Name: Gears of War 2
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Platform: Xbox 360
Check out the Video Review.
I’ll admit it, I hated on the original Gears of War a little bit when it was released. I just didn’t get why it was so popular, but after putting more time into it I realized its brilliance, mainly from the cooperative play. The graphics were outstanding for its day, and still hold up against most shooters. It also earned its place as the first true killer exclusive for the Xbox 360, and that has to count for something. In many respects, little has changed in Gears of War 2. Holding A makes you run with the shaky camera, you stick to cover like you’re covered in Velcro, and hitting B executes a melee attack. Then again, why fix something that isn’t broken? It survives the test of time, other developers are still trying and failing to top the cover mechanics, and it’s still highly played on Xbox Live. But has Epic kept up with the rapidly changing gaming industry, or is Gears of War 2 really Gears of War 1.5?
Gears of War 2 has a much more developed story than the original, which felt like an intimate war tale about a band of soldiers. It ended with Marcus Fenix and the rest of Delta Squad delivering the Lightmass bomb into the Locust caves to destroy them all. It didn’t work, and things are changing. The Locust are acting different, showing signs of self preservation, going on suicidal attacks and using bizarre tactics. To make matters worse, the Locust have developed a new weapon capable of sinking entire cities into the ground. The COGs have decided that defending isn’t working and it’s time to attack. As a result, Gears of War 2 feels like a much larger war story.
Epic does a very good job of characterization, delivering a much more interesting and involved narrative, mostly dealing with Dom’s emotional journey to find his wife. The level design is also impressive, taking advantage of the series’ duck-and-cover mantra and consistently delivering new, interesting enemies to fight, as well as increasingly diverse landscapes.
If you’ve played Gears of War, you know what to expect, but the game has been polished significantly and there are many additions. New weapons litter the battlefield, like a Flamethrower, Mortar, and Chaingun. There are also three new forms of cover to stick behind; the occasional enemy will carry a shield that can be dual wielded with a pistol, strange worms meander around some of the underground levels, and you’re able to take hostages as to meat shields.
Enemies also seem to be knocked down, but not out, much more frequently, and there is more to do with an incapacitated foe who slowly drags himself towards his allies. When you move to a downed enemy you have three execution options as well as the choice of taking them hostage. Since the Locust have a newfound sense of self-preservation, it creates an interesting new dynamic, adding to both single player and multiplayer modes. You’re also able to smack them in the back with your weapon, flip them over and pound their face with your armored fists, or do the good, old fashioned face stomp. The Lancer is back, and its chainsaw attachment will still kill most enemies in one hit. The difference is that now they are able to fight back, and the ensuing chainsaw duel is a fantastic addition to the game.
Thanks to the Unreal Engine’s improvements since Gears of War’s launch, the game looks much better than the original, mostly in terms of lighting and cosmetically destructible environments. Epic has also made use of the new organic improvements, enhancing the look of living creatures and their innards. Levels and environments look fantastic, and give the game great and varied ambiance. There are still dark and grey interiors, but there’s also more gameplay outdoors, and the lighting gives all of the characters a realistic glow. The engine supports more enemies on screen at a time, so the Locust horde can number in dozens, helping to create an epic feel to the war. The superior graphics are tied together with a great soundtrack and well produced voice acting. It might not look or sound as mind-blowing as the original was when it was released, but the improvements are apparent, and the game is extraordinarily well presented.
Gears of War’s multiplayer modes were great for its time, but since then games like Call of Duty 4, Halo 3, and Grand Theft Auto IV have dethroned it. Epic’s response was to add new multiplayer modes and polish the ones already there. Cooperative play of the singleplayer campaign is still awesome, and because of multiple save files you’re actually able to proceed in both online and offline without losing checkpoints. They didn’t bump it to four players, which is regrettable and nearly unforgivable, but hopefully this is addressed in the next sequel. They’ve also added the ability to have different difficulties within the same game, allowing for players of differing abilities to participate in cooperative play together.
There are three new competitive modes. Wingman pits five groups of two against each other, bringing the feel of the single player campaign into the hectic world of online multiplayer. Submission, which was previously referred to as “meat flag,” has teams attempting to subdue a Stranded and carry him to a checkpoint while the opposing team tries to do the same. Guardian works like an expanded form of Assassination, where players respawn until their group leader is killed. All of these modes are extremely fun, and should stretch the Gears of War 2 experience out a good bit. The last, and arguably best mode is a five player cooperative game called Horde, where players defend a level against waves of enemies, earning points all the while.
Gears of War 2 is a fantastic game, building off the original and creating an amazing experience for fans of the series. There’s little to draw in people who weren’t interested in the first, and many of the glitches from GoW remain (namely the texture pop-in, which is reduced but noticeable). To answer the question posed in the beginning of the review, there’s enough content to consider it a true sequel, and not an incremental upgrade, and it’s an overall better game. The expanded story and new multiplayer modes confirm the purchase, and for fans there’s no way to avoid something this good during the holiday season.