STAFF REVIEW of Gears of War 2 (Xbox 360)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008.
by Adam Dileva

Gears of War 2 Box art When Gears of War 2 was first shown, we were boldly told that the experience was going to be Bigger, Better, and more Badass. Many fans were also wondering if this journey with Marcus and the Delta Squad would be a true sequel or more of a Gears 1.5.

By building on top of the foundation that the original Gears brought us, Epic has taken the fundamental gameplay and has improved it so that you are able to take on the masses of the Locust to save the world of Sera and you will feel like what you are doing is important to the whole cause.

Gears of War 2 starts shortly after where the original left off with Marcus and Dom deploying a Lightmass bomb in the Locusts? Hollow after defeating General RAAM and must stop the Locust from creating more sink holes underneath cities all over Sera.

The campaign length has been slightly increased to about 10 hours, though playing on Insane difficulty will add more time due to checkpoint restarts from dying, a lot. If you played the original Gears, you will be able to pick up and play Gears 2 without any problems. Epic has improved on the core gameplay and mechanics vastly rather than trying to reinvent or recreate, and it works as intended. One such mechanic improvement is now the ability to cancel out of a cover rolls and turns if needed to get out of a tight situation quickly.

With new improvements also come new characters in the main story, such as Tai, Dizzy, and Carmine which are welcomed additions and act as enhancements to the other characters and story and don?t take away from the Delta Squad we already know.

The Locust have also gained new recruits and ranks with small quick Tickers that will explode if you let them get too close to you, Bloodmounts that ride beasts and charge you, Priests that can revive fellow downed enemies, and to also different types of Boomers that are unable to be chainsawed due to their larger than normal size. Now with General RAAM defeated, Skorge is the one to take his place to follow the Locust Queens orders to not allow you to stop their plans of sinking every city and destroying mankind.

To take on this slew of new baddies, you are going to need more than your trusted Lancer and do more than just using your chainsaw to cut hordes of enemies in half. This is where some new weapons and mechanics come into play. Now with portable turrets called Mulchers that can mow down the biggest beasts and Morters that will level a complete area with devastation, you have more tools and ways to save humanity while leaving a large body count of Locust in your wake. These new heavy weapons are very beefy and quite entertaining to use when cutting paths clear for your squad.

Gears of War is all about the cover system and now there are some defensive weapons at your disposal as well such as a portable shield that can also be planted firmly into the ground anywhere you need cover to stay behind, retractable cover that pops up when you stand on the pressure plates beside it, and now even mobile cover comes from giant Rockworms that slither around and are impenetrable to bullets. It feels awkward and unnatural to have to hide behind something that is moving, but only having to deal with this in one chapter is a relief.

The scope of the battle on a whole is much larger and vastly more epic. You actually feel like you are fighting the war this time around and putting an actual dent into the Locusts? numbers, not just a few soldiers fighting some small scale battles in the streets.

Vehicular levels and exciting boss fights break up monotonous gameplay, though repeated attempts on trying to drive precisely will be frustrating. Decimating hundreds of Locust at a time while riding a Tank, Reaver, or Brumak will simply put a smile on your face and wanting to kill even more bad guys.

Having professional writers this time makes for a much more engaging story with the Delta Squad and their own personal struggles. Dom?s search for his missing wife plays a large part of the whole plot and found it much more entertaining to actually care about one of the characters rather than just the normal ?kill anything that moves? plot line. The story is full of high emotion and many plot twists but without ruining anything, you will most likely actually care about the characters on more levels other than just being badass. Being a sequel, Epic knows that the world of Sera and the main story line has been laid down and placed so now much more time has been allocated to deepening the main characters and their relationships as a whole and with each other. And yes, the Cole Train is awesome as ever with his one liners and comedic relief.

You will learn much more about the Locusts? plans and will have to even go into their lairs to get some of these answers. Seeing the single Brumak in the first Gears had an awe factor, but when you see what is deep underground on their home turf ready to be unleashed on the surface you will think nothing of the Brumak?s anymore. Some beasts this time are so large that to defeat them, you will have to go inside them and kill them from within and the sheer scale and size of what?s to come is nothing short of amazing.

There are still sections where Delta Squad will have to split up to bypass certain traps or cover more ground. Sometimes you will be turning off turrets for your teammates or stopping some flame fields so they can walk across safely. Some sections will also just have you being a simple cover fire for the other members so they can progress and these split up parts are usually short in general but again, a nice change of pace from the normal mass slayings. At times though it will be quite obvious when a battle is going to happen (though you don?t get very much down time in general) with some obviously placed barricades to be used as cover for an upcoming ambush.

Just like the first Gears of War, campaign can be played split screen or online cooperatively though now with some welcomed changes such as drop-in drop-out without having to restart the chapter or checkpoint. The biggest change has to be the ability for players to be able to choose their own difficulty levels. The enemies don?t change but how much damage you take and deal are switched to be relative to your difficulty of choice. So this means while a veteran player like myself can play on Insane difficulty, I will take more damage from incoming bullets and give less output but my friend that is playing on casual will have a higher damage output and take less incoming, but we are able to play together with no problems. This is great way to add more challenge or even achievement progress for completion on Insane difficulty.

Although the ending does come very abruptly, the last leg of the game feels like you are being rewarded for what you?ve had to go through thus far in the story, especially the last chapter where I had a smile on my face the whole time.

It?s been quite a while since I?ve had a gaming experience where I haven?t noticed that 9 hours have gone past before realizing that I finished the campaign in a single sitting, even though it was quite a long sitting mind you.

The original Gears was widely faulted for having a very narrow pallet scope of brown and grey; and Epic has listened by adding a much broader pallet of greens, reds, and blues. Gears 1 looked great and this sequel pushes the graphical bar even further and the noticeable colors is much more varied quite noticeable, though honestly it was unexpected from myself. Seeing bright glowing plants and water while in the underground Locust Lairs, you will most likely catch yourself stopping to actually look at the environment and gorgeous water effects.

While everything in general looks absolutely stunning, there were some anomalies that are worth noting such as texture fading and the pop-in textures when starting a level that Halo 2 was criticized for. There were a few times where weird geometry collisions were quite distracting as they were that noticeable and one cutscene that I had to watch over again due from dying, but one of the platforms simply didn?t appear and I was standing on thin air. There were also a few times where dead corpses on the ground would have limbs that would shake violently and awkwardly though it?s hard to fault these rare occurrences in the overall experience.

With how large the scope of Gears 2 is, there was only one section that had some slowdown and it was due to the massive intense battle where quite of lot was taking place. Don?t worry, no spoilers here, but considering what was happening, I was still impressed.

With all these new graphical features and lighting effects, there is also ?destructible? cover, though I would call it deformed cover since it?s simply for visuals and the cover you hide behind (unless it happens to be a wooden box or table) doesn?t actually break away or make you more vulnerable in any way. Your tactics from the original gears won?t change in any way for this part of gameplay, but let?s hope this is a feature included in the next in the series.

The sound quality is also worth noting as every bullet can be heard, and slowly pushing forward while holding a Boomshield, you will hear every ricocheting bullet hitting you head on. The rain and razor hail sounds completely realistic (well, I assume that is how razor hail would sound) with dialogue being delivered very well, even if some of the lines are cheesy.

With all the new gameplay changes, nothing has been drastically revolutionized, but vastly improved. Portable shields is a great new addition and can make an oncoming rush much easier, grenades can now be stuck to a wall instead of thrown; making it a proxy grenade for an added level of strategy. Now being outnumbered won?t always mean your downfall, as you can lure enemies or other players into your traps. Even picking up downed enemies and using them as meat shields is a possibility now and a great way to take out the others numbers. With these changes comes a more strategic play style rather than the previous ?gung-ho? rushing.

Should you get taken down but not completely killed, you are no longer stuck in one spot while waiting for a revival from a teammate; you can now slowly crawl back to your squad to get you back in the game. While the AI has improved, there are still some instances where I have needed a revival from my squad and even being right beside them, they didn?t revive me as I bled out. This time though they will actually push forward and not just follow you and shoot alongside you as in Gears 1.

One of the intense ways to finish a downed enemy in the original Gears was the ability to curb stomp them and finish them. This favorite (alongside the chainsawing someone in half) is still included but now with many more options and ways to maim your downed opponent. The ?X? button will still do the curb stomp but now the ?Y? button will flip the downed person onto their back as you punch them in the face with thunderous pounds until there is nothing left. The ?B? button will still saw someone in half if you are holding the Lancer gun, but now every weapon has its own finisher. Using a sniper gun in this way will have you hold the gun upside down and bat the head off the person and each weapon has their own brutal style of execution.

Multiplayer in Gears 1 felt like it wasn?t a focus or priority but Epic has changed this stance and the multiplayer in Gears 2 will have people playing on Xbox Live for many months and years to come now that there are much needed fixes that plagued the original experience and new modes to bring variety.

Shotgun rolling was an unintended mechanic in Gears 1 that as a problem which gave players who were rolling and diving into gunfire a slight window of invulnerability. So many people would continually roll into other players and when in range, simply shotgun them for a single shot kill. This has been fixed and now when you are shot, you stagger and no longer have invulnerability while rolling. This even prevents people that used to simply hold down the chainsaw button and running around, as it will also lower your revved chainsaw. This makes it more strategic of when to get out of cover and when to chainsaw and does require more thought and skill.

There are 10 maps that ship with the game and another 5 that are in download form that are actually remakes of popular maps from the previous game. There will without a doubt be more maps to come for DLC to purchase in the future, but this is a healthy number to start off with as I haven?t really grown tired of any specific map yet.

With the maximum players being upped from 8 to 10, battles are much more intense this time around. Regardless of being with a party of friends or not, players are matched according to their rank. Once in the lobby to start a game, everyone gets to votes from a choice of two game types, then maps, then you choose your character and main weapon.

A small but very useful feature in the lobby is now called the ?What?s Up? button that replaces the simple ?Friends? pop up screen. From here you can see your whole friends list, but it will give you details of what they are doing in Gears of War 2 with the option to join anyone if available or even have all your currently online friends receive a giant spam invite.

Having no friends (or simply none online at the time) doesn?t mean you are out of luck from enjoying multiplayer. Gears of War 2 now includes bots should you want to learn the new game types or don?t feel confident enough yet to try your skills online against the masses. Unfortunately this is only available through the training and not online, but it is a nice addition if needed.

With new maps also comes new multiplayer modes and the new additions are quite refreshing and simply fun to play. Even some maps such as Avalanche will change mid game. As the timer of game play counts down, eventually a large avalanche of snow will happen, making the whole screen completely white for a few seconds which is quite frantic when mid firefight with someone else. After this is finished, the whole map is completely changed from a multi level map to a flat snow covered one that allows you to reach new areas and weapons.

Guardian is a new mode that randomly chooses one person on each team to be the leader. While the leader is alive, all their teammates have infinite respawns until the leader is taken out and executed, then there is no more respawns for the rest of the team. It is an interesting balance of defending the leader and also trying to rush and kill the opposing team?s leader.

Submission (aptly named Meat Flag) is a Gears of War take on Capture the Flag. This has an AI controlled character that needs to be downed then taken forcibly to your team?s base. He is decent at preventing himself from being taken but the real action is when both teams are trying to capture the same Meat Flag and drag them away while being shot at. A very cool feature that needs to be added to this mode hopefully in the future is to have someone randomly chosen to be the Meat Flag that is an actual player.

The new inclusion of Horde mode easily overshadows the rest of all the new multiplayer features. Horde mode in essence is 5 players against waves of ever increasing difficult Locust. This mode is very challenging but fun and intense. If you do not work cohesively as a team in Horde, you will not make it past a few waves and it requires absolute teamwork and communication. There are 50 waves of enemies and after each wave you get a small break to see your score, kill count, and get whatever weapons and ammo may be lying on the ground. After every tenth wave, instead of adding more and more Locusts?, they are simply given more health and offence power; so usually the only hard waves are the back set of 5 when the sheer numbers get larger. It?s a very simple idea but extremely addictive, though the lack of Reavers and Brumaks was a slight disappointment. Here is to hoping for a patch or DLC down the road to include this in the future.

Gears of War 2 improves on everything that made the first great while also adding new features and mechanics that makes this more than just a Gears 1.5. Marcus Fenix is a strong enough character to be alongside Master Chief as the Xbox?s brand spokesperson and now with Gears 2 finally here, we get to learn more about the world of Sera and Delta Squad?s struggles with their own issues while saving Mankind from the Locust.

There are quite a few ?oh my god? moments and as mentioned previously, it?s been quite some time since I?ve had to complete a campaign in one sitting due from an engaging story and wonderful art direction blended with strong gameplay.

Gears of War 2 is a perfect example of blending game and art. An engrossing plot with emotion and battles on an absolute huge scale make this simply an experience that needs to be had by any gamer.

Horde mode would be even better if each 10th wave was versus a Brumak; simple as that.

Overall: 9.5 / 10
Gameplay: 10.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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