Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 11/07/08 | Genre: Action
Epic’s lead designer, Cliff Bleszinski, made some pretty bold claims at GDC earlier this year about the then upcoming title Gears of War 2. He stated that the game would be bigger, better and more badass than the original. So was he right? Or was he just playing company hype man?
First, we’ll spoil the surprise: he was dead on. The first Gears of War game became the Xbox 360’s Halo. It was the one game that everyone wanted to play. It was vicious, intense and looked absolutely gorgeous. The game’s signature weapon, the Lancer, was instantly eye-catching with its chainsaw bayonet. The weapon wasn’t just for show though, sawing enemies to pieces became its defining feature. Few, if any, game scenes are as memorable as that of Marcus screaming as he cuts through an enemy, spraying blood all over the screen. Gears of War 2 retains all of the gameplay and features that made the first game such a success and improves upon it in a multitude of ways.
Much of the improvements are due to Epic’s latest version of the Unreal Engine. Prior to Gears of War 2, Gears of War 1 was the best looking game released this generation on any platform. The upgrades to the engine since have given Gears 2 an edge in the visual department and the new crowd system has allowed the developers to pack dozens of enemies on screen at once. The technology has given the developers the power to create stages and scenarios that will blow your mind.
Epic has really pushed the 360 hardware to new limits with Gears 2 and as is so often the case when developers go all out, a few bugs do pop up every now and then. There were times when all the objects in the world seemed to have lost their lighting and though this was rather rare (it only occurred twice while playing through the campaign) some things, such as texture pop in were much more common. I did get stuck on a box once and I noticed an enemy or two floating in the air during multiplayer games, but considering everything the game does right, these gripes are fairly minor.
Epic knew what they did right with the first game and so they didn’t touch the cover system too much. There are subtle improvements, but nothing too major and it feels as natural as ever. While the taking cover and ground combat are still common, Epic did up the variety of the gameplay a bit for the sequel. The pacing of the game changes up often; some stages will blitz you with enemies and combat while others slow things down and are more of an exploratory venture than a straight up combat mission. One stage in particular comes to mind as you are pitted in the stomach of a giant worm. This stage is incredibly unique and stands as one of the most memorable in the game. Then there are times where you will find yourself aboard a vehicle either driving, mounting a turret gun or firing at enemies from the deck. These sequences give the game a nice overall feel and keep things from getting stale. In fact, the vehicle sequences are some of the most exciting in the entire campaign! The main story also attempts to focus more on developing the characters and does an admirable job, but it still feels like more cheese than real meat (we’re not complaining).
The campaign mode is great; you’ll have a blast playing alone or with a friend via the game’s cooperative option, but that’s not all there is to see. Gears of War 2 features a healthy roster of other online multiplayer modes as well. The game has the standard death match mode, a special mode where players can only be killed by using one of the execution moves, a king of the hill gametype and others. The meat flag match is a pretty cool spin on the standard capture the flag gametype in which the flag is actually a person armed with a shotgun. Both teams must try to incapacitate him and then drag him back to the scoring area. While holding the guy hostage, your movement and combat abilities will be limited. There is also another type where each team has a captain and if the captain is killed, the rest of the team will not respawn when defeated. Needless to say, protecting your team captain is paramount to winning these matches. There are two other gametypes including Wingman, a 2v2v2v2v2 match similar to Halo’s multiteam games, and the best new addition: Horde mode.
In Horde mode, up to five players will make a standoff in a single stage against fifty waves of enemies. Every ten waves the enemies get stronger and surviving gets harder. Even on the casual difficulty setting this mode will provide a decent challenge. Bump it up to normal or hardcore and you’re going to have your hands full. At the insane difficulty level you basically don’t stand a chance. My buddies and I tried wave fifty on insane and never survived longer than a single minute! One or two shots and you’re out, most of the time your friends won’t even get the chance to revive you.
The campaign in Gears 2 is perhaps a little longer than the original game, but the multiplayer modes will have you coming back for months if not years. Playing the game with friends is what will really bring out the fun. Whether you’re teaming up to take out the Locusts in Horde mode or the campaign or squaring off against another team in one of the many multiplayer modes, you are sure to have a good time. Gears of War 2 is definitely a Game of the Year candidate and should be played by everyone mature enough to handle the game’s awesome violence and curse-laden script.
Real Life Rating
The ESRB slapped a big, fat M rating on Gears of War 2 and rightfully so. The game is full of adult language and features some of the most brutal executions ever to grace a gaming console. It's awesome, it's bloody, and it's absolutely not for children.