little more. A lot of the time they are straightforward and achievable. The names associated with the achievements are pretty funny and good for a laugh when that ping sounds off. Here is a small sample of the names “Does this look infected to you?” “Said the Spider to the Fly”, “Dirty, Dirty Horde” and “Friends with Benefits”. Although all of the achievements are so easy and to snag them all you will have investing some serious game time.
All Gears Turning
The Unreal Engine has been reworked for Gears 2 which showcases a larger scale of environments, more detailed architecture and character units all with distinctive lighting. For a world that is so dark and gritty, Epic really make something beautiful out of the dark slate. That doesn’t mean Gears 2 is all about underground tunnels and dark industrialist zones, Gears 2 actually opens up the game and has a nice shading of colour introduced to the darkness as well. The lighting has to be mentioned as well because its just spectacular and I really dug the new illumining glow from the gears when the Locust turn out the lights. From every angle Gears production has been stepped up. The audio follows suit with solid sound effects, a great suitable score by Steve Jablonsky, and a more talkative cast of characters which includes more random mumbling from the evil Locusts as they taunt the humans. Hands down, Gears of War 2 is a visual spectacle and one of the best looking, well-rounded games on the Xbox 360.
The subterranean menace has crawled back to surface one more time as the Gears of War ads another cog to its war machine. Gears of War 2 is a darker and larger experience then the first game which will please all the gamers looking for a “bigger and better” version of the original. Gears of War 2 showcases what the shooter genre is all about and it seems when the Chief takes a year off, Marcus Fenix comes in to push the sales and keep the 360 on the top of the food chain. Microsoft has found a winner in exclusively signing Gears of War to their entourage. Gears of War 2 opens its own emergence hole that we are more than happy to jump down. If you are a fan of action games, or the original Gears of War, Gears of War 2 is a must have this holiday season.
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 11.11.08