Monday, December 1, 2008
Gears of War 2 is exactly what a sequel should be. It takes all of the best elements from the original, adds some great new features, and makes the whole experience bigger, badder, and more fun than ever. While the original was certainly a solid shooter, it featured a fairly bare-boned multiplayer experience that didn't deliver the way a title of its caliber should. Not only does this sequel greatly improve the multiplayer, it delivers a campaign experience that easily beats the original.
While many recent games promise a full co-op experience, the final products often fall short in this department (Fable II, I'm looking at you). Gears of War 2 seems so built for co-op play that it would be a shame to experience the campaign by yourself. There are plenty of moments were the path will split and each player will be required to help the other in a specific way (such as one mission that has player 1 in a turreted elevator covering player 2 as he goes from floor to floor). Other stages feature intense firefights that introduce a more strategic element when you have another live player there to draw fire from certain opponents. If there's one piece of advice I have for GOW2 players, it's that the campaign should most certainly be experienced the first time with a friend.
Enemy types are varied in both action and visual style. Quick, spiderlike wretches will assault you from all sides while walking landmine Ticker enemies can take you out without warning. Bigger foes like the Grinder and Flamer will require some intense weaponfire to take down, while you can blow the heads clean off the lower Grubs with a single sniper shot. The variety of enemies ensures that you'll be employing an array of strategies when it comes time to take them down. While you'll keep your distance and stay in cover constantly for the bigger enemies and snipers, you may want to charge Grubs with your lancer's chainsaw or even detonate the Ticker enemies when they're amongst other foes.
The new Horde mode is sure to be an instant hit amongst fans. It follows the "throw some players into a confined area and throw wave after wave of enemies at them until they die" blueprint that has been around forever, but the weapons and cover system in GOW2 makes it a blast. Playing it online with four of your friends is a great challenge as you try to get to the highest wave possible.
The other multiplayer modes are similarly improved over the original. Wingman pits you and a partner against four other teams of two, while the action-packed Submission has you escorting a "meat flag" to your base. It's essentially Capture the Flag, but the "flag" is a soldier armed with a shotgun that you must incapacitate and drag across the map. Other modes are more basic shooter fare, with some requiring executions to keep an enemy down for good. It's all fast-paced, solid action that (mostly) runs without issue, especially after the recent matchmaking update.
In a purely technical sense, Gear of War 2 might just be the best-looking game ever released on a console. Environments, enemies, explosions, and other effects look spectacular in HD. While all of the character models may resemble even more freakish versions of WWE wrestlers, their look fits in with the ridiculously macho feel of the game (get ready to hear "Shit yeah!!!" a lot whenever you're picking up ammo).
While the campaign may be slightly short, it's packed with quality from beginning to end. The last chapter alone packs in more firefights and action than five similar games put together. When the first Gears of War came out, I remember hearing many gamers say it was good for tiding the masses over until Halo 3 hit. Now, it can certainly be said that the Gears of War franchise is just as much of a heavy-hitter as Microsoft's other big exclusive.
First Play: 9.5
Replay value: 9.5
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